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Without power, condo a prison

With electricity out and elevators not working, some are trapped in high-rise homes.

By STEVE THOMPSON
Published October 28, 2005

[Times photo: Steve Thompson]
Ellen Johnston, 84, on the 10th-floor balcony of her Pompano Beach condo, says, "I thought Andrew was bad, but this one topped Andrew. This one is the worst I've seen in 52 years."

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POMPANO BEACH - They were waiting at the door when the firefighters knocked. Christine Meyers, 67, handed her walker to her 73-year-old husband.

"I'm just off balance," she said, apologetically.

"We're going to have you have a seat, we're going to strap you in, and we're going to get you down the stairs," firefighter Tim Waterhouse reassured her.

And with a special wheelchair, they began a dark, squeaking, bumping trip from the 10th floor of the Sea Monarch condominiums Thursday afternoon.

The high-rises here along State Road A1A provide views of the Atlantic, the Intracoastal Waterway and the skyline of Fort Lauderdale. But power loss and failed generators are turning many of the older residents into prisoners.

Even as power was restored to some, thousands of others remain in high-rises with no working elevators. "It is widespread," said Pompano Beach Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Brian Schafer.

Many of them are elderly and cannot easily get food and water, he said. Some also rely on electric wheelchairs and scooters with batteries that are running out.

Utility workers are concentrating on areas with high-rises, Schafer said. "It becomes more critical as time goes on."

Many high-rises, like the 29-story Pompano Beach Club, have working generators to keep an elevator going, but without power they have no way to pump water to their upper floors. City water pressure only gets it so far.

"We finally got water up to the 19th floor today," said 65-year-old Peter Verdone, the Beach Club association's vice president. "There's still 10 more floors to go, because we can't get electricity."

The Sea Monarch's emergency generator quit because of a problem with its cooling system, leaving residents like the Meyerses stranded.

As they finally headed into the stairwell Thursday, they passed a neighbor, 84-year-old Ellen Johnston, in the hallway.

"Take care," Johnston said. "How far you going?"

To their son's house in Cape Coral, they said. Their daughter was coming to pick them up.

"I can go down all right, but I have a hard time getting back up," said Johnston, who also lives on the 10th floor. Water began flowing to the 12th floor Wednesday, she said, "Thank God."

Johnston has a little pita bread left, and some tuna fish. If the elevator isn't running when the food runs out, she said, she'll go down.

"I'll go eight steps at a time," she said, "rest a little bit, then go another eight."

Next door, at the 15-story Ocean Monarch, the generator had a busted carburetor hose. Four men stood looking at it Thursday, twisting this, poking that, and scratching their heads. Residents had been calling security guard Rafael Rodriguez all morning.

"I don't blame them," he said. "People are going crazy here. They want to know what's going on."

State Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said one emerging problem was the possibility that generators may soon run out of gas. "It's something we're going to have to deal with very shortly," said Bogdanoff, whose mother lives in nearby Hollywood.

At the Sea Monarch Thursday, William Meyers stepped sideways as he followed his wife and the firefighters down the cavernous stairwell. He faced the handrail and gripped it with both hands.

"Do you know what floor we're on?" he asked the firefighters after several minutes of descent.

They had six floors to go.

[Last modified October 28, 2005, 02:00:20]


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