Powerless in Florida

State debates funding for generators after Hurricane Wilma

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Gasoline and power outages continued to create trouble in south Florida late last week as petroleum retailers cleaned up after Hurricane Wilma made its way across the Sunshine State.

In Hollywood, Fla., a gas station owner screened customers Thursday to allow health-care workers to get gas first, according to a report from NBC6 News. Meanwhile, area lawmakers called on the government to ensure gas stations have generators to prevent future gridlock at the pumps, the Miami Herald reported.

However, Governor [image-nocss] Jeb Bush and FEMA said it's not the role of the government to inject itself into private commerce, adding that oil companies and small gas station owners should shoulder the cost of backup power.

The good news for gas-thirsty motorists in Port Everglades, which imports almost all of South Florida's fuel, was that power was re-established Thursday, allowing four gasoline tanker ships to berth and fuel to be pumped into tanker trucks faster. But even with more gas coming -- and more stations getting their own electricity -- there are still long lines throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The answer for some stations: generators. One industry representative and the Florida House Democratic minority leader called on Governor Bush to pay for generators in next year's budget after he vetoed $3 million to buy generators for gas stations statewide last year.

I assumed it was a no-brainer, said Jim Smith, the gas-station lobbyist who helped establish the fund, which was approved by the Florida House and Senate. You're talking about doubling or tripling the number of facilities available to provide gasoline to the public during a power outage.

Rep. Lincoln D a az-Balart, a Miami Republican, called for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rush generators to gas stations. FEMA did a good job pre-positioning supplies, but they should have had generators ready for gas stations that have gas but no power to operate pumps, said D a az-Balart.

A Bush spokesman said the governor vetoed the budget measure because the governor doesn't think the state should be in the business of subsidizing petroleum companies.

Meanwhile in Hollywood, Fla., a Texaco station being run on generator power responded to a need for health-care workers to get gas on Thursday so they could tend to those hurt in the storm. A police sergeant screened customers to see if they are health-care workers before allowing them to fill up.

I've got a lot of sick patients and I'm doing the best I can to get around," one doctor who bought gas at the station, told NBC6.

The station owner said he understood the need and was trying to help. I'm trying to take care of medical personnel workers -- doctors, nurses, contractors, people that are servicing the community in any kind of way, the station owner said. They're a much bigger priority than just anybody just driving around for fun. In conditions like this, people shouldn't be burning up gas on cruising."