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Smiling Faces - The Undisputed Truth

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reflections on the Aftermath of Hurricane Andrew

I read the Wikipedia article relating to Hurricane Andrew facts and it is accurate for the most part, but excludes some important issues. Really sorry I didn't try harder to put that new and complicated model printer with a scanner together so I could post the images here, but it was too much for me and I threw its many parts back in its box and returned it to Walmart. So here we are...

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. 

Hurricanes and Mandatory Evacuations: The Hype

Someone needs to say it, so I will. I am reading about mandatory evacuations in wait of Hurricane Irene that cover much of the East coast from Virginia to New England, including parts of Manhattan. The subway system in NYC is being shut down for the first time ever!

Here in Cape Canaveral, I barely felt a breeze when I was out earlier. Anyway, I have experienced the heavy hype in past – it was particularly heavy in 2004 and 2005 when a few major hurricanes actually did hit the Cocoa Beach area. I went to my mom's, on a barrier island, in each situation as she wouldn't leave, but I did send my son to Orlando, 45 miles inland.

This area had mandatory evacuations for at least 3 out of 5 hurricanes. In one situation, a friend in Orlando called me concerned for my safety – he said that in Orlando they were showing the particular area of the island as being underwater and he feared I was dead. Hmmm – I was unable to find coffee anywhere and the electricity had gone out in the middle of the hurricane, but that was the worst of it. I believe that power was out for five days during that one and there were large puddles and downed power lines, but mandatory evacuations and 20-30 foot water surges? Nope – it was a trick of the cameras.

The winds were really high in each case and lots of trees blown all over the place, but a state of emergency? This is usually something that is declared for the state to get federal funds. Of course there are exceptions, like Andrew in August of 1992. Andrew was predicted to hit Broward County and North Dade County and the beach areas of both, but instead it really hit south Dade County, from S.W. 160th street all the way to south Homestead. Andrew was the disaster they buried and the areas hit – 25 miles of solid devastation – were not even warned.

I have close friends in Miami, actually in Cutler Ridge where Andrew really hit. I was on my way south to help them by 8am. Andrew hit around 5am. I still have plenty of photos from the many trips down there – if I had a scanner I would add a few here. They declared martial law down there and the National Guard was in control for several months. My son's father went down to work with our friends in Cutler Ridge and they had no electricity for months – I believe it was 4 months to be as precise as possible. It was a true disaster like Katrina was, but both for different reasons and issues.

The problems with Katrina were actually after Katrina when the levees failed. Hurricane Andrew problems were really all about multiple tornadoes. I was told that it wasn't so much the hurricane, but it was the 50+ embedded tornadoes at the center. I know this for fact, no matter how many want to dispute it. My friend's house was a perfect example: The couch in the living room was pulled through the window. An Easter decoration that his daughter made, a wooden circle with embroidered cloth clamped with a painted eggshell hanging from it, revealed the eggshell to be perfectly intact, yet the cloth had a huge hole ripped through the center. Do you know how hard, if not impossible, it is to rip cloth? This is tornado damage. The mud all over the living room walls and floors is hurricane related.

So what happens with mandatory evacuations?

Well, really it is just the emergency services people saying that if there is a problem, there will not be any assistance available. Don't bother to dial 911 if the forecasters are correct and there really are 20 to 30 foot water surges. Thank goodness they are usually incorrect, which could be the main reason they claim a target area that spans 700+ miles, right?

I have plenty of hurricane stories to tell. One that I won't forget from 2004 and 2005 is that they blocked any roads and stopped drivers from entering the barrier islands and Cape Canaveral / Cocoa Beach. My son was unable to drive over here and was told the area was a disaster by cops at roadblocks while I was on the phone with him stating the truth, and he did have an island address on his driver's license. When you leave during a mandatory evacuation they do not let you return until they feel like it, days later in this situation. I had dropped my vehicle off at a safe parking garage so I had no transportation.

Evacuating all of coastal New Jersey and New York is different. In my opinion, you may want to analyze the situation for yourself. Really the major issue with hurricanes are the power outages and trust me, it gets hot. Just make sure that you do not evacuate directly into its path as so many did during Hurricane Charley in August of 2004.

Edit August 27, 2011 @ 830pm to add link to my latest post that is related: Reflections on the Aftermath of Hurricane Andrew