Driving south on the Florida Turnpike hours after it all hit was the easiest drive ever – few vehicles headed south, all tolls were open, and no state troopers or cops anywhere. Yes, I confess to driving 100 mph, but no worry as I know how to drive; I learned in Germany where they have an actual test of skill. At some point right after Bird Road exit (S.W. 40th Street), all of the signs disappeared. So if one didn't know where they were going they were out of luck. I knew where I was going.
I exited on S.W. 186 Street (Quail Roost Drive). I just knew the exit, though there were no signs. I knew to drive east towards the bay, though there were no street signs or traffic lights anywhere. This area is known as Perrine. There was nothing green. All the trees were stripped bare and looked like sticks and all of the foliage and vegetation was gone... really gone. Shocking mainly because Miami is better known for its greenery, or was.
Driving east towards Cutler Ridge, the bay, it only got worse. There were still no signs, not even stop signs or any means available to identify location, so I just drove east and eventually made it to Old Cutler Road. Most houses were still standing, but windows were now shredded glass and and vehicles littered the streets, twisted beyond recognition. Power poles and lines were all over the place, blocking roadways, on top of houses. Shreds of glass and twisted metal everywhere is the prevailing memory.
Driving through the devastation I finally made it to my friend's home. They had holes in what was left of the roof, no windows, mud all over the floors and walls... We unloaded the car and were soon consuming barbeque and beer – never forget the charcoal; I didn't. Their daughter and her husband arrived in short time – their trailer in Homestead was gone – and we heard the stories of massive devastation in Homestead (South Dade County). They had driven there in a vehicle with shreds of glass all over the place. Of course they cleaned off what they could before embarking on that journey, but shredded glass can almost never be cleared completely, and certainly not in an hour and they had cuts all over.
My friends and the children had spent the worst part of the hurricane in the bathroom and in a bedroom closet. And then all was quiet, too quiet, they knew something was wrong, and the real damage began. Tornadoes took anything standing, with the exception of a coffee table and an eggshell hanging from the embroidered Easter decoration; both were intact in the exact location they were in when it all started. They were working to cover what remained of the roof with plastic sheeting. It started to rain and the sky turned dark, like icing on a devastation cake.
I left before sundown with a list of items to bring back on my next trip, the day after. The area was under martial law and anyone on the streets after dark would be arrested. It was day 3 after Andrew hit when I returned. Odd enough, my friend's Bellsouth landline worked through it all so we were in contact. Back in Orlando the Red Cross was begging for donations for victims: cash and other items. It was day 3 and then day 4 after, but still no one came to help. The Red Cross had a truck sitting on S.W. 40th Street (Bird Road) and S.W. 87th Avenue (Galloway), miles before any of the devastation.
The looting had started full force and the Red Cross feared driving into the area, at least that is what they stated to me on the phone when I called the Orlando office demanding answers. They stated that their trucks were being overturned and even hijacked.
On day 6 after I made my third trip down. Still no Red Cross, but Burger King and Arby's were out there in trucks passing out food. I was informed that they arrived on day 5 after and were constantly refilling and returning. Burger King Corporation took the place of Red Cross, the state and federal government, and anyone else that should have been there. Meanwhile the USAF was landing jets with necessities and supplies to pass out in Homestead, but other soldiers (don't know if they were National Guard or Army) were holding off the people with AK-47s. Riots ensued until they finally started passing the stuff out.
Around a hundred monkeys escaped from a laboratory at Monkey Jungle and many escaped from a lab at the University of Miami. Exotic birds and animals escaped from the devastated Metro Zoo. The people were not the only ones to lose their homes.
Everyone was armed, but then it is Miami. I have photos of National Guard handcuffing looters to bars on a convenience store directly behind my friend's house. There was a clear view without the trees and bushes present. The helicopters were out full force and enforcing the sundown curfew. After my third trip I didn't return for a month as my friends had the basics under control. The lasting memory on that last trip was all of the U-Hauls lining the streets. The people were leaving Miami with what they had left. Many moved to Broward County and many to Orlando to start a new life. The Miami that I knew would never be again.
My son's father worked with our friend doing contractor work and eventually AC repair work for the next months. He lived in an RV in their driveway. The main point that I recall him making is that it was hot, seriously hot, and they were taking cold water showers. They did have beer and barbeque on a daily basis though. Eventually my friends were able to buy the house they'd rented for pennies on the $, and of course had to deal with all the repairs.
Don't forget that no one came. I recall President Bush (H.W.) flying over the devastated areas in a helicopter and people were waving from their rooftops. Everyone painted their insurance info (company and policy #) on the roof and/or on the sides of the house so that insurance adjusters could identify policy holders. The areas hit the worst were not warned or ordered to evacuate and no one came until Burger King arrived on day 5 after, but by day 7 after a variety of organizations and people made their way in. It was 25+ heavily populated miles of solid devastation in South Dade.