Nov. 5--Hurricane Wilma caused more than $124 million in damages to Broward and Palm Beach county airports and seaports -- more than any storm in recent years, but not enough to crimp operations or affect business long-term, authorities said this week.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport appears to have taken the biggest hit. Preliminary tallies show the cost of cleanup and repairs to county-owned facilities alone will top $20 million, including replacing roofs, repairing hangars and replanting trees, spokesman Jim Reynolds said.
Tenants at the international airport sustained another $11 million in damage to their properties, while the storm ruined planes worth $50 million.
Broward's North Perry Airport, meanwhile, suffered $5 million in damage to tenant properties and damage to planes of $25 million, said Reynolds.
Despite that blow, commercial flights into Fort Lauderdale "never missed a beat" since the airport reopened to commercial traffic after Wilma -- even one rainy day when five gates were closed. "We had enough extra capacity to handle flights at other gates," Reynolds said.
Palm Beach airports fared better. The county's four airports suffered $3 million in damages, mainly at Palm Beach International, which lost some roofing and signs. But business is back strong, with extra flights set for the winter.
"There's no indication there will be any reduction in flights as a result of the storm," said Palm Beach airport spokeswoman Lisa de la Rionda.
Seaports took a hit, too -- to the tune of $6 million in Broward and $4.5 million in Palm Beach, authorities added.
Broward's Port Everglades now has one cruise terminal out of commission. But cruises scheduled to operate at the damaged terminal have been shifted to other docks. Business continues normally, so "that's a good sign," spokeswoman Ellen Kennedy said.
Meanwhile, the Port of Palm Beach took a wallop "way worse than last year," said port director Lori Baer.
Its biggest problem short-term is dredging submerged items, so that big, full ships entering don't hit bottom. "We're now at 29 to 30 feet deep, depending on tides and other factors. We hope to be able to get back to 32 feet by Dec. 1," so that large ships won't move to other ports or bring in limited cargo, reducing revenues for the port and tenants, she said.
Financing the repairs presents a serious headache.
Broward County airports plan to cover costs with a mix of insurance payouts, government funding and user fees -- not new taxes, said Reynolds.
Baer of the Port of Palm Beach hopes Florida will reinstate State Infrastructure Bank loans offered after last year's storms, which were basically interest-free for two years. "That's one way the state can really help," she said.
Wilma shut down Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for three days and West Palm Beach International for two.
At least 2,000 flights have been canceled into and out of South Florida's three major airports, and normal service may not resume until mid-week.
Hurricane Wilma could hold up travelers another day.
Key West International Airport had at least five feet of storm surge near the entrance and as many as three feet of water on the runway.