MIAMI – Many Floridians began another day of struggling to find food, water and fuel after Hurricane Wilma (search) on Thursday, with lines of people and cars forming around home improvement stores and gas stations.
About 2 million homes and businesses were still without power, which was making the recovery more difficult. Many gas stations that had fuel were without electricity, and others that had power ran out of supplies. Shouting matches broke out at some stations when people tried cutting in line.
"Get gas down here. This is craziness," Connie Rodriguez, 23, said Thursday while she and her fiance tried getting gas at two stations across the street from each other.
But progress was being made: Port Everglades had power back for most of its fuel depot, which supplies stations across South Florida. About 700 trucks will be picking up gas there to deliver to stations Thursday, down from the normal 1,000, said Carlos Buqueras, director of business development at the Fort Lauderdale-area port.
A day earlier, Gov. Jeb Bush (search) took responsibility for frustrating relief delays in a state all too familiar with powerful storms.
"We did not perform to where we want to be," the governor said at a news conference in Tallahassee, adding that criticism of the federal response was misdirected. "This is our responsibility."
Bush's comments came amid finger-pointing by local and county officials upset with aid efforts, and criticism of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) reminiscent of the anger unleashed following Hurricane Katrina.
"This is like the Third World," said Claudia Shaw, who spent several hours in a gas line. "We live in a state where we suffer from these storms every year. Where is the planning?"
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez called the relief distribution system "flawed." Nine of the 11 sites in his county ran out of supplies, according to its Web site.
But at another South Florida distribution site, ice sat melting Wednesday night, with officials issuing a plea on television stations: Come get it before it goes to waste.
Wilma killed at least 27 people in its charge across the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida. Florida's official death toll doubled from five to 10 Wednesday, and the storm also killed at least 12 people in Haiti, four in Mexico and one in Jamaica.
In Mexico, weary tourists camped out at the airport in hopes of grabbing a precious seat on flights Thursday leaving hurricane-ravaged Cancun. Thousands of tourists remained stranded along Mexico's Caribbean coast.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who oversees FEMA, asked Floridians to have patience as he surveyed crumpled boats, shattered mobile homes and snaking lines of cars at fuel stations along the storm's path.
Chertoff promised to deploy cargo planes overnight to gather water and ice from across the country for delivery by Thursday. He also said the government was working to find more power generators to send to south Florida, and called on oil companies to help distributors get fuel out of the ground and into gas tanks.
"I have to say, in honesty, patience will be required for everybody," Chertoff told The Associated Press during his flight to Florida. "Under the best circumstances, even in the best planning, you still confront the physical reality of a destructive storm."
President Bush planned to arrive in Florida on Thursday to get his first look at the damage wrought by Wilma and to visit the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
More than 2,900 people remained housed in 25 shelters spread over 11 counties.
The state's largest utility, Florida Power & Light, had restored power by Thursday to about 36 percent of the 6 million people who had lost it. Officials warned, however, that the full restoration process could last through Nov. 22 in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
"All we can do is be patient and tell them an estimated time because we don't know what we might find down the line," utility foreman Heath Lowery said in Coral Gables. "We don't come out here and just turn a switch on and the lights come back."
Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs told CBS' "The Early Show" on Thursday that a boil-water order should be lifted soon, but the extended time the county is expected to be without power was problematic.
The record-breaking storm season wasn't over. Tropical Storm Beta formed early Thursday in the southwestern Caribbean Sea, becoming the season's 23rd tropical storm, the most since record keeping began in 1851. It was expected to threaten Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, but not the United States.
In Florida, the Upper and Middle Keys announced plans to accommodate tourists again beginning Friday; the Lower Keys, including Key West, expected to have tourists return starting Monday.
In the meantime, storm-savvy Floridians resorted to their ingenuity.
At one Wal-Mart, 30 people sat on the sidewalk while they used the store's outside electrical outlets to recharge their cell phones. At one gas station, a man went car-to-car selling fuel from a 10-gallon plastic tank. The price was $20 for about a gallon, and people happily paid.
"It's not a matter of we lack fuel, we just can't get it out of the ground because we lack power," said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. "Grocery stores are closed because we don't have power. The longer we go without power, the worse the situation gets."