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Wilma Surprises Miami, Halts Transportation

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next, we're going to get a look at the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma. NPR's Phillip Davis reports on a storm than struck Florida harder than expected.

PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:

By midafternoon, Hurricane Wilma was speeding across the Atlantic, still a strong Category 3 storm. The sun had begun to peek through the clouds in south Florida, all the better to let Ben Grove(ph) inspect what had happened to his new house in a subdivision called Coral Isles west of Ft. Lauderdale.

Mr. BEN GROVE (Florida Resident): The winds came whipping through here and took down the fence, took down the play set and obviously a little bit of damage to the roof.

DAVIS: A huge ponciana tree(ph) lay against the side of his house, snapped in two by Hurricane Wilma. Grove and his family had just moved here a few months ago from, of all places, New Orleans. They'd actually lost a tree when Katrina made its first landfall over Florida before it headed into the Gulf.

Mr. GROVE: You know, we were a little worried after Katrina. We had some damage from Katrina. We lost a tree in that event as well, so we were a little worried about this one. We weren't expecting this, but it is what it is.

DAVIS: A lot of people in south Florida were sounding like Ben Grove yesterday, perplexed, surprised that Wilma didn't do what it was expected to do. Fred Burer(ph), a semiretired lawyer who recently moved from Baltimore to Miami Beach, was one of those people.

Mr. FRED BURER (Florida Resident): I thought that from all reports that it lost most of its wind over the Yucatan Peninsula, then it would travel all across Florida and maybe it would be half of Katrina. Instead it was like Katrina times five, as far as wind.

DAVIS: He pointed to his and his neighbors' apartments.

Mr. BURER: All the 0-1 units(ph) from the first floor through the ninth floor had all their porch windows and all their sliding glass windows come out, and it was like 20 machine guns going off at one time when they burst.

DAVIS: Burer had spent weeks renovating his new home. Yesterday, the only renovation going on was the installation of two big pieces of plywood to seal off the shattered balcony doors and the placement of candles, since there was no power.

David Paulison, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the situation in south Florida was serious.

Mr. DAVID PAULISON (FEMA Director): Lot of power outages, a lot of coastal flooding, a lot of broken windows in high-rise buildings, a lot of roofs that are going to need a lot of repair.

DAVIS: Miami's International Airport is closed. A boil water advisory is in effect in much of the area. Miami Beach police, hoping to stop looters, yesterday limited access to residents only. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said the scope of the storm's damage was unprecedented, affecting all parts of the sprawling county.

Mayor CARLOS ALVAREZ (Miami-Dade County): We've got a lot of trees down, we've got a lot of lights down. Just a small statistic: Out of 2,600 traffic lights that we have in Dade County, we only have 18 that are working, and that's because of a lack of electricity.

DAVIS: Officials from Florida Power & Light said that despite bringing in 5,000 extra linemen, it would be weeks, not days, before power was fully restored. And the mayor took the step, unprecedented in recent memory, of imposing a curfew on the entire county from 8 PM to 6 AM. It was yet another sign that restoring power and normalcy won't be easy after Wilma. Phillip Davis, NPR News, Miami.

INSKEEP: You can find more coverage of this year's devastating hurricane season at npr.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Phillip Davis
Correspondent Phillip Davis covers South Florida and beyond for NPR. He joined NPR in January 1993, and has reported on such topics as the Elian Gonzalez affair, the disputed 2000 presidential election, and the growing cultural diversity of South Florida. Davis has also filed reports from England, West Africa, and South America for NPR. His pieces can be heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and All Things Considered.