Real-life 'Miami Vice' alarms Florida tourists

THE FLORIDA authorities are taking emergency measures after the murder last weekend of a sixth foreign visitor in four months, endangering not only the Sunshine State's international reputation but, more important, the future of its dollars 28bn ( pounds 18.4bn)-a-year tourism industry.

Florida's dolce vita image has long been spiced by a dash of Miami Vice. But the robbery and murder of Barbara Meller from Germany on Friday has turned television glamour into something akin to panic among visitors to America's most popular tourist destination.

Like thousands of people every year, Mrs Meller and her family were heading in a rented car from the airport to the oceanside resort of Miami Beach. But after losing her way she found herself in an inner city neighbourhood. Another car bumped into her. When she got out to inspect the damage, she was robbed, beaten and finally crushed to death as her assailants drove over her body to make their escape.

As the Miami authorities prepared special measures to protect tourists, the Florida Governor, Lawton Chiles, yesterday summoned a first meeting of a Governor's Task force on Crime and Tourism, and appealed for federal assistance to help tackle the violence.

Among the first moves, almost certainly, will be an end to Florida's system of special number plates on rented cars, which make potential targets so easy for criminals to identify. The Miami municipality, meanwhile, is installing new road signs to direct tourists to the city's main attractions, and setting up scores of information centres in fast food outlets and elsewhere.

Since early December three Germans, two Canadians and a Venezuelan had been killed while visiting Florida, before Mrs Meller's murder. Klaus Sommer, the German Consul in Miami, said that of the 300,000 German tourists to Florida in the last year, 1,200 reported being victim of some form of crime. Despite the latest alarms, there is not much sign of an end to the violence. Hours after Mr Chiles's appeal, three Danish women in a hired car were robbed, although the alleged attacker was speedily arrested.

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