COUPLE AT SHELTER
Wilfredo Lee  /  AP
Laura and Charles Willis take shelter at Westwood High School in Fort Pierce, Fla., unable to afford a flight out and afraid their beat-up car wouldn't have made the journey.
updated 9/3/2004 2:57:58 PM ET 2004-09-03T18:57:58

Charles and Laura Willis sat on a blanket in a high school hallway Friday because they had nowhere else to go to get away from Hurricane Frances. With a beat-up car and no money to even board up their house, they probably couldn’t have gotten there anyway.

“Believe me, if I had any money I wouldn’t be sitting here. I’d be sitting in a motel somewhere,” said Laura Willis, 42, who works sporadically at $5.15 an hour cleaning up construction sites to supplement her husband’s disability check.

In this depressed fruit- and vegetable-producing area, sharecropper shacks are a thing of the present. About 11,000 of Fort Pierce’s 38,000 residents live in poverty, according to the Census.

Elnora German sat outside the shelter at Westwood High, her head in her hands, her face etched with worry. The 67-year-old disabled woman had left her slate-sided home utterly unprotected from Frances.

“I didn’t have no money to buy plywood, and I didn’t have nobody to put it up either,” she said.

With 100,000 miles and bald tires on her car, fleeing the area was not an option. But staying in her naked home wasn’t, either.

“I don’t even trust that house,” she said. “I’m a person of faith, but I got on out of there.”

Johnny Green’s house was little better prepared for the storm.

After waiting in vain for plywood, the 53-year-old short-haul truck driver nailed crosses of fence pickets across the front windows of his one-story frame home. That was the best he could manage.

“Well, I’ll put it this way,” he said. “Some people have the funding, and some don’t. I fall in the category of the ones that don’t.”

Green is having financial trouble that he didn’t want to elaborate on, and he is not sure just what his insurance will cover. But as he buttoned up the house and loaded his wife and four children into the van for the trip to the nearest shelter, Green put himself and his possessions in the hands of a higher power.

“God’s permissive will is going to be done,” he said. “If it’s here when we come back, that’s God’s will. If it’s not, that’s God’s will, too.”

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