HIALEAH, FLA. (WSVN) - Thousands across South Florida stood in long lines for hours as they looked for help after Hurricane Irma, but instead of aid, many instead found frustration upon realizing that sites either closed early due to the unprecedented demand or did not even open.
It was a chaotic scene at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah on Saturday as residents already in line, some of whom had waited overnight, were told the tents would not open.
“We’ve been trying since 7 in the morning to let them know that it’s closed,” said one police officer. “Unfortunately, a lot of people refuse to leave.”
Miami-Dade resident Ivan Sanchez was one of those who decided to stay. “We’re waiting to see if they’re open because that’s what they said yesterday and they reopened,” he said,
Saturday was the fourth day for the Food for Florida Assistance Program, which saw the biggest crowds to date throughout all seven South Florida locations.
Frustrations reached an all-time high. “They’ve been pushing, they’ve been fighting, they’ve been shoving,” said Miami-Dade resident Ayesha Carter.
“There was traffic at 2 in the morning. We’ve been waiting here forever,” said Jonathan Lavelle.
The Florida Department of Children and Families said it decided to not even open the Amelia Earhart Park location location due to health and safety concerns.
“They know people coming for free stuff, so they should be prepared,” said one woman.
In Broward County, DCF cut off the lines at all locations before the expected closing time.
“Since 12:30 [p.m.], you decide to close the sites, and that is very, very disrespectful to the citizens of Broward County,” said Broward resident Jean Marie Olivier.
“You wait for so long, and then you get here, and then you’re so hungry but you still have to go to work, said Musaab, another Broward resident who left empty-handed, “and you’re told, because they’re closed, you have to come back another day.”
Residents were waiting to get their hands on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, access cards to purchase food. The amount of money on each card depends on factors like income, loss due to Hurricane Irma and number of people in residents’ households.
Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies at Central Regional Park in Lauderhill worked to control the traffic and the seemingly never-ending lines.
“All of a sudden, the police is coming around saying it is official, that it’s closed now, but it has not been official for almost three hours,” said Broward resident Harold Gonzalez.
“It’s just ridiculous. We’ve been here like eight or nine hours,” said another frustrated resident.
In Southwest Miami-Dade, the crowds at Tropical Park came prepared to wait. Some even brought chairs and umbrellas.
Residents turned away at Amelia Earhart park made their way to Miami Dade College North Campus in Northwest Miami-Dade.
One woman who asked not to be identified or show her face on camera said she was unable to receive aid at this location either. “When I got here at 8:30 [a.m.], they told me they had already closed the line,” she said. “Now, this is very unfair because these are taxpayers that are out here to be compensated for the hurricane just like everyone else.”
DCF officials confirmed the Amelia Earhart Park location and all distribution sites in Broward would remain closed on Sunday. The rest of the Miami-Dade location are scheduled to open at 7 a.m. and will close when organizers deem the crowd size poses a safety risk.
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