150,000 in Fla. homeless food, water still scarce Andrew's survivors plagued by heat, more heavy rains

August 31, 1992|By New York Times News Service

HOMESTEAD, FLA. REUTERS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Nearly a week after one of the most powerful hurricanes in history ripped through southern Florida and three days after a vast federal relief effort was announced, 275,000 people still have no electricity, at least 150,000 are homeless or living in ruins, and tens of thousands must forage each day for food and ice.

Here in the most severely battered zone, a plain of flat farmlands spread with the splintered wreckage of house trailers and simple bungalows, many people have been unable to bathe since the storm hit before dawn last Monday.

Few toilets are functioning, and heaps of noxious garbage are piling up. Health officials are beginning to worry about outbreaks of dysentery and cholera.

The temperature has risen to 90 degrees or higher every day for a week, and heavy rains this weekend soaked the thousands who are living outdoors day and night.

For all the misery, some local officials said they saw signs of progress.

"The crisis is not deepening," said Joaquin Avino, the Dade County manager, in a briefing at the county's Emergency Operations Center. "The situation is not great by any stretch of the imagination, but as the days go by, things are getting better."

Others disagree. Bill Hale, who is supervising the cleanup effort in Florida City, a ruined town of 7,000 just west of here, said he had lost patience with the federal effort.

"The hell with the Army," he said. "Let them go back to Iraq. Maybe we ought to get Hussein over here and maybe they'd get down here real quick."

Military cargo planes have begun landing in Homestead and in the northern Dade County town of Opa-Locka every 15 to 20 minutes, bearing federal troops, field kitchens, tents and a combat hospital.

By nightfall, according to military officials, 6,903 Army troops and Marines had arrived, almost double the number here by Saturday night. The Army chief of staff, Gen. Gordon L. Sullivan, met with city and state officials as federal officials announced that they were increasing the number of troops to 19,000, up 4,500 from the force announced Saturday.

In midafternoon, a heavy rain drenched the torn landscape, underscoring the two-day delay in the erection of two tent cities promised by the military. But Army officers said it would be at least this morning before the first tent would go up. Each tent city is supposed to accommodate 5,000 people.

Insistent questions about shelter have begun to irritate the military.

"You can't equate progress in the recovery action to seeing tents going up," said Army Lt. Col. Steve Ritter.

Mr. Avino said that temporary or permanent housing had been found for 100,000 people. Another 50,000 are doubling up with friends and relatives. But tens of thousands are living in their own wind-blasted dwellings or in their cars, he said.

The two main highways that reach into the disaster area, Florida's Turnpike and U.S. 1, were clogged with trucks and cars carrying relief supplies, emergency vehicles and columns of military trucks.

Residents were told to boil drinking water to safeguard against possible contamination from sewage. And officials and hospitals said injuries had mounted sharply: People have fallen off roofs, cut themselves with chain saws, been hit with parts of damaged roofs, and suffered electric shocks while cleaning up storm debris or from appliances that short-circuited when power returned.

Still, something approaching normal life is beginning to take hold in much of the rest of Dade County.

All primary roads are open. Many stores and restaurants and even some movie theaters are open. Most service stations seem to be functioning, banks and check-cashing services opened yesterday, and distribution of government checks began in the disaster area. Letter carriers also made rare Sunday home deliveries in other parts of Dade County.

Officials fear that settlements in remote parts of Dade County, isolated since the storm, may hold grim news yet undiscovered.

Nick Navarro, the sheriff of neighboring Broward County, was in Homestead yesterday trying to assist relief efforts at an outlying migrant-labor camp. "There are kids over there who are getting sick. . . . There are no facilities whatsoever," he said.

On the first Sunday since the hurricane, religious and political leaders tried to rally spirits.

"We don't know how this is all going to be put back together again," chaplain Matthew Cox told soldiers at the damaged Homestead baseball stadium. "But God comes in a vision to say: 'Do not be afraid.' "

Gov. Lawton M. Chiles Jr., the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and Roman Catholic Archbishop Edward McCarthy of Miami were among those who spoke to congregations.

"Somebody said this area will never be the same," Mr. Chiles said as sunlight streamed through a hole in the roof of Bethel Baptist Church in Richmond Heights. "I think that's right -- it's going to be even better," he said to a chorus of "Amen!"

On CBS-TV's "Face the Nation," Vice President Dan Quayle said the government, criticized for moving too slowly, had done a "commendable job" considering the circumstances.

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