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Hardest hit

"Hardest hit" Continued...

Issue: "Riots in France," Nov. 19, 2005

Bernard Morwitz is president of Temple Emeth, a 2,000-member synagogue less than a mile from Kings Point. He says the temple's membership consists nearly entirely of senior citizens: "I'm 70 years old, and I'm one of the young ones." Mr. Morwitz, who paces through the office hallways wearing a small brown yarmulke on his head, is busy arranging the synagogue's relief efforts: "We have a lot of people in Kings Point who have really been hurt."

Mr. Morwitz says before the hurricane hit, the synagogue had been collecting food for the needy during the Jewish holidays: "Now we have the needy right here." Mr. Morwitz is contacting anyone from the temple who might need help, and Temple Emeth's rabbi is visiting members and delivering relief supplies.

Temple Emeth is helping outsiders as well. When Enrique Zuanetto, director of a local soup kitchen, pulls up into the temple's driveway with his empty white van, Mr. Morwitz tells volunteers to pack it with food from collection bins. Mr. Zuanetto is relieved: "Our donations dried up after the hurricane."

A half mile down the road, Jeffrey Willens, administrator of Temple Sinai, has been calling the elderly members of his temple as well. In the days after Wilma, Mr. Willens and temple president Bob Goodman huddled in an office with no electricity to make lists of anyone who might need help. About half of the 400 families in the synagogue are elderly, he says. The temple has provided anything members might need. "In some cases they just needed some human contact," says Mr. Willens, "so we provided that too."

Back at Kings Point, Betty Garfinkel says human contact was one thing she missed most in the days after the hurricane. Mrs. Garfinkel-a New York native who will only say she is "over 65"-has lived alone in a two-bedroom condo in the community since moving here after her husband's death 24 years ago. She's weathered several hurricanes, but says: "This is the worst one. Everything was howling and blowing. I was terrified."

Mrs. Garfinkel's condo sustained little damage, but she was unable to get out of the community for several days due to debris. She says she sat in her condo each day and waited for nightfall: "I only had my radio for company." On this day, she sits on a short bench under a brown tent, waiting for a bus to take her to the store. She's glad she can get out for herself now, saying "not many people came to offer help" after the hurricane hit.

A full 12 days after Wilma ripped through the complex, Kings Point staff walked through the community to check on residents and assess damage to individual units, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Workers from social service agencies who accompanied the staff found severe water damage, roof damage, and rat infestations in some units. Palm Beach Fire-Rescue found the body of an 81-year-old man who had died of natural causes sometime after Hurricane Wilma struck. Kings Point staff did not return calls from WORLD seeking comment.

Capt. DeLucia thinks "a majority" of retirement communities in Palm Beach don't have good plans in place for dealing with disasters: "They may be set up to do everything else in-house, like transportation and recreation, but when a disaster happens, what are they going to do?"

Mrs. Garfinkel says it would be simple for anyone to help at places like Kings Point after a disaster: "Just go around and ask people if they need help. That's all. . . . They can't give us lights, but they can give us a little help and a little company."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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