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Boston Weather: 41.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Hard-Hit Residents Worry They Will Be Overlooked

By Peter Eisner


When the winds blew out the windows, then started chewing away at the roof, Gladys Walker kept retreating, watching her life come tumbling down.

The former Brooklyn resident ended up in the bedroom farthest from the east, where killer Andrew blew strongest. And somehow, huddled in there all alone, she survived.

"It's bad, I'm telling you," she said Friday, sitting outside on a chair salvaged from the water-soaked remnants of her home. "It saved me, the room I was in saved me, thank God."

Walker lives in the predominantly black neighborhood of Richmond Heights in southern Miami. This previously tree-lined, working-class district of 50,000 residents is wedged between the Florida Turnpike to the west and U.S. 1 to the east.

Hurricane Andrew roared through early Monday like a freight train, destroying the Metropolitan Zoo that borders the community, and, according to weather forecasters 10 miles away, apparently spawned a series of tornadoes that also ravaged Richmond Heights.

Windows were blown through, roofs jacked open, sheds flung askew. One storage shed containing furniture was picked up by the winds, thrown over the house and left completely intact upside down in the front yard.

Many residents suffered, but Walker has the extra burden of having no one to help her. Arthritic, in her 70s, she has neither the strength nor any idea of where to begin to salvage the house or clean up her life now.

"My husband, Jerry, he was a painter, he had diabetes and lost both his legs," she said, squinting in the hot noonday sun. "My husband just died four months ago."

Walker and her neighbors are concerned that with so much attention focused on the devastated areas such as Homestead and Florida City, neighborhoods like Richmond Heights, and the poorer black districts of Perrine and Goulds, other neighborhoods on U.S. 1 in metropolitan Miami, will be forgotten.

"It's true, generally those areas don't have political clout," said state Rep. Darryl Jones, a Democrat, who lives in Richmond Heights. Jones is trying to change that with a dose of activism. He cajoled Gov. Lawton Chiles into touring the district that includes these neighborhoods.

"We came down here from Brooklyn in `63, but my whole family's up there," Walker said. "I got no telephone; I'd like to call my sisters. My son is around, but he lives way over there," she said gesturing to the west.

She offered a tour of her house. "This was my husband's hospital bed, and this is the room where I hid," she said.

The kitchen is torn apart, spoiled dairy products and meat scattered outside, the refrigerator smelling fetid. "My friends brought me some water and I have some canned goods," she said surveying once more. "Everything is gone. Everything ..." her voice trailing off in tears.

Frequently, she repeated, "Thank God that one room was saved."

Some neighbors stopped by. They gave her something to drink and they exchanged hugs and embraces. One neighbor promised to send some of his employees over to help clean up around the house.

Jones, the state representative, is now working with private sources who have donated dump trucks and chain saws to remove the debris. And he is looking for help in designating federal land for housing projects in these hard-hit areas.