Caribbean Nationals In South Florida Trying To Cope With Life After Wilma

Hardbeatnews, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Oct. 28, 2005: As millions of Hurricane Wilma victims try to pick up the pieces in this the Sunshine State of Florida, patience is starting to wear thin as weary, cranky storm-ravaged victims try to find food, water and gasoline to resume as normal a life as possible.

Jamaican national, Marquiss Kong of Margate, Fort Lauderdale, yesterday described a scene of motorists waiting on lines for 6 hours and more, watched by National Guardsmen, to get $20 worth of gas; residents needing to show ID to get water and ice at distribution centers and a curfew on pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

This post-Wilma reality, in addition to an admittedly delayed relief operation, is feeding a growing sense of frustration.

“The cops are trying their best but tempers are flaring because people are wondering ‘Where is the help?’” Kong, of Margate, Fort Lauderdale, said, adding that she has yet to see FEMA relief teams in her neighborhood.

Tamika Bell, a former spokesperson of Air Jamaica who also lives in Fort Lauderdale, shared the same sentiment.

“People are saying a lot of promises are being made but not delivered,” the North Lauderdale resident said, adding that although there are centers set up to distribute water, ice and ready-to-eat meals throughout Fort Lauderdale, residents have had to deal with centers opening hours later than reported or not at all, and supplies running out.

“People are upset because there are these long lines and by the time they reach the front, they’re told that there is no ice,” said the Jamaica national.

But she said the main concern for a lot of people is gasoline, “not because there is a shortage but because there’s no electricity.” Bell claims that people have to search for open gas stations – those fortunate to still be standing and have electricity – and proceed to wait in hours-long lines to fill up.

With the long wait, and the road detours to complicate matters, many often end up running out of gas soon after, she added.

Many residents in the area are also either without water, electricity or both. Kong and Bell are part of the over 2 million residents who might be waiting for weeks for power to be restored.

As of yesterday, The Florida Power & Light Company had restored power to 1.1 million of the 3.2 million residents without power, including just 19 percent of those affected in Broward County and Palm Beach and 36 percent in Miami-Dade. Broward and Miami-Dade counties is home to thousands of Caribbean immigrants.

According to the FPL website, power should be restored to other affected areas by November 8, but no later than November 15.

But those projected dates are of little comfort to those, who like Kong, heard a restoration date of as late as November 22.

“I have water but no electricity,” she said. And they tell us to boil the water but there’s no electricity to boil it with.”

On Wednesday, in the midst of growing frustration with a bungled relief effort, Florida Governor Jeb Bush accepted responsibility for problems with distributing water and ice to residents. But also suggested that some Floridians should have been more adequately prepared for the aftermath of the storm.

“People had ample time to prepare,” Bush said. “And it isn’t that hard to get 72 hours’ worth of food and water … just to do the simple things that we ask people to do.”

President George W. Bush, the governor’s brother, toured the devastated region yesterday afternoon and insisted that despite the problems, ”things are happening.”

Visiting in Pompano Beach, Bush said, “I have come here with the governor and the mayor of this area because I wanted to thank all the volunteers who have come down to help the people in need. … I’ve also come to make sure the federal response dovetails in with the state response.”

This as some flights to area airports resumed but several planes remained grounded. BWIA, the British West Indies Airways, reportedly resumed flights from Miami airport to the Caribbean on Wednesday, a Miami BWIA employee said.

Hurricane Wilma, the 21st storm in a record setting Atlantic hurricane season, killed at least 27 people in its wake, including an official count of ten in Florida, twelve in Haiti, four in Mexico and one in Jamaica. –