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Ivan brings more misery to Fla.’s poorest county

Hurricane Ivan has driven the misery index off the scale in Escambia County, Florida’ s most impoverished and the 17th-poorest county in the United States, where poverty has been a longtime companion.
Hurricane Ivan victims line up at sunrise Sunday to buy gasoline in Pensacola, Fla. David J. Phillip / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Construction worker Sylvester DuBose joined hundreds of people who waited in line with grocery carts for free food, ice and water at a Salvation Army relief center in a downtrodden Escambia County community.

Unlike suburban distribution centers where cars lined up so people could fill their trunks, everyone here was on foot. Many simply do not have cars.

Hurricane Ivan has driven the misery index off the scale in Florida’ most impoverished county, where nearly one in five residents was below the poverty line last year.

“It really put a hurt on me,” DuBose said, sitting in a lawn chair Sunday while waiting for relief from a storm that damaged his home and could leave him unemployed for weeks.

Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, is the 17th-poorest large county in the nation. Nineteen percent of Escambia County’s nearly 300,000 residents, or about 56,000 people, were below the poverty line in 2003, up from 15.9 percent in 2002, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Paycheck to paycheck
Many more are barely above the poverty level, living paycheck to paycheck or day to day, Pensacola City Manager Tom Bonfield said. He said the high poverty rate means that the relief effort from Ivan will be especially important.

“This isn’t a case where you make sure that the phone lines are working so people can dial into their bank and get a draft,” Bonfield said. “We have a huge number of folks, there was no money in the bank before the storm.”

At the Salvation Army center, Cindy Redman and three other day laborers were together in line hoping to get food for themselves and nearly 70 others living at a nearby motel.

Redman, 42, just laughed when asked if she had a bank account. She said her husband was supposed to start a job making concrete blocks last week.

“By Ivan hitting us like it did, it’s going to put him out of work for about two weeks at least,” she said. “I have to work every day anyway to pay the rent because once he does start he’s going to be two weeks before he gets his first regular paycheck.”

DuBose’s bank account is getting low, but at least he has one.

“It ain’t big enough to hold me over,” he said while waiting in a line that extended down the street and around the corner. “That’s why I’m here.”

Travel remains difficult
The storm has made it difficult to get work because of curfews, telephone outages and lack of transportation, the day workers said. Joe Untalan, 40, said they have been unable to get jobs clearing fallen trees because they don’t own chainsaws.

Many of those forced out of work may be able to get temporary jobs picking up storm debris, said County Manager George Touart.

“There is a tremendous amount of debris that is so thick it has to be hand-carried to the side of the road,” Touart said. “We hope to hire as many laborers as we possibly can.”

Another hard-hit group includes service workers in the tourism industry. Pensacola’s beach areas were devastated by the storm.