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INSPECTOR KNOWS HOW IT FEELS TO BE HOMELESS

It was Victor Straker's sad task Tuesday to condemn homes damaged by Hurricane Andrew. His own home destroyed by the storm, the housing inspector's heart wasn't in his job.

"Oh man, I don't even know where to start," Straker moaned as he drove down one shattered block after another.He posted his red condemnation signs on only two homes in two hours, then quit for the day.

Straker said he could condemn only "the worst of the worst" - the city's Building Department didn't have enough of the red signs to go around.

And besides, where were all these people supposed to go?

"There's no answer," Straker said, shaking his head.

He was instructed to start condemning houses and apartment buildings on Tuesday, eight days after Hurricane Andrew roared through this city of 27,000 people.

His job was to post signs warning the occupants to stay away and to advise them to move to tent cities set up by the military. "Unsafe building," the signs warn in bold letters. "This building . . . shall be vacated, shall not be occupied."

It remains up to others to enforce the warning.

"A lot of people don't trust the tent city. Everybody wants to be independent," said Straker. He understands; he doesn't want to go there either.

Straker, 36, lost his own apartment and has been sleeping in his office at City Hall. So have his fiancee and his 5-year-old daughter.

The task of inspecting damaged buildings is one of the mammoth jobs that have fallen on city and county governments in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.

Leonard Fassler, supervisor for the Metro-Dade Building and Zoning Department, said the county agency had more than 100 inspectors in the field inspecting about 2,500 buildings a day.

"We are not condemning structures," Fassler said at a briefing Tuesday. If a building is deemed inhabitable, inspectors urge the owners to find shelter elsewhere, he said, but "We do not go as far as to remove them."

But in Homestead, where the city inspectors operate independent of the county, chief building inspector Stan Makowski said homes that are red-tagged are condemned and eventually will be bulldozed.

The city is still sorting out the timing and procedures. And it is running into unexpected snags: Makowski had to put in a rush order for 5,000 new condemnation signs.

Straker set out around noon in a white, city-owned car with a shattered windshield and a smashed side. He munched on a Tootsie Roll - his first meal of the day - as he headed nowhere in particular.

"This is going to be a bigger problem than you can imagine," he said.

He hit the northwest part of town first, home to mostly migrant workers. He stopped at five houses but condemned only two - both of them vacant.

Straker also condemned an apartment complex but didn't post any signs.