About 100 Cuban refugees, transferred to St. Elizabeths Hospital here last week for treatment of mental and emotional problems, briefly took over one of the buildings on the tree-lined grounds yesterday, smashing several windows, destroying furniture and setting a small fire before security guards brought them under control.
D.C. Police reported no injuries in the half-hour long distrubance, which broke out at about 2 p.m. According to a police spokesman, the outbreak began when the Cubans became upset after they noticed St. Elizabeths workmen installing iron gates on the first floor windows of the two-story building where they were housed. The fire, set in a trash can in the rear of the first floor, quickly was doused by hospital firefighters. All of the incidents, the spokesman said, were confined to the first floor.
The refugees are being housed in Building B, in the northwest section of the brick-walled institution on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in Congress Heights.
Building B, the police spokesman said, is under the control of the U.S. Public Health Service. Privately employed Brinks security guards were, as usual, patroling the inside of the building yesterday, while members of the D.C. Police Special Operations Division were brought in wearing riot gear to patrol the perimeter of the building.
Local and federal officials said the Cubans, most of whose emotional problems developed during the mass exodus of about 126,000 refugees by boat from Cuba to the U.S. earlier this year, were transferred to St. Elizabeths when the two camps they had been housed in, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, were closed down because neither was winterized.
Officials said last week that virtually all of the refugees are considered treatable and eventually are expected to be settled in the United States without further problems.
Yesterday's outbreak was another in a series of disturbances by refugees, the most serious of which occured last summer at Fort Indiantown Gap.
On Aug. 5, two Cubans were critically injured and about a dozen military police suffered minor injuries when more than 300 refugees stormed barricades and threw rocks and bottles in what one refugee center spokesman called an "out-of-control riot" that lasted for more than five hours.
In that incident, about 200 Pennsylvania National Guardsmen joined the 900 U.S. Army personnel already stationed at the center, which housed about 6,000 refugees, to bring the rioting to an end.
Later that month, on Aug. 23, an unannounced, eight-hour search by authorities at Fort Indiantown Gap produced about 60 homemade weapons that were hidden by the Cubans in their dormitories.
Just five days later, on Aug. 28, about 20 young Cuban refugees seized a detention building and threw rocks and other debris at security officers, then gave up after some of them first set small fires in the structure. Six persons were hurt during that incident.