After 9/11, Fla. 'Homeland' changed, too

Homeland: It hasn't changed since 9/11, but its people have.

Homeland: It hasn't changed since 9/11, but its people have.

This town, population hovering around 335, has only about a dozen streets — several unpaved — a gas station, a post office and a meat market that sells hominy in giant tin cans. It's famous for its phosphate mines, and for its name, which two months after Sept. 11, 2001, became a catchword in a nation struggling to stay secure from more terrorism.

And Homeland — four hours north of Miami and 50 miles from Disney World — is protected. In fact, the village hasn't changed in decades. Spanish moss drapes listlessly from the oak trees in the summer heat, and people sit on the front porches of their old wooden bungalows. There are no shiny strip malls or manicured subdivisions like much of the rest of Florida.

It's just that people don't feel safe anymore.

"Homeland is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, and you'd think that everything would be safe," says Gary Hacking, who works at Homeland's only public park. But, he says, "There's an uneasy feeling, even here."

It's not that the people of Homeland think terrorists will target them. They just describe, as people across America do, a loss of innocence and trust since Sept. 11. A realization that if Americans' homeland can be attacked, then attacks could happen again.

"We were all kind of naïve before," says Alexa Hamm, a 43-year-old mother of 11 who lives in one of the oldest houses in town.

Homeland was a farming community for decades — cattle and oranges. To this day, giant orange trees bear fruit, though strawberries and blueberries are common, too. The town was called Bethel in the 1800s but in 1887, a traveling salesman who peddled wares from a covered wagon said the area reminded him of his homeland in Ireland. The name stuck.

It used to be a bigger place, with a hotel and a hat shop and a handful of other businesses. That was before the phosphate mines encroached on the town and swallowed much of it.

Known as "bone valley," that part of Central Florida contains the largest known phosphate deposit in the country. Giant mines nearby extract the phosphate for use as agricultural fertilizer.

Many in town have worked there, like Lesse Tucker. The 49-year-old was working at a phosphate mine on Sept. 11. He was making a cup of coffee when he heard the news. Tucker, who now works for the county's public works department, still has a lot of questions.

"Why weren't we on our toes to begin with?" he says. "Our security was so slack. Our security let them come over and do this to our people."

"Them," Tucker says, is the terrorists.

Steve Tregear, a 55-year-old construction company owner who is a relative newcomer — only a resident for 12 years — is pessimistic about the country's future, especially after a very bad decade that he says began on Sept. 11, 2001.

Even though everything's the same in Homeland, "Every single thing has changed since then," he says. "Economically, socially, politically."

___

EDITOR'S NOTE — AP writer Tamara Lush is traveling the country writing about the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush .

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