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HOMESTEAD AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AP) -- Thousands of federal troops staged a

welcome invasion of South Florida on Friday, landing cargo planes carrying

mobile kitchens to victims of Hurricane Andrew who complained that help has

been too slow in coming.

Despite the spreading patchwork of private and public relief, many weary,

short-tempered people remain without basic needs.

"It's a massive, massive problem, and as far as you can see, when you get

out there, homes are destroyed," Andrew Card, the federal Transportation

Secretary and the man the president appointed to head the relief effort, said

Friday.

President Bush dispatched 7,000 troops to South Florida, saying he could

understand the chorus of angry criticism by local officials of the federal aid

effort. But he said Washington was now doing everything possible to help stanch

the pain inflicted by Hurricane Andrew, which gouged the southern tip of

Florida on Monday.

"I can understand tempers flaring but I don't want to contribute to that. We

want to move forward here," the president said at a White House news conference.

An estimated 63,000 homes were destroyed, leaving perhaps 180,000 people

without shelter. At least 31 people died in the storm or its aftermath. By

Friday, telephones still were scarce in some areas; 750,000 people had no

power; and hundreds lined up for food, drinkable water and federal disaster

loan applications.

The Red Cross said many people have moved out of its shelters for relatives'

houses or their own homes. Only 23 shelters of the 229 it had opened were still

operating, housing 3,000 people, spokesman Skip Baird said from Washington.

Baird said the Red Cross was closing three of those shelters Friday.

"If there's a need to open more shelters, we'll do it."

Bush and Gov. Lawton Chiles urged that complaints of a slow response be put

aside. Many South Florida residents wondered why the United States could mount

massive aid efforts in other countries yet take days to get help to Florida.

At dawn Friday, the help they sought started to land at Homestead Air Force

Base, which had been virtually destroyed in the hurricane, and the Pentagon

said it expected 40 or 50 flights during the day into Opa-locka Airport.

As they landed, soldiers snapped pictures of the palm-strewn grounds,

flipped-over cars and roofless barracks.

Friday also was the first time that military families who lived on the base

were allowed to return. They cautiously stepped over wires and pipes on the

floors of dark halls for their first glimpses of their wrecked homes.

The Army planes from North Carolina carried food, water and 20 portable

military kitchens. The military, which had already delivered 200,000 canned

rations earlier this week, pledged another 200,000 ready-to-eat meals by

Saturday. Two tent cities were to be erected by Saturday, one in Kendall and

one in Homestead, military officials said.

The troops fanned out to set up makeshift kitchens wherever there was room,

preparing to serve as many as 72,000 hot meals a day.

At one site in a school parking lot in Homestead, people sat on rolled-out

fabric on the concrete. Crumpled plastic paper cups were everywhere. But 100

sweaty, tired people got their first hot meals -- eggs, ham, peanut butter and

jelly on rolls and bread pudding.

"It's too slow coming," said Melvin Stinson. He, his wife and four children

had subsisted mainly on potato chips and melted candy bars all week.

"This is pretty bad. It's taken them how long to get in this area? This

happened Monday and today's what, Friday?" grumbled Lynn Beasley, 31, who

waited with her daughters, aged 4, 6 and 11. Her trailer was destroyed; looters

took her salvageable possessions; she's been living with sister "who's got half

a house."

Nearby residents chuckled as she blamed Bush: "He knew Monday afternoon, and

all he did was fly over. Is he too high and mighty to talk with people who have

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lost everything?"

Actually, Bush landed in Florida on Monday afternoon and toured stricken

areas in a Jeep. He made a similar visit to Louisiana on Wednesday, hours after

Andrew struck there.

The soldiers who landed Friday were just one part of a patchwork of efforts

to get food, clothing, water and shelter to storm victims. Public agencies,

charitable groups and individuals pitched in. One man handed out Teddy bears

from his pickup truck, while offices and clubs and companies organized efforts

to donate and deliver essentials -- from toothbrushes to generators.

Donors had to weave their way through areas without traffic lights,

telephones or power to reach people who slept outside to protect the remains of

their homes.

The area remained in confusion, and officials began warning that the need

for help would be long term. Tent cities akin to the ones that housed Haitian

refugees at the U.S. Navy Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are likely.

About 300 people lined up Friday outside a just-opened Federal Emergency

Management Agency relief center in Kendall, south of Miami, to apply for loans.

Altogether, FEMA took 3,000 applications Friday and made 2,400 appointments

with people for the next four days, Lt. Gen. Sam Ebbesen said.

"I don't know how they have stayed as calm as they have in this heat," said

manager Shirley Caraway. "We have no air conditioning and the sweat is pouring

off us. It's terrible."

Local emergency personnel and the Florida National Guard appeared

overwhelmed by the dimensions of the disaster. And the head of a private

international aid group said the U.S. government must change its disaster

relief policy to prevent such delays.

"They should have started the process 36 hours ahead of (Andrew's)

landfall," Richard Walden of Operation USA said in Los Angeles.

Of Bush's announcement Friday, Walden said: "I'm glad he responded with the

military, finally, but part of it is because he had to, and part of it was that

it was an election year."

Walden also expressed concern that FEMA might not approve many of the

applications from Andrew's victims for federal aid, noting delays in federal

help following the Los Angeles riots and the disbursement of only half the

pledged FEMA aid following the 1989 Northern California earthquake.

Repurcussions of the hurricane continued to spread:

-- Dade County sued to stop Tuesday's state primary, arguing that free and

fair elections could not be held amid the disaster. At stake are one Senate and

23 U.S. House seats.

-- Bush declared Collier County a major disaster area, adding it to the

three counties -- Dade, Broward and Monroe -- in his Aug. 24 declaration. White

House spokeswoman Judy Smith said the action was requested by Chiles, and

allows Collier County to receive federal funds.

-- State education officials asked other Florida districts to spare teachers

to hold informal classes at shelters.

-- Corporate America weighed in with hefty contributions of cash and

offering such items as tons of General Mills cereal, Amway cleansers and

Ralston Purina pet food.

There were some signs that life, for some people, was returning to normal.

For the first time since Sunday, tolls were collected on the Florida Turnpike

in Dade County. Newspaper delivery and trash collection resumed in several

communities.

And at the Miami Seaquarium, employees returned to work to find that five

sea lions were electrocuted and that several sharks were killed when the

pumping system in their pool flooded.

But they also found five new baby peacocks, and a 50-pound baby manatee.

Authorities haven't determined its sex. But its name will be Andrea or Andrew.

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