Two Months After Andrew: Relief Workers Depart, Crisis Remains
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) _ The second graders at St. John’s Episcopal School cheered loudly at the news the air conditioning would soon be on again, another sign of progress in the battle to rebound from Hurricane Andrew.
″We’re going to get our house back for Christmas,″ 7-year-old Courtney Rutter said confidently.
But officials and most residents believe the cleanup will take much, much longer. Left on their own by the steady departure of relief workers, some say they have only now begun to realize what lies ahead of them.
″A lot of people have been so traumatized that they haven’t really looked around till now,″ said Hector Rodriguez, waiting for help at one of the area’s dwindling number of Red Cross relief centers.
Dr. Alan Delameter, a University of Miami research psychologist who lost his own home to the hurricane, said: ″This is the stage we’re all concerned about.″
″It’s at this stage, when all the reinforcements leave and people are left to their own devices, that we’re going to really start to see the disillusionment, the depression, the despair,″ Delameter said. ″I can tell you first hand, it’s a tremendous challenge just to get through the day.″
The last of five tent cities housing homeless victims of the hurricane closed Friday. All but a few of the 23,000 federal troops that came to help have pulled out.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has passed out $84.1 million for emergency housing, but has 5,874 applications pending. It has written checks totaling $120.6 million for individual and family grants, but hasn’t acted yet on 4,956 requests.
And only 289 businesses have gotten loans so far, fewer than half the number promised money and one-sixth the total that applied.
″This is the stage of a disaster when the more complicated applications manifest themselves,″ said FEMA spokesman Marvin Davis. ″Some of these just take a little more time.″
Davis said FEMA also has had trouble tracking down some applicants who left their homes.
The Aug. 24 storm damaged 85,000 houses, more than half of them severely or beyond repair. The insurance industry is contending with 610,000 claims in Florida, and 31 firms had not completed their inspections of hurricane-related damage by an Oct. 15 deadline.
The estimate of insured damage from the hurricane reached $10.7 billion last week, a record for a natural disaster. The total $20 billion loss also is a record.
Three insurance companies have failed. Their claims will be paid by liquidating their assets, or from a state guaranty fund.
″Everybody still is waiting for insurance checks and nothing’s getting done,″ said Lidia Cieslik, standing in line for a free meal offered by a local restaurant that reopened last week.
In the hardest-hit sections, repairs have started on a few houses, but most are covered by plastic tarpaulins or open to the elements. Few businesses are functioning. Piles of debris remain uncollected on street corners. Wires and store signs hang from their supports. A 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew still is in effect.
Residents face other bottlenecks as homes sit waiting for repairs.
In their busiest year ever, Dade County contractors built 11,000 houses. Now they will have to rebuild or repair eight times that many.
″Simple math is going to tell you it’s going to take way more than a year,″ said John Lindstrom, an officer of the Miami Building and Construction Trades Council.
There have been two hurricane-related suicides, according to the Dade County medical examiner. Uncounted numbers of residents are taking their insurance settlements and abandoning their ruined homes.
New laws mean the most heavily damaged homes must be rebuilt to new specifications. Doors have to be wider under the Americans for Disabilities Act, for instance. Homes in designated flood hazard areas will have to be rebuilt on foundations up to five feet higher because of new federal regulations. Neither cost is covered by insurance.
The hurricane left 85,000 people out of work, according to Dade County planners. They say it will take three years for the economy to bounce back, and more than seven for the number of jobs to return to pre-storm levels - and that’s only if Homestead Air Force Base is reopened.
″I thought the storm was over, but it’s only just started,″ said Janice Marshall of Homestead, who worked at the base.