Getting Friendly with Andrew and Michael – some advice for Floridians

On August 23, 1992 Hurricane Andrew roared ashore the coast of Florida just between the towns of Cutler Ridge and Naranja Lakes. Most everyone recognizes Homestead as it’s place of devastation, but in truth there were a dozen little communities that were affected just as badly.

I was renting a house in Cutler Ridge and sharing it with my cousin Ron, and had been working at the local franchise of Adelphia Cable, which had just built a brand new office building out in the Redlands just off Krome Avenue.

We saw Andrew approaching, but we never really felt the need to run from it. We had no way of knowing, just as the recent victims of Hurricane Michael had now way of knowing, just how bad it was going to get.

When Andrew landed, sometime around the midnight hour on that Saturday night/Sunday morning, it was billed officially as a category 4. It was only later, after all the numbers were crunched that it was upgraded to a category 5. Sustained winds of 165mph were recorded, with gusts to over 200mph.

The only saving grace was that like the recent Hurricane Michael, it was small and it was fast. By shortly after dawn, it was gone and we could emerge from our shelters, dazed and stunned and wonder at the merciless power of Mother Nature on the rampage.

Ron and I decided to ride out Andrew out at the Adelphia building. It was concrete and brand new, and unlike our rented home, was far from Biscayne Bay and was unlikely to see any results of the predicted storm surge, which for a time was 14 feet. The world headquarters of Burger King was located right on the bay, just south of where we lived, and the storm surge there was recorded at 16.9 feet. At the Deering Estate, a bit up the coast, they also recorded waves of 16 feet coming ashore which decimated the beautiful grounds and gardens around the buildings.

As bad as the water was for some right along the coast, the biggest thing with Andrew was the wind.

After we emerged from the building, I noted that the entire north side of the one story building was lime green, and you could smell the crisp scent of limes everywhere. There was a large grove of persian limes immediately to our north, probably a good 80 acres or more, of which not a single tree was left. It was as bare as if a giant plow had landed there overnight and tilled it all up. The only evidence that there had been a lime grove there at all was the green lime scented slime that coated the north side of the building.

Our rental home lost a portion of the roof and several windows and there was a few inches of water which required the removal of all the carpet.

A vivid memory from that time are the streets piled with trash and garbage 10 feet high, for months on end, which of course led to a monumental rat problem, which in combination with no action from our absentee landlord caused us to eventually seek new living quarters. Ironically, we moved into the only house left standing on a block in Northwest Homestead – after a few shingles and a new window, it was perfectly habitable.

Like Panama City, Homestead depended for a large part on the activity surrounding the local Air Force Base. Andrew destroyed that base, just as Michael has destroyed Tyndal Air Force Base.

If the town is lucky, the government will rebuild and the economy won’t have to change. However, with other Air Force bases nearby, the budget  being what it is, I’d encourage the leaders of Panama City and surrounding towns that depended on the Air Force base to begin to think of life with no base.

I’m seeing many news stories now about how the government is failing the survivors of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach. About how nothing seems to be happening. It’s only been a week. After Andrew, we went over 30 days before we saw running water return, and it was nearly two months before we had power.

When all of the infrastructure is completely wiped off the face of the map, it is simply unfair to expect any government to rebuild your neighborhood or town back to the way it was in a week, or a month or even a year.

Rebuilding after Michael will take years. The town of Mexico Beach will be forever changed, and no matter how hard the residents wish, the old friendly town is gone, never to return.

Some say it is a price we pay for living in Paradise. I believe that is untrue. Look around, and no matter where on this planet you live, you are in danger from something. Floods, volcano’s, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornado’s, ravaging fires, brutal weather exists everywhere on the planet and we’ve managed to overcome the obstacles and survive.

Last year we had Irma, which devastated part of the Florida Keys and had a wide impact on the state. Depending on where you lived last year, Irma was another Andrew or Michael, or it was just a nuisance of varying order. In parts of the Keys, houses are still missing, homes are still being rebuilt and residents will tell you it’s just not the same.

But, placing the blame for your comfort on how fast the government can rebuild your life is simply wrong and a very unrealistic expectation. We often forget that the “government” is simply other people just like us who we’ve elected into a position of responsibility. They are human, with their own homes and families, and not a single one of them owns a magic wand that will make everything better.

We humans have to do what we are best at – grabbing ourselves by our own bootstraps and hauling ourselves back up out the the debris left behind and rebuilding our lives. That’s our responsibility alone, and in times like these, it’s best done together, with your neighbors and family and friends.

Some say that Homestead, after 25 years is better than the “old” Homestead. Long time residents may disagree, but everyone will look you straight in the eye and tell you that the “old” Homestead blew away with Andrew, never to return.


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