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Hurricane Andrew leaves retirement community vacant

MIAMI -- The retirement community of Naranja Lakes may have been completely wiped off the map by Hurricane Andrew, the handful of residents who remain say.

Naranja Lakes was once a community of 3,500 people -- three fourths of them of middle class retirees. Residents say all but about 100 have left and they don't expect many to return.

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Residents of a four-story condominium that once had 1,350 units will vote Oct. 24 whether to bulldoze it or rebuild. Carlos Mendiola, a manager of the Naranja Lakes Condominium Association, said the bulldozers will win.

'Psychologically, people don't want to come back,' he said.

Naranja Lakes suffered the most direct hit from Andrew when it roared ashore before dawn Aug. 24. It was home to three of the 15 people whose deaths were directly attributed to the storm.

'From what I've seen, the streets there were damaged the most of any,' said Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center. 'It's almost the exact center of where the hurricane came ashore, on the backside of the eye with southerly winds.'

Residents complain that they did not receive enough help right away.

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'Their feeling is since this place wasn't an affluent community or a really impoverished one, no one paid attention to them,' Mendiola said. 'It took a lot of time for help to arrive.'

The result was a quick exodus.

'They absolutely abandoned the place,' said Delores De Lucia, 41, who is still living in the community. 'And now it's very peaceful. You are back to nature.'

Ron Albough, a State Farm Insurance agent, said many people left so fast they left most of their belongings behind.

'It's a weird feeling here,' Albough said Friday. 'You walk into some of these places and it's like they were still living there. You see people's clothes. Family pictures on the wall. In one place, we even found a cat still sleeping in what looked like her favorite chair.'

Estimates of property damage from Hurricane Andrew countywide range up to $30 billion. Officials said 250,000 people were left homeless.

Congress has allocated $8 billion for the cleanup of the costliest natural disaster in the nation's history. The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent $472 million of that money to help the hurricane relief effort Friday, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said.

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Meanwhile, the military was leaving south Florida at the rate of 1, 250 a day. Tuesday, 6,000 soldiers, sailors and Marines will be gone, leaving 11,000 behind.

At the peak of the relief effort, there were 23,000 federal troops in south Florida, plus more than 6,000 National Guardsmen.

Transportaton Secretary Andrew Card, who is heading the relief effort for President Bush, said the military has completed 80 of the 87 missions assigned to it -- such as clearing debris, patching up schools, fixing roofs, distributing food -- but some would remain.

'The troops will be here as long as the mission remains,' Card said. 'We are not withdrawing troops on a timetable, but based on when missions are completed.

'While military remains an important part of the recovery effort, civilian contractors, municipal and state governments and other federal agencies are now providing the buld of disaster relief support,' Card said.

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