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Storm blamed in Tampa man's death

Compiled from staff and wire reports
Published October 27, 2005

TAMPA - Hurricane Wilma, which spared the Tampa Bay area of major problems, has been blamed for the death of a Tampa man three days before the storm struck Southwest Florida.

John Corbitt, 66, suffered a heart attack Friday as he unloaded sandbags at a home on N Grady Avenue, said Dick Bailey of the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office.

"Had there not been a storm, and had he not been loading the sandbags, he may not have had a heart attack," Bailey said.

Bailey's death is one of 10 in the state being blamed on Wilma.

Among them are Mary Howell, 65, who died Monday morning when a piece of roof fell on her in Immokalee, and George Jacewicz, 44, who died Sunday night in New Smyrna Beach when his motorcycle struck a tree.

Jacewicz and his wife, Julie, had fled to Palm Coast from their home in Bonita Springs near Naples to avoid the storm.

STORM AID SOUGHT: The Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, which raised more than $20-million for hurricane-ravaged communities last year, is once again seeking donations.

The Tallahassee charity, created by Gov. Jeb Bush to pick up where government programs and funds leave off, has collected $2-million this year to help victims of hurricanes Dennis and Katrina. On Wednesday, it launched a new pitch for funds in the wake of Hurricane Wilma.

"It's not been as easy to raise money for Florida with what happened with Katrina," said Tallahassee lawyer Steve Uhlfelder, the volunteer chief executive officer for the group. "But that doesn't mean the need isn't there."

Last year, the fund spent its money on everything from helping underinsured small-business owners and low-income homeowners to helping displaced migrant workers and nonprofit groups whose buildings were damaged.

Donations can be made by calling 1-800-825-3786 or logging onto Donations may also be mailed to Volunteer Florida Foundation, 401 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee, FL 32301.

STRANDED IN MEXICO: Thousands of tourists stranded by Hurricane Wilma besieged airports and tour offices Wednesday as officials faced the challenge of evacuating 22,000 visitors with only 6,000 airline seats available out of Cancun.

Wilma caused serious damage to the airport when it hit on Friday and then ground slowly across the area Saturday, according to the company that operates the Cancun airport, Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste.

With navigational aids blown away, pilots must operate largely by sight and by instruments in their planes, slowing the pace of operations and ruling out flights in bad weather or darkness.

While most of the flooding has receded and electricity was slowly returning, frustrated tourists who had gone nearly a week without showering said they could relate to those who survived Hurricane Katrina.

"Now I know how those people in New Orleans felt," said Angela Benites, 48, of Mexico City. "Several days of desperation is no way to live."

Dozens of aircraft were provided for free by the Mexican government to evacuate stranded tourists, and buses arrived at the Cancun airport throughout the day.

Presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said 25 percent of Cancun and 28 percent of nearby Playa del Carmen had electricity, bringing light and water to some parts of the cities and letting many take their first showers since the hurricane struck.

Tourists spoke gratefully of the assistance they'd received in the aftermath of the storm. "The Mexicans, our hotel staff, even poor people next to our shelter were great. They fed us, kept us safe and out of danger," said Geri Schubert, 54, of Tacoma, Wash.

[Last modified October 27, 2005, 01:29:09]

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