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Bush Promises Floridians More Help

The president tours hurricane-ravaged parts of the state and asserts 'things are happening.'

October 28, 2005|Robert Nolin and Jean-Paul Renaud | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — Offering words of encouragement and the promise of "ships coming in" with gas, President Bush toured fuel-thirsty South Florida on Thursday, meeting with local dignitaries and a storm-stunned public as the area lurched unsteadily toward recovery after Hurricane Wilma.

"Soon, more and more houses will have their electricity back on and life will get back to normal," Bush told a crowd of about 100 waiting at a lunch distribution center in Pompano Beach. "In the meantime, the federal government, working with the state and local government, is responding as best as we possibly can."

The presidential visit, lasting about three hours and including a stop at the National Hurricane Center west of Miami, came as local governments struggled to cope with dwindling fuel supplies, and weary residents lined up for water, food, ice and gas. Earlier Thursday, one man died and nine others, including three firefighters, were hospitalized from inhaling carbon monoxide fumes spewed by a generator in a Deerfield Beach home.

While promising fresh supplies of ship-borne fuel, Bush acknowledged the area's problem wasn't a lack of gasoline, but rather the electrical power to pump it. "I know people are frustrated because they don't have power on yet," he said, sweating through a gray shirt. "Things don't happen instantly. But things are happening."

Fuel supplies in cities were becoming critical for police, nursing homes and hospitals. Sewage lift stations also were low on power, and teams scrambled to hook up generators from station to station to prevent sewage from backing up into toilets and bathtubs.

But more homes and businesses were regaining electricity -- 1.8 million remained without power as opposed to 3.2 million just after Wilma's passage. About 700,000 had no electricity in Broward County, about 600,000 in Miami-Dade County and about 500,000 in Palm Beach County.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport reopened Thursday, and Port Everglades began receiving freighters.

During his visit, Bush was accompanied by his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, in a 16-vehicle motorcade to the First Baptist Church in one of Pompano Beach's poorest neighborhoods.

Tents had been erected for food distribution, and Bush was greeted with cheers by people lined up for a free lunch of pulled pork and potatoes. During about 40 minutes among the crowd, he shook hands, hugged people, posed for pictures and signed autographs.

"It's an amazing spirit after a disaster," Bush told the crowd. "And that spirit is a spirit of people willing to give up their time."

High school teacher Concepcion Ledezma of Pompano Beach said, "I understand his visit was political, but it lifts everybody's spirits."

Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs said she emphasized to the president and governor the area's need for fuel and generators.

She said both Bushes assured her they would "rattle the cages" and that the government would send 200 generators to Broward by today.

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