(2 of 7)
From Illinois' Scott Air Force Base, the Military Airlift Command dispatched C-141 Starlifters and C-130 Hercules cargo craft to carry ambulances, trucks, tents and even a mobile hospital to the refugee centers. Field kitchens, showers and 27 tons of C rations were flown in. Carter yielded to the plea of Florida Governor Bob Graham and the state's Congressmen and declared a state of emergency in Southern Florida. That will enable local authorities to be repaid from federal funds for their emergency help to the refugees. The President also made $10 million available from a refugee emergency fund to meet other immediate food and shelter costs. The newcomers were declared eligible for food stamps. The ultimate cost of the refugee wave, however, is incalculable.
Florida's well-established Cuban residents pitched in to help their own kin. The Cuban Patriotic Junta, a coalition of exile groups, began handing out $40 in cash to each newcomer. Miami-area Cuban Americans donated an astonishing 40 tons of clothing (about 30% of the Miami area's population is Cuban). Beyond that, boasted Silvia Unzueta, a relief coordinator at Tamiami Park, "We have enough Pampers for every child in the world."
But Florida is already beginning to overflow. Another huge reception center at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas began accepting refugees at week's end. It was preparing for up to 20,000. The experience will not be new for the Army base; it handled some 50,000 Vietnamese refugees in 1975. In case Fort Chaffee also proves insufficient, New Jersey's Fort Dix is next on the list to handle the arrival of even more Cubans.
There were still more than 1,500 American boats of all sizes waiting last week with restless crews and anxious relatives in Cuba's single refugee embarkation port of Mariel, 27 miles west of Havana. Those skippers who are finally permitted to load and sail under Castro's slow and erratic selection of exiles will have greater U.S. protection on the sometimes perilous 110-mile voyage than those hapless earlier captains whose boats were swamped by high winds. The U.S. Navy has the landing ship Boulder and the amphibious assault ship Saipan patrolling the Florida Straits. The Saipan has 14 helicopters equipped for plucking accident survivors out of the sea. The Coast Guard has ten vessels and at least eight helicopters on similar duty. More than 800 Marines were also flown from North Carolina's Camp Lejeune to Key West to help maintain order.
Despite the increasingly skillful planning, confusion has persisted. At Tamiami Park, federal officials for several days doled out up to $143 in cash to each refugee without realizing that a change in U.S. immigration laws effective on April 1 had made such payments illegal until after each exile formally seeks and is granted refugee status in the U.S.