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Old Jobs Gone, New Ones Created by Disaster

September 6, 1992

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) _ South Florida’s job picture shifted abruptly with the winds of Hurricane Andrew. Businesses wiped out by the storm have laid off thousands of workers, but contractors and emergency agencies are hiring.

″It’s changed drastically, absolutely,″ said Siobhan Monaghan of the CareerXchange employment agency in Coral Gables. ″There’s no doubt about it. People are being displaced, and new markets are opening.″

The upheaval is expected to generate 140,000 new unemployment claims in Florida. No one has yet been able to gauge the job growth accompanying the cleanup.

Sandy Marshall was unemployed and his house and truck were destroyed in Homestead, but he stills thinks he has the opportunity of a lifetime. He has hired a crew and is clearing downed trees in his neighborhood.

″It’s a good opportunity for me to build a business. I want to make money, but not at the expense of people dying and all this destruction,″ he said. ″It happened, I’m dealing with it, and I’m going to make the best of it.″

Dorcas Farmer, 27, moved in with her parents in Hialeah six months ago when she was laid off from a computer sales job. She is one of 247 people hired at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s command center in Miami.

She is earning $9.50 an hour plus overtime on a 12-hour-a-day schedule in her new secretarial job and said she could have expected only $6 to $6.75 an hour for the same work before the hurricane.

″FEMA is a head start to put you back on your feet,″ she said.

The federal government also has given the state $15 million to hire unskilled laborers to clear Andrew’s debris.

Sandra Stafford of the state Labor Department came from Tallahassee to this storm-tossed military and farm town to set up a trailer and tents to match newly unemployed people with jobs.

″So far what we’ve got is laborers, carpenters, people trying to rebuild,″ she said. A nearby chalk board lists openings for 50 laborers at $4.25 an hour, 10 experienced roofers and a farm bookkeeper to replace someone who lost her home and can’t return to work.

About 17,000 migrant farm workers were in the area when the hurricane landed, but few are needed in the lime and avocado orchards flattened by Andrew’s winds.

A farm worker advocacy group is offering bus transportation to apple and vegetable harvesting jobs from Virginia to New England, Stafford said. But some don’t want to leave.

Maria Vasquez was able to recover only ″a table, some beds, just some little stuff″ after her roof came down, but she has lived in Homestead for 20 years and her children, ages 18, 16 and 9, have grown up here.

Her husband, a packinghouse employee before Andrew, filed his unemployment claim Wednesday, and she came in Thursday with her mother. Both women had worked at an indoor plant nursery, but only four employees were needed to clean up. She said planting is ″the only thing we can do.″

Jobs have been lost in all sectors of the economy because Andrew was unsparing in its devastation, rampaging across a 100-square-mile area.

Robert Blevins supervised the vans carrying Goodwill Industries employees to jobs at Homestead Air Force Base, But with the base demolished and idle except for relief work, he is out of work.

″You put three years of your life into something and dedicate it to them,″ he said, his voice trailing off. He has no job prospects, noting, ″I haven’t really looked. I’ve just been trying to take care of my house.″

To the north, the Miami labor market, which had unemployment approaching 10 percent, is benefiting from the predicament at the southern end of Dade County.

Work is available in newly created jobs such as insurance claims work and in newly opened jobs held by people whose lives were so disrupted that can’t say when they’ll be back to work.

Steve Kass, Miami branch manager of Robert Half, a national employment agency specializing in accounting, finance and data processing jobs, said he is hearing from employers ″where people are missing and they have work to be done. You need to get the job done.″

Some of the job offers are oddballs.

″We had an order for somebody to blow-dry files,″ Monaghan said. ″We’ve had orders for people to please come and clean their furniture.″