In Los Angeles, Crowds Line Up for Food Stamps

THOUSANDS of people in southern California jostled in long lines Wednesday to receive food stamps, and tent-city populations dwindled as the housing crisis caused by the Jan. 17 earthquake began to ease.

Tempers flared as some 2,000 people converged on a distribution center in the Panorama City area. People wanted immediate help, but most had to wait for application appointments stretching into early February.

The Department of Agriculture authorized the food-stamp giveaway - $112 for an individual and up to $450 for a family. Applicants also had to show financial need, said Mary Robertson, a county Social Services Department administrator.

The food-stamp program began Monday. Crowds had swelled by Wednesday at the 29 distribution centers. At least 9,300 people have applied so far. Meanwhile, tent cities kept emptying due to cold mornings, the delivery of rental checks, and homes being approved for occupancy. About 1,200 remained in encampments Wednesday night, after a high of 4,400 over the weekend. Officials said about 4,500 buildings in the area are uninhabitable.

Other developments:

* President Clinton sent Congress a request for a supplemental appropriation. Combined with money already made available, federal funding would total $7.5 billion.

* Nearly 130,000 people have registered for disaster aid with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agency has distributed 3,367 checks totaling $10.4 million.

* Restoration of water and power was virtually complete. Several thousand residences had no natural gas. About 500 scattered customers remained without water, down from 2,000.

* The National Guard has sent home about half of the 2,400 troops deployed since last week, Capt. Stan Zezotarski said.

Oliver North joins Senate race

Iran-Contra figure Oliver North formally launched his US Senate bid yesterday, touting himself as a conservative outsider who will recapture government from professional politicians.

North has been campaigning for months for the seat held by Democrat Charles Robb of Virginia. He faces former Reagan budget director Jim Miller for the Republican nomination. A state GOP convention will choose the nominee in June.

During the mid-1980s, the former national security aide to President Reagan played a central role in the clandestine sale of arms to Iran and secret efforts to arm Nicaragua's contra rebels.

North declared on CNN's ``Larry King Live'' that his actions helped free the American hostages in Lebanon and led to democracy in Nicaragua. ``I am not ashamed of what we did in saving lives,'' he said. ``I'm not going to apologize for it.''

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