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The Befuddlement Was Palpable

Okay, somebody calling themselves "Sentinel Chicken" has asked that I look into Mike Clary's front-page Sun-Sentinel story (in today's Palm Beach County edition) on the closing of a shelter in Belle Glade. Seems Palm Beach County and Red Cross officials are up in arms about it, saying it's a crock, etc etc etc. Here's the lede:

"Belle Glade � A decision by the Red Cross to shut down emergency shelters early Wednesday forced more than 1,000 people to leave Lake Shore Middle School just as the center of Tropical Storm Ernesto blew in, generating hours of heavy downpours and gusty winds that often topped 25 mph."

Oooooh. 25 mph wind gusts.

Doesn't seem like that big a deal right off the top, hardly worthy of the front page. Then you get the passages from two people who

apparently left the shelter. Here's the first:

"People are nervous," said Earl McLemore, 35, who is using a wheelchair after a traffic accident and was the last to leave, at 11:30 a.m. "And when people are nervous, that makes you a little bit that way, too."

And here's the second:

The befuddlement that many people felt as they left for home was palpable. "I expected we would be there for the whole thing," said Catherine Fields, 40, who with her 10-year-old daughter Kateisha returned to her small trailer in neighboring South Bay as ominous rain bands spun overhead.

Oooooh. Palpable befuddlement.

Anyway, as it happens, the Palm Beach Post is looking into the story and has found that there are, indeed, serious questions about the way it was presented. The Pulp obtained an internal e-mail that detailed the Post's review of the story. First off, a Post reporter was on hand when the "announcement" was made that the shelter would be closing. According to that reporter, Dwayne Robinson, nobody was kicked out of the shelter at all. They were just told that it would be closing by 1 p.m. and a bus could take them home.

The Post contacted Josh Glanzer at the Red Cross. Here's his statement to the newspaper:

All indications here is that it was a smooth closure and people left on their own recognizance. The reality is that no one was kicked out. We provided transportation for those 4 people who needed it. School board police person (Lt. Cano) provideed security at that shelter and translated the announcements into Spanish. He said everything went by the book, no one was forced out and people began leaving on their own. Everyone we talked to didn't see these kind of things happen.

And here's what they got from Vince Bonvento at the EOC, who was quoted in Clary's article:

We had a meeting this morning with our director and red cross officials to discuss this whole incident. We have requested a reprort and should have it Monday or Tuesday. I am concerned about the accuracy of the reporter for the SS. We will have a written statement from Lt. Cano that there was never any announcement made that there were people to leave. The announcement was that there would be a palm tran bus to take them home if they wanted to leave. As people saw other leaving they vacated There was never an announcement for people to leave as was indicated to me by this reporter. As soon as I get the report I will request a meeting with the editor of the Sun Sentinel. It puts a black eye on this whole thing. Nobody can confirm what this reporter was alleging. I am concenred as to the accuracy of this article. the Red Cross is concerned too. What the reporter told me was that they had made an announcement to leave, but that announcement was never made. We are looking into it and have requested a full written report.

Ooooooh. A full report.

Look, just on the face of it, it looks like Clary -- who I believe is one of the finest reporters and writers working at the Sun-Sentinel today -- might have gotten this one wrong. But it's befuddling, almost palpably so. Therefore we shall wait for the full report before we jump to any hard conclusions.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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