Gov. Jeb Bush (R) took the blame Wednesday for frustrating delays at centers distributing supplies to victims of Hurricane Wilma, saying criticism of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was misdirected.
"Don't blame FEMA. This is our responsibility," Bush said at a news conference in Tallahassee with federal Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who oversees the agency.
Many Floridians were still struggling to find food, water, ice and gasoline on the third day of recovery from Wilma, waiting in line for hours -- sometimes in vain. Miami-Dade's mayor called the distribution system flawed and said at least one relief site of 11 in his county ran out of supplies.
The 21st storm in the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record, Wilma killed at least 27 people. Florida's official death toll doubled from five to 10, and the storm also killed at least 12 people in Haiti, four in Mexico and one in Jamaica.
Frustration with Florida's relief effort flared Tuesday, when trucks carrying the first wave of relief -- food, ice and water -- either arrived much later than local officials expected or never arrived.
Myriad problems affected supply deliveries, local and state officials said. Cell phone service was down or spotty, complicating communications between government officials and truck drivers. Some drivers got lost on their way to distribution points and had to be brought there by police escort.
Local governments prematurely announced distribution sites and times, causing crowds to gather hours before any supplies arrived. In many cases, there simply was not enough ice, water and meals ready-to-eat to go around, or it took far too long to get the supplies to the proper places, officials said.
"We did not perform to where we want to be," Bush said.
Bush added, however, that people seeking relief should have done more to prepare for the storm.
"People had ample time to prepare. It isn't that hard to get 72 hours' worth of food and water," said Bush, repeating the advice that officials had given days before Wilma hit.
President Bush, the governor's brother, planned a Thursday visit to South Florida, which suffered damage from the storm estimated at $10 billion.
Florida Power & Light had restored power by Wednesday to about 20 percent of the 6 million people who had lost it. The utility warned, however, that full restoration could take weeks.
Aid distribution went more smoothly Wednesday than when more than two dozen distribution sites first opened Tuesday.
Among the first in line Wednesday at Miami's Orange Bowl distribution site was Josephina Diaz, who said she arrived at 6 a.m.
"I don't have a choice," she said. "I have medicine and food I can't allow to spoil."
Police watched over the few gas stations that were open as a precaution in case motorists' tempers flared while they waited for as long as five hours to buy fuel.
"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?"