Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Irma pushes Florida's poor closer to the edge of ruin

Published:Friday | September 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Elida Dimas looks at floodwaters from her porch, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in Immokalee, Florida.

IMMOKALEE, Florida (AP):

Larry and Elida Dimas didn't have much to begin with, and Hurricane Irma left them with even less.

The storm peeled open the roof of the old mobile home where they live with their 18-year-old twins, and it destroyed another one they rented to migrant workers in Immokalee, one of Florida's poorest communities. Someone from the government already has promised aid, but Dimas' chin quivers at the thought of accepting it.

"I don't want the help," said Larry Dimas, 55. "But I need it."

Dimas is one of millions of Floridians who live in poverty, and an untold number of them have seen their lives up-ended by Irma. Their options, already limited, were narrowed even further when the hurricane destroyed possessions, increased expenses and knocked them out of work.

"The rent is US$375, and if I don't have the money they'll kick us out," said Haitian immigrant Woodchy Darius. He lives in a grubby apartment building with bare concrete floors, burglar-proof doors and cinder-block walls that make it resemble a jail more than home.

The Census Bureau estimates about 3.3 million people live in poverty in Florida - nearly

16 per cent of the state's 20.6 million population. For them, the amusement parks of Orlando or President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach might as well be on Mars.

Many work by the hour in restaurants, gas stations, hotels, stores and other businesses forced to close for days after Irma, depriving them of paychecks. Others are day laborers or migrants who earn money by the pound picking produce that's sold in stores nationwide. Still others are retirees on fixed incomes or disability checks whose budgets already were tight before Irma.

Fleeing Irma wasn't an option for those who lacked transportation to get to a shelter, couldn't afford gas to drive north and couldn't rent a hotel room. The likely costs associated with cleaning up or finding a new place to live pushed them closer to the edge than ever.