6 million Floridians left without electricity after Wilma

Floridians in search of water, cleaning supplies and generators lined up Tuesday morning outside the few stores that were open after Hurricane Wilma cut a costly, deadly swath across the peninsula. The storm slammed across the state in about seven hours Monday, causing billions in insured damage and leaving 6 million people without electricity.

Wilma was blamed for at least six deaths statewide, and thousands of residents remained in shelters Tuesday. Before hitting Florida, the storm killed at least six people in Mexico and 13 others in Jamaica and Haiti.

Although Wilma was far out to sea Tuesday, it was contributing moisture to a storm known as a nor'easter that was blowing through the Northeast, causing power outages in Connecticut and Massachusetts and hammering New Jersey beaches with 20-foot (6-meter) waves.

The National Weather Service posted coastal flood warnings across the Northeast, where many residents were still cleaning up from flooding earlier in the month.

Officials of Florida's three most populous areas, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, prepared to distribute ice, water and other essentials to storm-struck residents Tuesday, while utilities warned that restoration of services could stretch into weeks.

"It will be days or weeks before we are back to normal," Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said.

Most stores remained closed because of the widespread power outages, creating long lines at those that were open. More than 500 people were in line early Tuesday outside a Broward County Super Wal-Mart, which was letting in about 20 people at a time.

The first person in line, Joyce Carr, had been waiting several hours in hopes of buying a generator only to learn the store was out. But she still wanted to buy a grill, charcoal and water.

"We've heard different reports that the power will be out for some time so we're worried about supplies for our family," Carr said.

President George W. Bush promised swift help and signed a disaster declaration, the AP says.

"We have pre-positioned food, medicine, communications equipment, urban search-and-rescue teams," the president said. "We will work closely with local and state authorities to respond to this hurricane."

More than 8,200 people were in shelters across the state early Tuesday.

Wilma struck Florida's Gulf coast as a Category 3 hurricane, littering the landscape with power lines, wrecked signs, torn awnings and other debris.


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