But since 2005, the Parks Department has planted 30,386 replacement trees, including 15,000 canopy trees such as live oak and gumbo limbo,

In Palm Beach County, a new computer system and a rewritten disaster plan means faster communication between the Emergency Operations Center and storm victims, said public safety director Vince Bonvento. The plan divides the county into six zones, overseen in emergencies by teams who have been drilled to set up local command posts.

The county also has contracted with the Cheney Brothers, the Riviera Beach-based food distributors, to haul in food, water and ice after a storm. "We want to be much more proactive, and make delivering supplies to the people in gated communities and others in need much more efficient," said Bonvento.

Of course, the best-laid plans are useless if not followed, warn emergency managers. "What we know from Wilma is that late-season storms can be a problem, and power can be out for a week or two," said Chuck Lanza, director of the Broward County emergency management director. "So people need to be ready."

Peller, who has been president of his Section 2 condominium association in Huntington Lakes for 26 years, thought he and his neighbors were ready. But Wilma lifted roofs, uprooted scores of trees and ravaged residents' sense of well-being.

"We had to spend $55,000 the very next day to secure the buildings with tarps and plywood," said Peller, a retired restaurateur from New York. The complex was without power for 10 days.

In addition to long-delayed roof repairs now under way, residents also are reminded of Wilma by continuing legal issues. Last month the 55-and-older community sued a former attorney, accusing the Fort Lauderdale firm of fraud and misrepresentation while handling its property insurance claims after the storm.

"Now we know what to expect from our insurance company — which is not too much — and we know what to do to be prepared for something like this, which is have a reserve fund," said Neal Judas, 69.

Hurricane Wilma was an unusual storm in all sorts of ways. It blew into Florida through the back door, coming up from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and moving across the state from southwest to northeast. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties all took a pounding during the four and a half hours the storm was over land.

And although winds topped 100 miles an hour in South Florida, Wilma was not the most powerful system of the hectic 2005 season. Nor was it the most notorious of the year. Hurricane Katrina claims that distinction.

But Wilma took a toll.

Among those eventually driven out of South Florida by Hurricane Wilma were Edgar Schneider, 80, and his wife Alix Kazan. When their home, along with 400 others in Stonebridge Gardens, was condemned, they rented for more than two years while awaiting an insurance settlement.

When that dragged on, they finally gave up. In 2007 they sold the unit where they had lived for nine years for a cut-rate price of $37,000 and moved to Georgia.

"We just wanted out," said Schneider, who worked as a mathematician for IBM. "And they only way I'd come back to Florida now is in chains and at the point of a deadly weapon."

Mike Clary can be reached at mclary@sunsentinel.com or at 305-810-5007.