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Officials Help Spanish-Speaking Residents Cope During Power Crisis

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DURHAM, N.C. — Nearly 500,000 Hispanic people call North Carolina home. Cultural differences have become very apparent as many have had a tough time coping with this winter blast, but some people are trying to bridge the language gap.

La Super Mexicana 540 AM sits in an open field in Wake Forest. The small AM radio station has been sending out a powerful message to the Hispanic community.

"We basically try to keep them abreast of the information hotlines that people need to adhere to and inform them of inclement weather that might be coming in," said John Hernandez, general manager of La Super Mexicana.

During the height of the storm, 540 AM was knocked off the air. Now that their signal is up again, the radio station is somewhat of a lifeline.

"All they have is the radio. They can't go ask their neighbors for the most part," Hernandez said.

After dozens of Hispanics began showing up in emergency rooms with carbon monoxide poisoning, the language barrier got the attention of Gov. Mike Easley, who spoke Spanish during one of his press conferences.

In Durham, nearly 10 percent of the population is Hispanic and many are living in apartment complexes that still do not have power. Durham firefighters are still going door to door, warning Latino residents about the dangers of using charcoal grills indoors.

"I think we have a long way to go and we need to be better prepared. We have to realize the communities changing and we have to address those needs," said Durham Human Resources Manager Yvonne Pena.

Soon after the storm hit, the city also started passing out informational fliers in Spanish.