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Andrew victims hurry up and wait

By
JANE SUTTON

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Victims of Hurricane Andrew Thursday hurried to areas where food, water and precious ice were to be distributed only to stand in line and wait in the hot Florida sun.

'You got masses of people standing in line,' said Charles Morris, a Florida City Public Works employee pressed into service as a distribution supervisor.

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When asked what they needed most people shouted, 'Ice, Ice, Ice.'

A lot of people still had food at home but said ice was needed to keep it from spoiling.

'We've already eaten everything that hasn't started to smell,' said Gary Young of Homestead. Everthing left had to be cooked immediately or it would spoil, he added.

One woman standing in a water line had another request.

'Tell 'em we're standing in these long lines so send some Port-o- Potties,' she said.

At one Publix grocery store 400 people stood on asphalt in the hot sun waiting for a truck that Cookin' Good Chicken Co. was supposed to send filled with 30 pound boxes of ice.

Many people had been in line since 7 a.m. and by 10 a.m. the truck had not arrived.

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Some people said water had begun to trickle from taps at home but they had no bleach to sterilze it and no power to boil it.

'We need every size and shape battery you can bring down. That's a priority,' said Sonny Guercio. 'We need Coleman fuel. Lost of us have Coleman stoves but no fuel to run them.'

The problem facing both Homestead and Florida City is not getting help, it's distributing massive of amounts of food, water and supplies and managing the volunteers who are pouring into the area from around the state and country.

Homestead City Manager Alex Muxo said the city has received shipments from all over the country but volunteers had not alerted residents the goods were coming.

Muxo said National Guard troops at times had to be dispatched to break up angry riots among people waiting in lines for water.

'People were ready to take the guards' guns away from them to get the water. That's how desperate it is,' Muxo said.

He said the Guard troops in Homestead appeared to have arrived without a commander and often, when asked to do things, they said they had to wait for authorization.

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'We have 250 guardsmen bu there's nobody authorized to let us use them,' Muxo said. 'We can't get certain things released.'

Muxo said he asked the federal government to set up a tent city, similar to one built by the government in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for Haitian refugees. He said he has received no answer to the request.

He said if such a tent city was set up the federal or state government would have to run it because Homestead does not have the resources.

He said 90 percent of Homestead's 450 city employees lost their homes in the hurricane.

'It's become a real challenge to have them here (City Hall) when they're trying to take care of their own families,' Muxo said.

He said the city was setting up dorms near the electric power plant to accomodate city workers, contract workers and volunteer doctors and nurses.

He said two doctors showed up Wednesday night from out of state but did not have a place to stay.

Offers of help and shipments of food and water were coming from as far away as Alaska but an emergency command center with telephone lines was first set up at City Hall Thursday to organize volunteers and shipments.

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'We were running into a problem because of the outpouring we're getting,' Muxo said. 'We need volunteers but we also need to manage the volunteers.'

By midday, volunteers started to create order out of chaos. Trucks with shipments of supplies were sent to the Homestead National Guard Armory, where they were unloaded and the goods were sorted. From there the supplies were taken to individual distribution centers where volunteers loaded them into grocery bags.

'We're putting it together as if we were going to eat it,' said Trish Faver, a schoolteacher from Key Largo. 'We're trying to get all the four basic food groups in these bags.'

The items most in demand were peanut butter, cereal, canned fruit, prepared pastas and spaghetti -- things that either would not spoil once opened or could be dumped directly into a pan and cooked to make a whole meal.

The warehouse was stacked with flats of military meals ready to eat, bottled water, Gatorade, cases of toilet paper, canned chicken, peanut butter, sodas, and pet food.

Most people donated practical items but a few sent chiffon dresses, electric coffee makers and can openers and toilet seat covers.

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Starting Friday the police Explorer unit and other volunteers will go door to door in Homestead, distributing plastic trash bags and flyers that tell people where to get help, food and water, Muxo said.

Most homes were still without power and Muxo said batteries stored before the storm have been used up by now so residents are difficult to reach.

'We felt the best way to get to people is to go door to door or rubble to rubble -- there's no door,' Muxo said.

The streets into South Dade County were lined with convoys of backhoes, flatbed trucks with generators, utility poles, paramedics and National Guard units.

In Florida City, doctors from the medical center at the Key West Navy Base set up a field hospital on the lawn across from City Hall. They were kept busy treating people with wounds from flying glass and puncture wounds from stepping on nails. They also distributed diapers, baby food, milk and formula.

Mountains of food, toilet paper and water sat in the gutted Florida City government building and city officials were trying to get out word to people to pick it up.

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