Nabil Odeh stood outside his Overtown store in a community he’s tried to be part of for about five years through turkey and bookbag giveaways and other volunteer efforts.
He was surveying damage after his store, Fancy Beauty Supply, in the Overtown Plaza, 1490 NW Third Ave., had been broken into late Sunday night and thousands of dollars in cash and inventory stolen during the storm.
“A lot of my other customers that came by were upset. Living in Miami all my life I never expected this would happen to me,” Odeh said.
It was one of several incidents of looting or burglary during Hurricane Irma, when there was no police presence due to the storm’s high winds.
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In the mind of Overtown native Torriano Brooks, a friend of Odeh’s who has volunteered with him through the New Day, New Way organization in the past, the situation hurts because the men believe it was done by regular, familiar customers.
“I went through the mad stage at first because you hate to see this happen in your own community,” Brooks said. “And for what, so you can have a couple dollars in your pocket that will be gone by tomorrow?”
Residents in the area feel that those kinds of incidents could be curbed if Miami and Miami-Dade County put more investment and focus on Overtown when compared to more affluent areas of South Florida like Brickell, downtown Miami and Miami Beach.
“If they’re so concerned about looting and things like that, why not get the lights back on?” said Nicole Gates, owner of the Lil’ Greenhouse Grill.
Residents like Gates feel that Overtown, a historically black section of Miami that was devastated by the construction of Interstate 95 through the area, has continued to be overlooked and neglected by local government. Many residents are either working poor or live in poverty, and U.S. Census data shows that the median household income in the areas is about $15,280.
If they’re so concerned about looting and things like that, why not get the lights back on?
Nicole Gates, Overtown resident and business owner
There’s been investment through the Southeast Overtown Park West Community Redevelopment Agency and in recent years venues like the Lyric Theater and Overtown Performing Arts Center have had major renovations.
But even some of those developments have run into mismanagement issues and delays over the years.
Many pockets of Overtown, Little Haiti, Liberty City and Little Havana remained pitch black in the days after the storm and debris from a construction site along Northwest Third Avenue in Overtown was initially cleared up by residents.
“There was no power, the [surveillance] cameras don’t work and there are no police in the street,” Odeh said.
The situation at Odeh’s store was one of 26 in Miami over the weekend as the storm passed, although investigators said some of those incidents might not have been robberies or break-ins.
Miami police spokesman Rene Pimentel said that there are more officers patrolling now and that they made six arrests Monday after a robbery at a Foot Locker in Midtown Miami.
“We made some arrests and we’re out there in full force,” Pimentel said.
In Miami-Dade County there were about 37 looting arrests. On Wednesday morning at another Foot Locker location that was robbed, in Liberty City, there were several Miami police officers outside.
In the same plaza as that Foot Locker, Liberty City Beauty Supply manager Sha Quresha said that he was worried about damage when the storm was passing over. He saw that someone tried to break into his back door but there were no other issues.
He said that he wasn’t really worried about his store being targeted by robbers and was instead grateful that he was spared damage from Irma’s winds and rain.
“Thank God we didn’t have any problems,” Quresha said.
And in the same Overtown Plaza where Odeh’s beauty supply store sits, residents made their way in and out of Top Value Supermarket buying up canned goods, propane, snacks and bread.
Manager Luis Burgos said that people have mostly just been glad to see the store open. The store has been running on generator power and has been closing at sundown since they reopened on Monday.
“When it goes dark outside we have to go because there’s no power,” Burgos said.