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Boat show organizers carry on

OCT. 26 - Getting Fort Lauderdale in shape to host a major boat show next week is going to take a Herculean effort.

Hurricane Wilma left Fort Lauderdale’s 17th Street-beachfront tourist district reeling when it tore across the state Monday. Power lines remain down or sagging in many areas, and the prevalent sound Wednesday morning was the hum of chain saws.

The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show has been rescheduled for Nov. 3-6 — a week later and a day shorter than originally planned, according to organizers.

The new dates for this show have also forced postponement of a second show — the St. Petersburg Boat Show. The St. Pete show, originally scheduled Nov. 17-20, now will be held Dec. 1-4 at the Bayfront Center Yacht Basin.

Monday’s winds ripped the Lauderdale show tents to shreds and toppled their frames, leaving the show site next to the Bahia Mar Yachting Center looking like a forest of tangled metal. Promoter Kaye Pearson’s Show Management crews began site cleanup Monday afternoon as soon as the storm had passed, and that effort was continuing Wednesday morning. The crews appear be making good progress.

Pearson says crews have been working to clear debris and repair damage since the storm cleared the area and roared offshore late Monday. Several of the main tents were destroyed and there was minor damage to some floating docks, he says. Pier 66 Marina has significant dock damage and will not be one of the show sites this year. Pearson says he is expecting fewer boats overall, however, so the show should be able to accommodate the 100 or so boats displaced there.

“The biggest thing is cleaning up the mess,” says Pearson. “We’ve been hindered by lack of power, water and food.”

The docks at the Bahia Mar, one of six show sites, appeared to be intact. A number of windows at the Bahia Mar’s hotel/restaurant, including some giant plate glass windows, have been blown out. The road in front of the hotel is filled with several inches of sand, although road crews have begun removing it.

Traffic lights are out all over the city, and cars are backed up for blocks at many intersections where motorists are supposed to be observing four-way stops. Authorities say there is plenty of gasoline, but no power to run the pumps at filling stations.

More than 3 million South Floridians have lost electrical power, and the question of the day is: “When will it be restored?” Florida Power & Light has said a majority of its customers would be back up in two weeks, but some might not get electricity for four weeks.

The city of Fort Lauderdale is struggling to get back on its feet after the heavier-than-expected damage caused by the Category 3 Wilma. Running water has been restored to the city, but power remains out to much of the city and in other areas of South Florida.

Area airports that were shuttered during the storm are gradually reopening. Miami International Airport was back in operation late Tuesday. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport remained closed Wednesday, although one runway is open for general aviation, officials say. The say they will open the facility as soon as power and water are restored, according to news reports.

— Jim Flannery and JoAnn Goddard