Miami cleans up after tornadoes

More than 100 homes, primarily in poor neigborhoods, are damaged.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | LIBERTY CITY, FL | April 3, 2003


Two weeks after an F2 tornado struck a poor community in Miami-Dade County, killing one man and injuring a dozen others, residents and local disaster responders continued to clean up

what has turned out to be a bigger mess than originally thought.

As clean-up continues, President George Bush has been asked to declare the Liberty City region a disaster area.

According to Jody Hill, director of the Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster, residents were at first worried that the tornado was too small to qualify for federal funds, but as assessment teams found significant damage in a low-income community, Florida Governor Jeb Bush made an appeal to his brother in the White House for emergency relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Between 350 and 400 homes in Liberty City and nearby Brownsville incurred some damage from the storm, Hill said; 60 of those homes have been "red-tagged," meaning that they are considered unsafe to live in and will have to be demolished. Another 68 homes were found to have "significant" damage.

Also, more than 100 homes have had their roofs temporarily patched by "Operation Cover Up," a volunteer effort organizated by the Christian Contractors Association (CCA). The CCA, she said, brings together experienced contractors and construction workers, who provide free labor and expertise for disaster recovery.

As for all the downed trees and scattered tree limbs, "most the debris has been picked up," Hill said, mostly by members of the community, with help from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and a local group called Team Metro.

"But the really big issue is going to be the rebuild," she said.

The challenge for responders is that the northern part of Liberty Hill, the area that took the brunt of the tornado, is a predominateley low-income community, and many of the families affected did not have insurance.

"Without a (federal disaster) declaration there will be very few resources to sustain this community," Hill said. "We need lots of help."

Some help has already arrived: the ArchDiocese of Miami-Dade County has provided the local Catholic Charities office with a $10,000. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has given $15,000 tothe Presbytery of Tropical Florida to help with recovery. And both state and local governments have kicked in some aid money: the Florida Department of Community Affairs has given $217,000 for home retrofitting, and the Miami-Dade County Commission has set aside $750,000 in county emergency funds, in addition to waiving building permit fees for low-income senior citizens.

Other faith-groups are monitoring the situation, Hill said, but waiting to see if FEMA is going to come through with any grant money.

"It will have a significant bearing on what we're able to do, and how much more we're going to need," she said. "Frankly it's early to say."


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