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Katrina Evacuees Boozing it Up

BOURNE, Massachusetts – Hurricane Katrina evacuees hastily handed $2,000 in federal relief money last month have been living it up on Cape Cod, blowing cash on booze and strippers, a Herald investigation has found. Herald reporters witnessed blatant public drinking at a Falmouth strip mall by Katrina victims living at taxpayer expense at Camp Edwards on Otis Air Force Base. And strippers at Zachary’s nightclub in Mashpee, a few miles from the Bourne base, report giving lap dances to several evacuees.

“They were tipping me $5 a pop,” said a Zachary’s dancer named Angel. “I told them I felt bad taking their money. But I still took it.” Another dancer said a large group from the military base was in Zachary’s recently and she gave lap dances to several of the victims. “Some spend good money, but others don’t,” she said. An assistant club manager, who gave his name only as Michael, acknowledged yesterday that the strip joint is popular with people from Camp Edwards. “It’s no different for someone who lives at Camp Edwards or is stationed at Camp Edwards. As long as they have the proper ID they can go in,” he said. On Oct. 5, the Herald observed a virtual parade of evacuees from a bus stop in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Falmouth to nearby liquor stores. Some emerged and openly swilled from brown-bagged containers, while others poured booze into jugs or plastic cups and casually sipped drinks at the Wal-Mart bus stop. The refugees have access to daily trolley service from Camp Edwards to the Falmouth Mall. One elderly man poured a bottle of Ruble vodka into a water bottle and spent the afternoon sipping the liquor outside the Wal-Mart. Two other men were seen buying 32-ounce Coors Light cans at George’s Liquors and drinking at the bus stop. Last Tuesday, one 52-year-old evacuee, who told a reporter he was originally from Cuba, stood in the rain outside Wal-Mart for several hours drinking gin and orange juice from a thermos. The same day, a female evacuee bought ice at a supermarket and roughly $30 worth of hard liquor before being driven in a car back to Camp Edwards. Evacuees are banned from bringing booze onto the base.

One Camp Edwards source said evacuees swiped liquor off shelves at the U.S. Coast Guard store on the base and drank it in the aisles. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued more than $1.5 billion to 607,000 Katrina victims in the form of individual cash handouts of $2,000. There are no restrictions on how the money can be spent, FEMA officials said. Gov. Mitt Romney and the Legislature approved a $25 million emergency aid package to feed and house 235 of the evacuees at Camp Edwards. As of mid-September, the Red Cross had doled out another $25,000 in debit cards for victims sent to the Bay State.

The Camp Edwards residents have been treated to Red Sox and New Orleans Saints games, Boston Duck Tours, a chowder fest, concerts, and free cell phone and Internet service, as well as cookouts sponsored by Romney and U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Since the Sept. 8 arrival of the original 235 evacuees, a handful of unruly drunks have been taken into protective custody, according to law enforcement officials. More than half the evacuees have left Camp Edwards for other housing, and 114 refugees remain at the encampment, which is slated for shutdown Thursday. Falmouth police Chief David Cusolita said police cracked down on public drinking at the Wal-Mart after complaints last month but he reported no recent incidents. Barnstable Sheriff Jim Cummings said some of the intoxicated refugees were taken into custody by state police, while others were escorted to their dorms.

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