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Officials angrily await ice and water

Elected officials expressed frustration Monday that the state _ again _ was slow in getting poststorm emergency supplies of water and ice to Citrus.

After some heated comments and calls to the state from elected officials, supplies started coming in Monday evening. Ice was being distributed at the Citrus County Auditorium about 5:30 p.m.

More details about distribution site locations and schedules should be available today.

Frances punished Citrus over the Labor Day weekend, closing many businesses for days and causing shortages at some stores.

During those days, county officials were frustrated over what they called a slow response by state emergency planners to get food, ice and water to people. The county relied on private-sector partners to donate supplies.

The need for relief supplies may not have been as urgent this time around. On Monday, many supermarkets, restaurants and convenience stores were open for business, and they had plenty of ice and food. There also were fewer customers without electricity.

Still, plenty of people needed assistance. And county officials were upset because the state had promised that trucks with supplies would be arriving in Citrus. The county had distribution sites ready to open as soon as supplies arrived.

But those expectations were dashed, and vocal frustration followed.

"Nobody is making anything up here. I was on that conference call and they (state officials) said the trucks were coming they can't do this to these communities," County Commission Chairman Josh Wooten said during a live TV appearance Tuesday morning on WYKE. "There needs to be a complete revamping of the system."

Sheriff Jeff Dawsy called state Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, about 8:30 a.m. Monday. She began making phone calls and was assured that trucks carrying water, ice and meals ready to eat (MREs) were coming to Citrus from Lakeland and Tampa.

"I'm giving them 2{ hours," Argenziano said at 11:30 a.m. "If they're not here by then, I'm going to be one angry person."

Meantime, the Sheriff's Office and the Salvation Army set up canteens to give out light meals such as hot dogs. Citrus United Basket (CUB), a food bank in Inverness, also hosted a cookout of burgers for emergency workers and "anyone who was hungry" CUB director Nola Gravius said. CUB stopped serving about 2 p.m.

At midafternoon Monday, Argenziano said she had just received word that six semitrailer trucks packed with ice, and six more with water, had left Tallahassee at 11:30 a.m. bound for Citrus County. Meals read to eat were being brought in from Tampa.

Later, during a 4 p.m. appearance on WYKE with host Tom Franklin, Wooten thanked Argenziano and said he was frustrated that state bureaucrats continued giving different stories about when ice and water would arrive.

"That's playing with people's lives, and I don't appreciate that," he said. "We're bearing all the pressure we can to get Tallahassee to do what they are required to do, what they are charged to do."

Later during that live broadcast, Wooten learned that trucks carrying ice had arrived in Inverness. A woman who works behind the scenes at WYKE even came on camera to deliver the good news.

"Thank the Lord," Wooten said.

Indeed, by 6 p.m. four of the six trucks carrying ice had arrived, with the other ice trucks, and the water trucks, not far behind, Argenziano said.

Although she also was frustrated, Argenziano noted that state workers were doing the best they could getting emergency supplies to the right place after Jeanne _ the fourth hurricane to hit Florida since mid August.

Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report. Jorge Sanchez can be reached at 860-7313 or e-mail sanchezsptimes.com.

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