Hurricane Wilma's latest victims are South Florida's trick-or-treaters

Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
Hurricane Wilma canceled many Halloween festivities in South Florida, where thousands of homes remain without power and many residents face evacuation from unsafe dwellings.
Government officials asked parents not to let their children trick-or-treat after dark Monday because debris from Hurricane Wilma on sidewalks and some streets posed hazards.
"If your kids don't need to go door-to-door trick-or-treating this year, they probably shouldn't," Miami police Lt. Bill Schwartz said Monday.
Bob Cole of Miami Springs said he would keep his daughter, Celeste, 7, at home. "There is a lot of dangerous stuff on the street. Downed wires, hazardous debris, generators unattended," Cole said.
He is frustrated by the number of hurricanes that have struck this season. "It really has taken the luster off South Florida living. It's like living in a bowling alley. You don't know when the next one will come down."
Mika Lorenzo, 9, said he still plans to dress up as a knight, but he was disappointed that Wilma was limiting his fun.
"In Miami Springs, they always have parties and tell stories. And now they have canceled that," Mika said.
By Monday afternoon, Florida Power & Light, the state's largest electric utility, said power had been restored to 75 percent of customers whose electricity was knocked out in the Oct. 24 storm, but that left 800,000 homes and businesses without power. About 160,000 customers who lost power might not get it back until Nov. 22, FPL said.
Some South Floridians faced the ordeal of moving from their homes after inspectors declared the buildings unsafe.
A red sign was posted on every residential door of the Tahiti Gardens Apartment Complex in Lauderdale Lakes. It read: "In the opinion of the building official, this building is unsafe!"
"I don't want to be cold or callous but the city says they have to move," said Monique Williams, manager of the apartment complex, which had extensive damage to its roof and doors.
She said she has been working through the night to help find shelter for those forced to leave.
Harold Saint-Vil, 27, said he has nowhere to go. He had not been able to reach family members. "This is no fun ... There is no more power, only water." His ceiling was yellow and covered with mold, and the front door to the apartment had been blown out by the storm.
"I don't know where I'm going," he said. Light showers and sprinkles were expected along the coast later on Monday, with temperatures in the mid-70s, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Locke. But the temperatures are expected to rise in coming days, which could add to the misery of those without power for air conditioning.
Public schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties were closed through at least Wednesday and in Miami-Dade through Tuesday.
One sign of progress was the lack of hours-long gas lines that plagued the area and frustrated residents in recent days. Though some gas stations were still closed, many were open and people only had to wait a few minutes, if at all, to fill their tanks.
The Lower Keys and Key West reopened to tourists on Monday. Previously, only residents were allowed in the area.
The death toll from Wilma climbed to 21 in Florida during the weekend, state officials said.
Wilma was the eighth hurricane to strike or pass by Florida in 15 months. It came ashore Oct. 24 as a Category 3 storm on the southwest coast. Weather officials said it dropped to a Category 1 or 2 as it slammed through Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
By Monday afternoon, the state listed about 1,500 people in emergency shelters, most in Palm Beach and Broward counties.
The state Senate's top Democrat called on Gov. Jeb Bush to take emergency measures to improve federal communication with state and local officials in the aftermath of Wilma. After the storm, some residents complained that the federal government was slow to respond and that they received faulty information on where and when to get aid.
"If Governor Bush is willing to shoulder the blame when things go wrong, he must also take it upon himself to remedy this disastrous situation," said Sen. Les Miller of Tampa. "Hurricane victims should not have to wait for help because the government can't get its act together."
He said Bush should ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency does a better job of distributing information and supplies to hurricane victims.
Bush spent the day touring hurricane damaged areas, including a later afternoon meeting with Miami city and school officials. He was not immediately available to respond to Miller.
A citrus industry group said Monday that Wilma will cause the loss of $180 million worth of Florida's citrus crop, including nearly half of the state's grapefruit crop, according to preliminary estimates.

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