Farm workers avoid shelters

Bonita Springs, Fla. –  Juan Lopez stood shirtless in front of his battered, rusty trailer park home with a Budweiser longneck in his right hand and the Mexican novel Estefania in the other.

A huge live oak tree and several pine trees swayed over Lopez ‘s trailer as Hurricane Wilma’s winds approached Southwest Florida on Sunday afternoon. His skin shimmered as he came out of his hot, humid home.

Lopez , 43, a construction worker, will weather his first storm at home, even though officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for all mobile home residents in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties. He’s scared about the storm but more scared of being deported.

“I’m not going to a shelter. I have no paperwork,” said Lopez , who moved to Bonita Springs from Nuevo Leon, Mexico six years ago. “I don’t want them to deport me.”

He is not alone.

As residents around Southwest Florida made final preparation Sunday for Hurricane Wilma to make landfall, migrant workers living in immigrant-dense communities like Lopez’s remained misinformed about what to do and where to go to protect themselves from the storm.

Lopez’s trailer community is a series of dirt roads connecting about 100 beat-up trailers near Interstate 75 and Bonita Beach Road. Inside live vegetable pickers and housewives, construction workers and schoolchildren — some of the area’s most vulnerable residents, who are hidden from the pristine Gulf beaches and multimillion dollar homes along the coast.

Much of the misinformation circulating in this neighborhood was whether people who went to the hurricane shelters needed to show identification.

Deborah Horvath, executive director of the Collier County Red Cross, said the agency does not turn away anyone who arrives without identification.

“We’re just trying to get people who live in trailers out of the storm’s way,” Horvath said. “We ask for people to register in case someone gets lost, but we don’t share our information with anyone else.”

At the trailer park, Miguel Lopez , 36, used aluminum tape to cover the unstable windows of his tarnished, moss-covered gray trailer home.

He and his wife, Francisca Reyes, 50, debated whether to go to a shelter with their three children Sunday evening.

“The police came by yesterday and told us we have to leave during the storm,” Miguel Lopez said. “But I’m not going anywhere. Nothing is going to happen here.”

Lawn chairs, washing machines and potted plants remained outside the nearly 200 RVs at the Manna Christian Mission RV Park.

Maria Zamarripa, 37, decided Sunday to take her family to the shelter.

“I need to protect my family,” Zamarripa said.

At the Golden Gate High School shelter, Gustavo Urbina and 14 relatives arrived for shelter early Sunday and helped Red Cross volunteers set up hundreds of cots in the school’s gymnasium.

“We know we’re safe here,” said Urbina, a construction worker. “Nothing is going to happen to us.”

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