NEWS-SENTINEL The Rant News-Sentinel forms Weekly poll Weekly poll results Tax Reassessment Tell... Hurricane season ends, but

Hector Salazar toiled as a handyman for 17 years to buy a comfortable mobile home for his wife and two children, and a life-altering hurricane named Wilma smashed it to pieces.

Now he spends sleepless nights wondering and praying over the future of his family, sleeping on a rock-hard cot next to hundreds of strangers in a shelter - the homeless remnants of one mean hurricane season.

"What's going to come of the future of my kids?" said Salazar, who has requested housing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency but has yet to hear back.

"We're hardworking people who help others whenever we can. We just need a little help to get back on our feet. That's what I need. This storm was not anyone's fault. I just hope we can get help."

Wilma was the last major hurricane of 2005, a fitting end to a six-month span that saw hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, plus two tropical storms, affect Florida. That makes eight hurricanes in 15 months, including Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan in 2004.

The hurricane season was so busy that forecasters looked to the Greek alphabet to start naming storms. Still, Florida's entire season didn't equal the death and destruction wreaked by Katrina when it hit Louisiana and Mississippi.

In Florida, homes and streets repeatedly were flooded in the Keys island chain. Hurricane winds blew out windows in high-rise buildings in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. And thousands of homes were rendered uninhabitable in heavily populated South Florida.

Wilma alone shut down schools for days, shuttered businesses, and left 3.2 million Florida Power & Light customers in the dark. The season caused about $10.5 billion in insured damage and 63 deaths in Florida, state officials said.

_One month after Wilma, about 700 people remain in hurricane shelters, waiting for county or FEMA housing assistance. FEMA said it has approved about 39,000 applications for temporary housing, at the cost of $76 million.

_Tourism, the state's largest industry to the tune of 76.8 million visitors last year, lost millions of dollars in business from evacuations and airport closures. The Florida Keys had an estimated $40 million in lost business from Wilma alone.

And the storms left their mark on Florida's visual beauty. Scores of shade trees are gone, and fishing depots on the peninsula's southern tip and in the Panhandle were flooded. And beach erosion got worse in the Panhandle, where a 74-foot-tall historic lighthouse in Cape St. George was toppled after Dennis.

In the angst-filled days after Wilma, residents stood in serpentine, hours-long lines for gasoline, water, ice, food stamps and insurance information. It took about a month for FP&L to fully restore power after Wilma; in the meantime, many customers were angered to see the company and four others win approval for rate increases to offset rising fuel costs.

"All the money I spent buying ice and food every day, you can't get that back," said Patricia Kurtz, who spent a month without power at her West Palm Beach trailer. "I'm not impressed with the whole operation."

"When the oil companies make $10.5 billion dollars in a quarter, I guess they can spend a couple of million dollars to retrofit their stations - or they can loan the money to their station owners," said state Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Tamarac.

In the wake of Wilma, FEMA - already stretched thin by Katrina and Rita - found itself on the defensive as it tried to get truckloads of supplies to storm-stricken areas and help individual victims.

The agency's response met "an unprecedented challenge this year in Florida," said FEMA spokeswoman Frances Marine. "No one went without food. No one went without water. Overall, it was a very successful response and it was a huge response."

Gov. Jeb Bush deflected complaints that people had trouble getting ice, water and food, reminding them that officials had urged individuals before the storm to stock up with three days' worth of goods. "People had ample time to prepare," he said.

State emergency management director Craig Fugate lamented the state could not fully meet its self-imposed deadline to have distribution sites open 24 hours after a storm. Still, the state plans to keep the same goal next season even though Fugate wonders whether some may see such aid as "a disincentive" to get ready.

Fugate said he may call for a higher-profile publicity campaign to encourage storm preparedness. He'd also consider polling residents to find out why they did, or didn't, prepare.

"Until we really understand why people ... don't prepare and what it takes to get that message across, then I think that's going to be our challenge," Fugate said.

And for those who are still need new housing, FEMA has assembled 249 trailers at two Broward County locations. As of Wednesday, 84 of the trailers were occupied, FEMA spokeswoman Anjanette Stayton.

Since moving into the first of two shelters on Oct. 25, he has not been able to work because his wife, a native of Nicaragua, speaks only basic English, and he needs to be present in case they're notified that their housing application has finally come through.

"This country has the economic capability to help people with needs like ours. I've spent 17 years paying taxes, and I lost my youth working so hard in this country," said Salazar, 35, a native of El Salvador.

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