WESTON, Fla. - 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 and possibly as many as eight deaths statewide, and thousands of residents remained in shelters Tuesday.
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.
Before smashing into Florida, Wilma killed at least six people in Mexico and 13 others in Jamaica and Haiti.
The storm devastated resort towns along Mexico's Caribbean coast, severely flooding the tourist hotspot Cancun, where looters ransacked entire blocks of stores. Thousands of tourists remained stranded along the resort-studded Yucatan coast Tuesday.
In Cuba, the storm flooded Havana's streets and ripped off chunks of the famous Malecon seawall.
In Florida, most stores remained closed because of the widespread power outages, creating long lines at those that were open. More than 500 people queued up 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.
At a Home Depot in Weston, a Fort Lauderdale suburb, about 100 people waited in line late Monday for supplies.
"Nobody's arguing, nobody's fighting, nobody's pushing," said Garry Greenough, who needed a chain saw to deal with 10 trees that fell in his yard, one on his home.
President Bush promised swift help and signed a disaster declaration.
"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.
Trees and roofs dotted expressways, and all three of South Florida's major airports - Miami International, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Palm Beach - were closed. Miami's airport might not reopen until Wednesday, spokesman Marc Henderson said.
"Miami is a major point, and this is a major disruption," said John Hotard, a spokesman for American Airlines, which has a major hub in Miami.
At 5 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Wilma's center was located about 310 miles east of Cape Hatteras, N.C. The system was still a Category 3 storm with 115 mph sustained wind, and was moving northeast incredibly fast for a tropical system - 53 mph. It was expected to lose its tropical characteristics over the cooler Atlantic.
Although it was so far out to sea, it was contributing moisture to a nor'easter that was blowing through the Northeast, causing power outages in Connecticut and Massachusetts and hammering New Jersey beaches with 20-foot waves.
Officials warned residents to boil water in parts of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. A water main breach in downtown Miami sprayed water 15 feet in the air.
"We've lived here 37 years and we've never had a hurricane like this," said Paul Kramer, 71, of Tamarac, in Broward County. "We didn't expect this. This one got our attention."
In Key West, Chuck Coleman's routine also was broken. Normally this time of year, his two charter fishing boats would be packed with out-of-towners hoping to chase sailfish.
But on Monday he was standing on the dock, losing perhaps $1,000 a day until the customers come back. Although the dock took a beating and the fish freezer was a loss, the boats weren't damaged by Wilma. But they can't run if there's no one to go fishing.
"Without tourists we die," said Coleman. "There is no other form of income."
Eqecat Inc., a risk modeling firm, said early estimates projected that Wilma's insured losses would range from $2 billion to $6 billion. AIR Worldwide Corp. estimated that insurance companies will have to pay claims ranging from $6 billion to $9 billion. Risk Management Solutions estimated a range of $6 billion to $10 billion.
Authorities said two people were dead in Collier County, two in Palm Beach County, one in Broward County and one in St. Johns County.
Wilma, the eighth hurricane to strike Florida in 15 months, prompted Monique Kilgore to use a hand saw and shears to get rid of debris in front of her Fort Lauderdale home.
"I want my house to look nice," she said. "I'm also bored. I can't sit in the house any longer. No power, no lights - you know."