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These migrant workers earn $350 a week in the fields. Now Irma has destroyed their homes.

Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

IMMOKALEE, Fla. -- Petrona Nunez cradled her 2-year-old daughter, Jazabell, in her arms and surveyed the damage to her family trailer.

The roof had caved in on the living room and bedroom. Debris was everywhere. Globs of pink insulation clung to furniture, walls and the floor, as did mudlike dollops of saturated roofing material.

A broken mirror and shattered door lay atop her bed. A plastic sheet served as a temporary roof, creating a diaphanous glow amid the chaos inside.

"It's so bad," Nunez, 24, said, clearly at a loss for words. "It's pretty sad when your home is destroyed."

Hurricane Irma caused large-scale damage on its rampage through Florida, but this impoverished, largely Latino farming hub in the southwestern part of the state was among the areas hardest hit. While aid was being rushed to the Florida Keys and other ravaged coastal zones, as of Monday evening there was no sign of any help arriving to this rural backwater a day after the storm blasted through.

Immokalee -- the name is said to derive from a Seminole word referring to "home" -- is a place apart in Florida, remote and well off the tourist trail. Its poverty rate is among the state's highest, encompassing more than one-third of the town's 25,000 or so residents -- yet it is only 50 miles or so from seaside Naples, one of the state's wealthiest communities and the hub of Collier County, which includes Immokalee.

"We're part of Florida, we're part of Collier County, but sometimes it doesn't feel like it," said Connie Velasquez, 22, a beauty parlor worker and lifelong Immokalee resident. "We're usually the last to get help."

Plywood boards mounted as protection from the storm still covered windows of the taco shops, Mexican-style grocery stores and other establishments along Main Street. There was no electricity; power lines were down on streets and in yards. Residents lined up at a generator rigged with extension cords to charge their phones.

Roofs were blown off many of the trailer homes and ill-constructed shacks that pass as housing here for the multitudes of farmworkers, mostly from Central America and Mexico, but with a considerable contingent from Haiti. Pools of water from the hurricane still were found on streets and front yards.

"I don't know who is going to fix this," said Felipe Bartolo, 59, a native of Guatemala whose rented, one-room home had its tin roof sheared off.


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