You can see in this photo SW 152 nd street shown on the map. This is the epicenter of the following story. There weren’t cell phones and round the clock live tv coverage. That would come later. But for Miami, Homestead and all points in between, this was a life changing storm that came and wrecked and also ended the lives of many people.
Let’s get started, shall we…
My parents were on vacation in Connecticut at this time, then. I went down to fortify the house not far from Cutler Ridge (Coral Reef Drive) 152nd street, and then retreated to Ft. Lauderdale to ride out the storm with friends.
After the storm passed, my boyfriend and I started the drive south. Where a 30 minute drive turned into 3 hours to get from where I was to where the house was.
After the storm and surveying the destruction, I had to call my parents and tell them not to come home because there was no home to come home to.
The further south one drove, the destruction got worse. I cut through coconut grove and up the southerly route off the highway, and there were boats in the middle of the streets.
BIG HUGE BOATS…
We finally reached the house. There were no trees standing. A 50 foot tree that grew outside my bedroom window was dropped on the house next door. The roof was peeled off from the front to the back of the house and into the pool along with the screen over the pool itself.
Trees all over the place, Big Huge Banyan Trees that must have been more than 50 years old were all upended and torn from the ground as far as the eye could see. It was all a big mess.
There was a 2 story apartment building directly behind our house and it looked as if someone took a saw and sawed off the 2nd floor into rubble. People who lived there were combing through concrete and shit to try and find what ever was left of their lives.
There were no electrical lines hanging, they were all down. There was no water. We were 7/10ths of a mile from the water. Those houses closest to the water were severely demolished.
Further south in Homestead looked like an atomic bomb was dropped on the city. Everything was match sticks. Countless people out in the sticks west of the city disappeared into the swamps.
Thousands of people went unaccounted for and were missing, and it seemed nobody went looking for them.
After the fact, many years later, I took a class on natural disasters here in Canada at Concordia University. One night my professor started lecturing on this topic using slides and book statistics, and I read along and found that the book we used gave statistics of deaths and losses. They got it all very wrong. I was like, these numbers are wrong. You can’t use these tables and charts. So I interrupted her lecture and gave my own impromptu lecture on the storm to the entire class sitting there in the lecture hall.
I guess nobody came into the area to talk to those of us who were there right after the storm and could attest to thousands of people disappeared off the face of the earth never to be found.
All those people who worked in the fields and those who lived so far out on the other side of Krome avenue were never heard from again. How many of these people were there illegally and had no warning or got evacuated out? We will never know, but the fact is that many people were lost and never reported as such in statistics.
The state called in the troops to set up soup kitchens and do security. We were issued special I.D.’s to get into devastated areas inside the inclusion zones all points south of the airport where things were demolished. It took weeks to clean up the fallen trees. I was moving between three houses to take care of the people under my care in my neighborhood.
There were so many downed trees in the streets that driving was difficult. I watched people looting stores and robbing houses that had been destroyed. Nights afterwards we slept at the top of the streets in our cars with shotguns loaded to keep out looters.
We lived in a middle class white neighborhood. On the West side of the highway US1 was mostly a black neighborhood. And there were great racial tension between the two worlds.My father being the racist bigot he was slept with his gun in his arms every night just wanting someone to come and fuck with him.
Everybody had lost a home, but it was the white folks who got looted from the other side of the highway. It was dangerous.
People were lined up for bags of ice fighting with one another it was terrible. People became the hunted and going from a human being to an animal trying to survive for a day was really hard. We had to fend for ourselves because help did not come for almost a week. And by then, in the streets, it was anarchy and violent.
They looted Cutler ridge mall. All the stores were fair game when it came to theft and dishonesty and the cops were at a real loss to control the people who had lost every ounce of civility and responsibility.
There were no grocery stores, no electricity and no water and no money. The banks had been blown away, and with no electricity, how do you work an ATM machine??? Everything was destroyed so my parents brought cash home with them so I could go buy supplies so far North …
It took some time before any semblance of reality was rebuilt. Stores slowly came back online after a time. But still we had to travel great distances to get things we needed because let’s face it everyone else was doing that as well. Too much demand and not enough supplies.
When there is no electricity and night falls, it is very dark. And very bleak. It was totally unnerving night after night, not knowing who was out there and if you were going to get hit during the night. People were on guard for a long time until the troops came in to set up checkpoints and secure what they could.
Finally the government sent the people trailers, at that time my parents were still living in the ruined state of the house sheltered in one of the rooms that still had some semblance of a roof overhead but my parents moved into that little travel trailer to live in.
Having no water, toilets and electricity was not fun. It was a very long time until they began to restring the electrical wires and re-attach the homes back onto the electrical grid.
I was working at RCI at the time. And daily orders for food, ice and sundries were made and delivered to us to bring into the city. I did not last long at this job. But they did provide for their employees for a good period of time. A lot was going on in my life at this time, I was doing what I could and help out, even if my father did not really want my help, because my brother was the “straight capable son who would save them, not the gay son.” But if it weren’t for me, they would never have made it one day without the help I gave them. I was there on day one, even if my parents recollection may differ from my own.
Meanwhile we were cleaning up debris, my parents were shopping and collecting goods to bring home by plane. It took them a week to get it all done. Who knew how hard it was to procure gas generators and get them shipped by plane and then cart all that shit home with luggage.
A week later after the storm, my parents flew into Miami with generators, canned food and supplies bought 1500 miles away. I could not convey the destruction that they were about to see because it didn’t seem that bad at the airport. I remember my father falling to his knees upon arriving at the destroyed house. It was one of the saddest moments in my life.
Every day I would go to work at the port, and after work take orders from all my neighbors and drive to points North and shop for sundries and supplies and deliver them before work the next day. This went on for months on end.
It took months to find a contractor that was reputable, because we got ripped off a shit ton of money by a crook. But eventually the house was rebuilt. Most of our neighbors moved out of that neighborhood after the fact. My parents moved to Sarasota.
It was the worst destruction I had ever seen in my life – and I lived in Miami for 30 years. Andrew destroyed Billions of dollars worth of homes. We lived on Coral Reef Drive on the East side of US1.
The Metro Zoo was destroyed and many animals were running loose in the neighborhood after the storm. All those houses out West of the Zoo were demolished.
Driving south from the airport down the Palmetto Highway the gradient of destruction grew worse the further south you got. Homestead was at Ground Zero. It took more than 10 years for them to rebuild the city.
That event is seared into my memory like a bad nightmare. And very cathartic to write about it once again.