Advertisement

Hurricane Andrew victims straggle to tent city

By
TOBIN BECK

MIAMI -- Building inspectors condemned homes in hurricane- ravaged neighborhoods of Homestead, Fla., Wednesday, urging residents to go to a tent city, while elsewhere victims formed long lines to apply for emergency aid one day after President Bush made a nationwide appeal for donations.

At Harris Field in Homestead, where the Marines put up 108 tents to house 1,500 people, three dozen had registered with the Red Cross by midday.

Advertisement

'We were sleeping in the truck. It's much better to sleep in this place,' said Olga Valle, a registered nurse whose home was destroyed. She, her husband and two children moved to a tent after a spider bit their daughter on the leg.

Health officials throughout the stricken area struggled to deal with growing problems of garbage, mosquitoes, other insects and rats.

Carolyn Kendrick was considering moving from her Leisure City house into a tent in Homestead. She said rats were becoming a problem in the shattered house where she lived with her husband, four children, and four grandchildren.

'We gotta put boards out to keep the rats from biting the babies,' she said.

Mosquito control remained a top priority, and a formation of five twin-engine planes sprayed mosquito-control chemicals over the area Wednesday morning.

Advertisement

Marines erected another camp of 100 tents in Florida City about 5 miles south of the Harris Field camp. That camp officially opens at 8 a. m. Thursday.

Building inspectors went through the devastated area, condemning homes that were unsafe and urging -- but not forcing -- residents to move to the tents.

'Most people accept the fact that they're going to have to go to tent city,' said Wayne Anderson, a Miami Beach building inspector on loan to Homestead.

'We only ran into three or four hardheads that said it will take the police or the military to get them out. One fellow said it would take a bulldozer.'

An American Red Cross manager in charge of the tent city at Harris Field said many people were balking at living in the tents.

'There still seems to be some reluctance for people to leave their homes,' Lettis said. 'They don't want to abandon what's left.'

Transportation Secretary Andrew Card said officials were considering moving smaller groups of tents into neighborhoods to encourage people to use them.

'Our goal is to have 15,000 places for people to sleep very quickly, ' he said. Card said a Red Cross survey showed 90,328 homes either destroyed or more than 50 percent damaged.

Advertisement

A 400-watt Army radio station began broadcasting information on where people could find food, water, shelter, medical help, and how to apply for temporary aid.

President Bush visited the devastated Homestead and Florida City areas on Tuesday, pledging to do 'whatever it takes' to rebuild. On Tuesday night he made a televised appeal for Americans to donate help, particularly baby supplies and rolls of plastic to cover roofs. 'America will always be a nation of neighbors,' the president said.

Card said the Red Cross received more than 30,000 calls in the seven hours after the address from individuals and businesses offering help.

Even before the Bush appeal, hundreds of businesses, civic groups and relief organizations were pouring donations into South Florida.

As one example, the Food Lion grocery chain donated to Florida victims 1 million pounds of food in a 22-truck convoy Wednesday, and planned to deliver another 80,000 pounds on Thursday to Baton Rouge to help Louisiana victims of Andrew.

But officials also said the need for massive help will continue.

'We need to pace ourselves, so we don't get everyone down here at once,' said Homestead City Manager Alex Muxo. 'We're going to need the same number of people three weeks from now.'

Advertisement

Two other Cabinet officials -- Louis Sullivan, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Jack Kemp, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- toured the area Wednesday.

Sullivan said the clinics, field hospitals and other medical services set up in the area were adequate.

'There is no medical need in the community that I have seen that is not being met,' he said.

He also said 98 percent of Social Security checks are available in local post offices, and sound trucks were going through neighborhoods advising people where to go for assistance.

Sullivan said the most common medical problems are injuries while making repairs, such as cuts, chain saw injuries and people stepping on nails. He said a small number of children have had diarrhea.

Of 27 area hospitals, 21 are open.

Kemp said he was moved by the courage he saw in people coping with the disaster.

'I spent 13 years playing professional football and I thought I saw a lot of courage, but I'm convinced I saw more today touring the area with Sen. Connie Mack,' he said. He also said he promised quick movement on rebuilding.

Advertisement

'I promised those people we would start reconstruction within a week to 10 days at the most,' he said.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Ebbesen, in charge of Task Force Andrew, said he was bringing in two more engineering divisions to help pick up debris. He said the Army Corps of Engineers had removed 30,000 cubic yards of debris since Tuesday.

Kemp also said rumors of many people dying at migrant worker camps were untrue, and said advance warning had given most of the migrants time to evacuate.

Sullivan also said in the past, health officials worried that standing water and unsanitary conditions after a disaster like Andrew could lead to typhoid and dysentery -- but he said that's not the case now.

'There is not a major health threat,' he said.

He said the greatest medical cost in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo was psychological counseling.

Insurance industry officials said damage claims from Hurricand Andrew would total $7.3 billion in Florida and $500 million in Louisiana -- making Andrew the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Andrew's death toll rose to 24 in Florida Wednesday and 36 overall when police reported a prison inmate who had been sent out to help repair a roof was electrocuted Tuesday while trying to install a ceiling fan. The toll included nine deaths in Louisiana and three in the Bahamas.

Advertisement

People lined up Wednesday at 16 assistance application sites set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA sent 500 people, including 100 Navy personnel, door-to-door Wednesday to take applications to hard-hit areas.

About 600 applicants stood in line Wednesday morning at a former school in Kendall to apply for federal loans and grants up to $11,500 each.

Rosa Morales of Miami, who stood in line for more than an hour, had lost her home.

'My house is destroyed, I don't have a roof to live in, I'm living with my sister and five other persons. I don't know. I need help. I don't have insurance,' she said. 'Anything that they gave me it's going to be good, I don't have anything at the moment.'

Richard Otis, a Kendall homebuilder who suffered major damage to his house, said he was trying to be patient with the bureaucracy.

'You've got to come down, you've got to fill out forms, you've got to send them out, there's a timetable that's going to take, who knows how long that's going to take before you receive any kind of money if you do at all,' he said.

The center coordinator, Stanley Losack of FEMA, said the system was staggered by the colossal amount of damage.

Advertisement

'This is the largest natural disaster that has occurred in the history of the country, in the number of people that have been affected and in the quantity of damage to the infrastructure,' he said. 'When you reach that kind of magnitude, you're in a new ballpark.'

FEMA Director Wallace Stickney said the applications are transmitted electronically to Washington for approval and then are sent back for checks to be printed in the field -- meaning a wait of about three to five days.

Florida Power and Light Co. said Wednesday about 200,000 customer accounts remained out of service in Dade County, compared with 1.4 million serving 3 million people that were out right after the storm Aug. 24, when Hurricane Andrew roared across South Florida with winds up to 164 mph.

Latest Headlines