Victims of 'Hurricane Andrew' regroup

September 03, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Linda Reiser's voice still shakes when she talks about stumbling out of the closet, dazed and wet, after Hurricane Andrew ripped through her home in South Dade County, Fla.

For a long while, she just stood and stared at the incredible mess. The sun was shining through part of the ceiling, and the doors and windows were gone. Broken roof tiles, glass shards and piles of insulation littered the floor. An antique curio cabinet was lying next to the uprooted mango trees in the yard.

The hurricane had turned the beautiful, two-story home that she and her husband, Raymond, had saved for years to build into a squishy swamp.

l A week later, safely ensconced with her two daughters at her sister's home in Annapolis, Mrs. Reiser is struggling to come to terms with the devastation.

l Andrew, she says, left her family shell-shocked. It destroyed their home, the center of their family life, and with it their safety.

Her youngest daughter, 8-year-old Grace, wouldn't eat for four days. Thirteen-year-old Caroline, usually full of energy, kept falling asleep.

TTC They wanted to tune out, to forget the terrifying night they spent huddled in the closet while winds in excess of 140 mph ripped off part of the roof, flung furniture across the house and shattered a two-story picture window.

"We were terrified beyond belief," Mrs. Reiser said, recalling the long night she spent with Caroline and Grace, while her husband pressed against the closet door to secure it. The next morning, he was covered with bruises from pushing his body against the door.

While her husband stayed behind to guard the house using a gun, Mrs. Reiser and her children, like hundreds of thousands of families that fled South Florida and Louisiana, are gradually regrouping.

In Annapolis, they have found comfort with relatives and support from the many strangers raising money to help victims of the storm, considered one of the worst in American history. More than 275,000 people in southern Florida still have no electricity; another 150,000 are homeless or living in wrecked shells of buildings.

Mrs. Reiser told her story last week to people at Loews Annapolis Hotel, which held a fund-raiser to benefit relief efforts.

The hotel contributed $250 to the American Red Cross by earmarking 10 percent of its bar profits Friday. Crowds came to show their support and nibble free hors d'oeuvres during the evening cocktail hour, said Diana Kaiser, public relations director

Other local efforts have included food and clothing drives by churches and the creation of a disaster relief center at BWI Commerce Park by TNT Express Worldwide, an international air express company.

Businesses along Ritchie Highway have opened up drop-off centers, and the state Emergency Management Agency has begun coordinating efforts by private groups. Six tractor-trailer loads of food, clothing, blankets and medical supplies already have been trucked from Maryland to Florida.

"It seems that everyone has understood the horrible loss," said Mrs. Reiser, who was surprised by the sympathy strangers have shown. A USAir ticket agent in Fort Lauderdale reduced the $1,800 fare to Baltimore by a third when Mrs. Reiser explained that her family was basically homeless.

Mr. Reiser, a defense attorney, was able to get them on the plane by clearing the street of splintered trees and live wires, then driving to Fort Lauderdale, even though the car's cracked windshield was in danger of caving in, she said.

Now, he's among the hundreds of thousands of people still without water or power. The one thing he has, though, is a phone.

When they built their home, four years to the day that Hurricane Andrew ripped it to shreds, the Reisers decided to have the telephone wires buried deep in the ground.

The next morning, as she picked through the debris, Mrs. Reiser heard a familiar sound. It was the phone.

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