FORT PIERCE, Fla. -- Thousands of residents desperate to return home after fleeing hurricane Frances ignored Florida's plea to stay put yesterday, jamming highways, delaying emergency workers, and causing tempers to flare in the sticky heat.
One man was so desperate for ice that he shot the lock off a freezer. Fights broke out in some places. Drivers waited for hours to fill their gas tanks. More than 1,000 cars coiled around several blocks in Stuart as a distribution center watched over by National Guardsmen offered water, ice, and ready-to-eat meals.
''Everyone's hot, everyone's sweating so much at night that nobody can sleep. Everyone's tossing and turning. The kids keep crying. I can't take no more of this. Nobody can take this," said Maria Sanchez, 26, who waited over 90 minutes with her children to get supplies in Stuart, about 35 miles north of West Palm Beach.
As many Floridians went home for the first time since Frances battered the state Sunday, traffic on parts of Interstate 95, the major highway along the Atlantic coast, was double the usual levels. Federal Emergency Management Agency workers trying to reach Martin County on the southeast coast got stuck in traffic.
''We had some fights break out already today," said Doug Anderson, St. Lucie County administrator. ''We are asking the public to please be patient and neighborly. We are all in this together."