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Floridians see progress, but power and gas still in short supply

MIAMI—More gasoline streamed into fuel tanks in South Florida and more lights flickered back to life Friday, but life remained a struggle for tens of thousands of people hit hard by Hurricane Wilma.

"We can't take it anymore, knowing you have to go through this every day ...," said Sherily Louiston, 25, of Fort Lauderdale. "It's stressful."

An aerial survey found that Wilma damaged 70 percent of the homes and businesses through much of Broward County, the area that includes Fort Lauderdale and endured the worst blow.

Many people won't see insurance adjusters, roofers or utility repair crews for weeks. Schools will remain closed Monday.

More than a million customers—631,500 in Broward and 474,400 in Miami-Dade—were still without power Friday, Florida Power & Light officials said.

Only about one-third of the estimated 2,800 gasoline stations in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties were open Friday, state officials said. Lines at some stations stretched miles.

In the Doral area west of Miami, waitresses from an International House of Pancakes hit the streets and took breakfast orders from harried drivers idling in a line stretching from a Mobil station.

Some South Floridians acknowledged that they hadn't prepared for Wilma's arrival Monday. Regret was the order of the day.

"Everything is my mistake," James Brown of Fort Lauderdale said as he held empty gasoline containers at the end of a long line in the nearby city of Plantation. "I should have done everything on Sunday. I should have gotten gas, (barbecue) coal, lights, a flashlight. I can only blame myself."

Miami-Dade officials said all roads had been cleared of debris. "It's a monumental task," Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said. "But things are returning to normal."

Things were more difficult in Broward, to the north.

A helicopter survey by the insurance industry found that Wilma inflicted its worst damage in the west Broward communities of Margate, Coconut Creek, North Lauderdale, Sunrise, Plantation and Davie. At least 70 percent of the homes and businesses in those cities sustained some damage, according to the Insurance Disaster Assessment Team.

Damage was less in Miami-Dade, with western portions of the county faring worse than eastern.

In other developments:

_Operations ran more smoothly at 17 water and ice distribution sites for Broward residents and eight for Miami-Dade residents. People waited less than five minutes outside the Hollywood Dog Track in Hallandale Beach for water and food provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency—but there was no ice. They'd run out. At Miami's Orange Bowl, where thousands had lined up Thursday, so few people turned up Friday that workers shouted, "Water! Water!" to attract attention—and takers.

_Phone service remained troubled for many, with BellSouth reporting 817,000 lines still impaired throughout its service area. Service to 112,000 customers had been re-established.

_Motorists faced turmoil on the streets. In Broward, only 78 of the county's 1,350 traffic lights were working by Friday evening. In Miami-Dade, 1,002 of the county's 2,600 traffic lights were working by midday.

_Curfews remained in effect in both counties, though enforcement is selective and flexible. In Miami-Dade, the curfew begins at midnight and ends at 6 a.m.; in Broward, the curfew still runs from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

_Sewage treatment and removal remained a problem, especially in the Broward County cities of Plantation and North Lauderdale. No power at lift stations meant it was difficult to move sewage from homes to water treatment plants, and raw sewage bubbled up through storm drains and manhole covers. FEMA distributed 27 generators to help power lift stations throughout the county.

_Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and other tourist areas in the Upper and Middle Keys reopened to visitors. Key West and the rest of the Lower Keys will reopen to tourists Monday, officials said.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Beta approached hurricane strength as it neared Nicaragua and Honduras. Residents in many parts of Central America confronted the danger of heavy rain, floods and mudslides.

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(DeMarzo reported from Fort Lauderdale, Merzer and Negrete from Miami. All three work for The Miami Herald.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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