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My reflections on Hurricane Andrew's 30th anniversary today
My first ever published piece of journalism was a photo published in a North Carolina newspaper taken in my devastated Miami neighborhood after a Category 5 hurricane swept through 30 years ago today.
I wanted to share this personal story with you about an event that, in retrospect, was the genesis of my ventures into journalism and also to thank you for reading and for taking the time to subscribe to this newsletter.
Thirty years ago today, Hurricane Andrew’s northern eyewall raked my childhood home in Kendall, delaying my first day of high school. The afternoon before, when we all knew a monster storm was coming, I picked up an old Olympus camera my father owned, which used minimal batteries, and shot a bunch of before photos of my neighborhood, keeping it ready for what was to come, which turned out to be utter devastation.
The next morning, I took photos of the look of horror on my neighbor’s faces after. Cat 5 storm rammed through, a feeling I shared watching my lush neighborhood transform into what I imagined a war zone to look like. Except that, unlike a war zone, the enemy has evaporated into thin air, and some of our local pine trees suddenly looked like they had mohawk hair-style haircuts on their limbs as the winds snapped two-inch diameter branches like so many toothpicks. People found roof tiles inside of their glass block windows. We found decorative window shutters on our front patio, and our house had none.
That first week, we were in shock; my family, myself, and our neighbors were outdoors all days working on roofs, clearing debris, and bailing out the newly created indoor swimming pool where our sunken pit living room had once resided in the house. Two weeks later, a former neighbor who had recently relocated to North Carolina Drove a loaded U-Haul truck filled with relief supplies down to demolished South Dade, returning home with my sister and me.
That week, our host was contacted by the town’s local newspaper, The Highlander, about her trip to the disaster zone; and her two return passengers. We developed the film (something I always struggled to get done in that era which is why I didn’t really get into photography until digital). The newspaper printed my picture in the story. It was my first published item in a news publication anywhere.
The Miami of today came about in many ways because of that manic Monday morning but populated with only people who decided they wanted to stick around and rebuild in what used to be a really scary, crime-ridden city and one with a tremendous work shortage plus a real estate price depression.
But some of us stayed. Other people arrived looking for opportunities in the chaos. Many of us were too young to make that decision for ourselves, but here we all are today, in part the product of those choices.
Hurricane Andrew was a fateful day for all of Miami. It became a barometer forever of what everyone here would do in a real crisis. But those of us who stayed bonded around the shared hardships of no AC in August, living in shattered houses, driving on streets with no signs or signals, and with torn apart, social networks separated by barriers unthinkable in today’s connected era.
Here’s the picture:
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