Weather-Beaten Florida Suffers Double Jeopardy


Even before the weekend's 80 m.p.h. winds and near-freezing temperatures, the battered St. Ann Mission here looked like the center of a squatters' encampment.

Since being routed from their homes by Hurricane Andrew almost seven months ago, some 160 people have been living in mobile homes, tents and makeshift plywood sheds that surround the old church, cooking on outdoor grills, lining up for showers and praying for a change of luck.

Now, in a Miami suburb again victimized by freakish weather, their numbers are growing.

"I wouldn't wish anything like this on anybody," Paul Ohanesian, a Metro-Dade County police officer, said Sunday. "The hurricane and now this. It's like, what do you do? I'd almost rather be in a gunfight. With the weather you have no control."

This crossroads community just north of Homestead wasn't much to begin with. The flat fields are planted in tomatoes and strawberries, and many of the residents are farm workers.

Others are laborers and their families, who watched Andrew blow away what little they had early on the morning of Aug. 24. Now, this latest storm heaped misery on top of hardship--a week before the start of spring.

One storm-related death was reported in this area. Early Saturday morning, Danielle Howanitz, 36, was in a mobile home provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency when what is believed to have been a tornado picked it up and ripped it apart.

She reportedly died screaming the name of her husband, Buddy, who was asleep just a few feet away. He was uninjured.

Both had survived Hurricane Andrew in a mobile home that was destroyed on the same site, according to neighbors.

Throughout south Dade, and elsewhere in the county, those who had completed home repairs made necessary by Andrew surveyed the new storm damage or picked up tree limbs that once again littered yards and streets. Power remained out Sunday to some 70,000 Florida Power & Light customers.

On Sunday afternoon, skies were clear and sunny, but the wind was brisk and temperatures were sliding toward record overnight lows in the mid-30s as volunteer Andy Pruey prepared to find a sleeping space, hand out food and distribute blankets to the homeless.

"They come here still mixed and confused from Hurricane Andrew," Pruey said. "They are trying to get over the storm, but it's a nonstop process. Most people have the mind-set that it's an everyday thing, just surviving. It's their life."

Now, more punishing winds, falling temperatures and a critical lack of housing are driving more people to seek help.

"We had nowhere to go," said Rosa Torres, a slight 20-year-old who Saturday found a cement-block storeroom on the mission grounds where she spent the night with her daughter, Iraida, 3, and son, Natas, 1 month.

Torres said she traveled here from Providence, R.I., about three months ago with her uncle, who was looking for work. She wasn't here when Andrew hit.

Huddled in a friend's mobile home early Saturday, she said: "We were scared. My daughter was screaming. I thought the world was going to end."

Much of this area looks like the end of the world. Pine trees that remain standing are dead, stripped of branches. The roadsides are piled with trash. Many homes are abandoned, and businesses remain boarded up.

Norma Peralta, coordinator of St. Ann's relief effort, said she expected about 80 people to show up for shelter or blankets.

Next door to St. Ann's, the tent city that was opened just weeks ago by Dade County to provide semi-permanent shelter for up to 500 homeless families was abandoned Sunday. The 100 people who had moved in were evacuated to a nearby high school.

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