Sick, poor try to cope in riot-torn area Food at a premium in South Central L.A.

May 04, 1992|By Tony Pugh | Tony Pugh,Knight-Ridder News Service

LOS ANGELES -- Elsie Price was 96 when she had surgery to replace her ailing right knee two years ago. She recovered quickly from the operation, but afterward she lost her desire to eat.

To save her life, Ms. Price was placed on an electric feeding pump that sent liquid nutrition directly to her stomach. On Wednesday night, the electricity in Ms. Price's south-central Los Angeles home was cut as fires from the riots downed power lines throughout the neighborhood.

So for the past four days, her grandson, 56-year-old Walter Flood, has used giant syringes to pump food directly into the tubes that nourish Ms. Price's stomach.

"If I didn't do it, she'd die," he said.

Ms. Price is just one of the living casualties of the violence that has gripped south-central Los Angeles, where life can be difficult in the best of times. Now the sick, invalid and poor are struggling to cope in a neighborhood turned war zone.

An estimated 30,000 homes are still without electricity, and it may take several more days to restore power. Frightened work crews roll into the neighborhood under police and highway patrol escort, fearful their bright orange shirts could make them easy targets for a sniper.

Food is at a premium. On the lot of a burned-out Jack in the Box restaurant yesterday morning, Doug Shoaf, Mark Taylor and Sean Isbell of Orange County handed out 50 pounds of chicken and served free pancakes to residents who might not have eaten otherwise.

The three, all white, were frightened about going into the riot area while the smoke still settled. "I think they thought we were here to sell food at first," Mr. Shoaf said. "But once we put the 'free' sign up, people started to come."

People like Terrell Brewer, who grabbed a gallon jug of syrup and doused three flapjacks as he discussed the unexpected generosity: "To tell the truth, if I were them, I don't know if I'd come down here. But it's nice they did."

On nearby 47th Street, bright orange extension cords crisscross the street as residents on the north side provide electricity to those without on the south side. "It's like Beirut out here," said 56-year-old Edward Holmes, who ran a cable from the battery on his truck to operate his television.

An extension cord hooked up to a neighbor's home provides the electricity to keep his refrigerator running. "I don't know what we'd do without their help," Mr. Holmes said. For sheer devastation, Mr. Holmes said he'd never seen anything like the burned-out shell that used to be his neighborhood. "The Watts riot ain't got nothing on this," he said.

Earlier in the day, he watched as police took racks of clothing, food and a large industrial meat cutter from the home of neighbors who had looted area stores. "These people thought they got away with something, but they're getting caught," Mr. Holmes said.

Next door, Guadalupe Hernandez took his battery from his 1983 Toyota and climbed the stairs to the small apartment he shares with six relatives. He hooked up a work light to the battery to provide reading light.

Mr. Hernandez, 26, and his daughter, Fannie, were watching television Wednesday night when the power ceased.

"My daughter was screaming. She didn't know what was going on," he said.

For folks like Elsie Price's daughter, Evelyn Flood, and Ms. Flood's son, Walter, the inconvenience of life was not worth the statement the riots made.

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