POMPANO BEACH, Fla. -- President Bush yesterday promised a robust response to Hurricane Wilma, offering reassurance that things would improve soon for victims who are angry that supplies have been slow in coming.
''Things don't happen instantly, but things are happening," Bush said. The president spoke at a relief supply center as people gathered around him while waiting for hot meals of barbecue pork, potatoes, and bread.
Alongside his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the president greeted volunteers with the Southern Baptist Convention who traveled from Tennessee to hand out food and water. Storm victims crowded around the brothers to get handshakes, hugs and, for the women, kisses on the cheek.
Bush held a closed-door meeting with local officials and also got a tour of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The center's director, Max Mayfield, showed Bush data on Tropical Storm Beta, the 23d named storm of the year. Staff at the center expect it to grow to hurricane strength as it moves over the Caribbean Sea, continuing the year's record-setting hurricane season.
About 2 million homes and businesses remain without power in Florida in the aftermath of Wilma, which struck the state on Monday.
Floridians have grown angry about the response as they struggled for another day to find food, water, and fuel.
Many gas stations that had fuel were without electricity, and others that had power ran out of supplies. Shouting matches started at some stations when people tried cutting in line.
''Get gas down here. This is craziness," Connie Rodriguez, 23, said yesterday while she and her fiance tried getting gas at two stations across the street from each other.
Progress was being made: Port Everglades had power back for most of its fuel depot, which supplies stations across South Florida. About 700 trucks picked up gas there to deliver to stations yesterday, down from the usual 1,000, said Carlos Buqueras, director of business development at the Fort Lauderdale-area port.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said the state's largest utility,
Nine of the 11 water and ice distribution sites in Miami-Dade ran out of supplies Wednesday, but 10 were restocked yesterday, he said. Broward County had 17 sites open yesterday. Thousands of exasperated people have waited in lines for hours this week to get basic supplies.
Criticism has been directed toward the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is trying to recover from its failures in response to Hurricane Katrina. Governor Bush said Wednesday that the responsibility is the state's and promised a huge infusion of supplies.
The president said he came to Florida to make sure the federal and state responses ''dovetail."
''People are getting fed. Soon more and more houses will have their electricity back on and life will get back to normal," Bush said. ''A lot of the gasoline lines that people are standing in will be alleviated by new ships coming in."
He said generators being brought in from other states and the presence of 6,000 electrical workers from across the country would help restore power -- a key step to also addressing the gas shortages, since many stations have gasoline, but no electricity to deliver it to customers.
After landing at Miami International Airport at lunchtime, Bush took a short helicopter flight to a Goodyear blimp hangar here. His motorcade route to the relief center took him down streets lined with downed branches.
Meanwhile, the White House is finalizing a request to use $17 billion in funding already approved for hurricane relief for new purposes, such as rebuilding federal facilities damaged by the storms.
Even though almost $40 billion in previously approved funding remains in FEMA's coffers, federal rules prohibit using that money for purposes such as rebuilding military bases, highways, and flood control projects.
Details were sketchy, but the request expected to be delivered to Capitol Hill today would tap FEMA funds for such new projects, mostly the repair and rebuilding of federal facilities. One likely project is the repair of Interstate 10 in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Last month, Congress rushed through $62 billion in Katrina relief, but the pace of spending has slowed dramatically since the first days of the disaster.
Longer-term projects such as agriculture disaster aid and rebuilding funds for localities and individuals are still in the planning stage. A separate request to fund the administration's plan to combat the avian flu is expected next week, said House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield.
Lawmakers from Northern states have been hoping for new emergency heat subsidy funds.