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September 27, 2004

Florida residents line up for food, water, clue

By Ross Thomas

VERO BEACH -- People lined up more than half a mile for food, water and a clue today in the aftermath of the fourth devastating hurricane to batter the state in six weeks.

Hurricane Jeanne, which smashed the state with winds up to 120mph over the weekend, left at least six clueless Floridians dead, all of whom stayed in the state despite surviving three hurricanes already this season.

"You'd think we'd just up and leave after the second one," said Rebecca Forrester, a 32-year-old housewife, waiting in line at one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's food, water and clue distribution centers erected around Florida. "How clueless can 17 million people be?"

While thousands of without-clue residents cleaned up after yet another surprise hurricane in hurricane season in the famously hurricane-troubled state, others lined up in sweltering heat to buy generators.

"What the hell are we doing here?" asked plumber Bob Morton, 49, in a tone of angry self-recrimination. "It's goddamn 90 degrees out and I'm standing outside a Home Depot just so I might be able to cook some beans tonight. I'm hotter than a motherfucker. Why don't I just get a clue?"

With two months still left in hurricane season, FEMA officials said they're frantically trying to distribute as many emergency clues as possible, but fear their efforts may be in vain.

"I don't know what it is about Floridians," said one aid worker who declined to be identified. "They just don't seem to want to get it through their thick skulls that this is a stupid place to live."

Florida is the first state to have been hit by four hurricanes in one season since Texas in 1886.

But, said John Simpson, chief meteorologist with the National Center for Hurricane Prediction, "it's not like it's unusual for Florida to get a hurricane or two. It happens every year, for Christ's sake."

Simpson, who once lived in the state himself but moved to New York immediately after experiencing his first hurricane, was unable to explain why Floridians stay put.

"First Charley, then Frances, then Ivan, and now Jeanne," he said, emphasizing each name by beating his fist against his forehead. "What's it going to take before these people get a clue? Hurricane Zach? Just leave!"

"JUST FUCKING LEAVE!" he added suddenly after nearly a minute's silence.

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