Hurricane Irma Recovery Highlights Stark Divide Between Rich And Poor
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A hurricane brings into sharp focus the gap between rich and poor. It's especially clear in southwest Florida's Collier County. The Economic Policy Institute says it has the biggest income gap in the state and the third-biggest in the country. It was hit hard by hurricane Irma. NPR's Leila Fadel reports on how two very different places in the county are coping with the damage.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It's closed. It's closed. It's closed.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: At the Dollar General in Immokalee, two employees lock up the doors and put up a white piece of paper - the word closed scrawled in red. For a few hours, they tallied purchases by hand, and walked customers through the aisles by flashlight. Now desperate residents peek inside. They need bottled water they can afford. Tap water isn't safe. Billy Joe rushes to his truck. He's frustrated with the store and with the world.
BILLY JOE: They don't help people - no help, no water for people.
FADEL: Joe needs safe drinking water for his three kids, and he's running out of gas.
JOE: They don't care about the people in Immokalee.
FADEL: All around Immokalee, a rural town on the northeast side of Collier County, there are signs of Irma's wrath - the uprooted trees, mobile homes with collapsed roofs. There's no gas and no power. It's a small community of mostly field workers with power lines that just couldn't hold up against the storm.
On the west side of the county, there's more robust infrastructure. In the upper-middle-class city of Naples, some places have power, and some places do not. At the grocery stores that are open, you can buy avocados and fancy bottled water.
Zach Dreier and his family are cleaning up a downed royal palm tree in the front yard.
ZACH DREIER: We survived, though, and hopefully things will get better for everybody.
FADEL: Dreier and his wife know they're fortunate. They're staying at his parents' house until the power comes back at home, and they have the means to ride this out. As Irma was hitting, in a panic, the realtor and his family fled. They grabbed what they could.
DREIER: All of our documents, jewelry, money, check books, insurance paperwork, birth certificates, passports, I mean anything we could find to get our hands on quickly.
FADEL: They're not sure when they'll be able to head home.
DREIER: The main issue is that we don't have electricity. And the shutters are all down, so it's - and they're roll-down - electric roll-down shutters, so it's just pitch black. We can't get them up till the power comes on.
FADEL: As a realtor, Dreier is genuinely worried about his livelihood, worried people will be too afraid to buy. Naples in Collier County is a place where people have vacation homes near the water.
In Immokalee, life is more precarious. Many people live in mobile homes and pick oranges or tomatoes for a living. Petrona Gaspar was one of the last people to get supplies at the Dollar General store - a couple of loaves of bread, chocolate cupcakes and water. Her home is uninhabitable.
PETRONA GASPAR: We actually still have all the windows boarded up.
FADEL: Gaspar walks through the debris with her 2-year-old daughter propped on her hip. The ceiling has fallen onto her bed.
GASPAR: Everything's just gone - my bed, my daughter's bed, my clothes. And everything's just gone.
FADEL: Gaspar and her husband only make about $800 a month, but she's already spent $500 for supplies and a motel room for two nights for herself, her husband, daughter, father and brother. She didn't pay her water bill.
GASPAR: I didn't want to pay it just in case I needed something for my daughter, an emergency or something.
FADEL: After the storm, she's facing homelessness.
GASPAR: It's actually sad. It's sad to see all your things gone, and you don't have nowhere else to stay.
FADEL: Now FEMA is paying for Gaspar's temporary housing. But to get her life back in order, she has to take time off from her job inspecting fruit, and that means she doesn't get paid, so she'll need to borrow money for her next trip to the Dollar General. Leila Fadel, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF POOLSIDE SONG, "HARVEST MOON")
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