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Saturday, August 27, 2011

I survived Hurricane Andrew in '92

In August of 1992, my sister Charlene moved to Miami, Florida for a new job. She secured a beautiful new two bedroom apartment in a complex called Kendall in the Hammocks, located in Miami Dade County. After a few weeks, I decided to visit her. So, I packed up my family and we headed south. The Kendall in the Hammock was a tropical paradise, we looked forward to vacationing there and her engagement party that weekend.  But we soon discovered that Miami was preparing for a hurricane. We laughed as we thought the media was sensationalizing the storm, like they sometimes did with snowstorms in the North.

But as time passed, the warning about the hurricane only heightened. We went to the grocery store and had a difficult time finding a parking space and once inside the store, the checkout lines were long and the shelves empty. We were fortunate because my sister anticipating company had stocked up on most things. We were just purchasing items for our toddler son.

 As the day wore on the weather deteriorated, the bright sunshine was replaced with clouds, a dark sky and rain drops. My sister's fiancĂ© was unable to fly in from the Bahamas; his mother was evacuated from Miami Beach and we didn't know her whereabouts. The family dinner was cancelled. By early evening the weather had turned into a bad tropical storm and within hours the storm was a hurricane. Hurricane Andrew made landfall over south Florida as a Category 5 hurricane. The wind speed of 165 miles per hour sounded like a freight train bearing down on us and at any moment we would be hit. I thought we were in a horror movie.

We prayed as we hunkered down in the hallway on one of the mattresses. It was impossible to sleep with the whistling of the wind, and then we noticed water on the kitchen floor. Checking for leaks, we discovered it was coming from behind the refrigeration and we couldn’t get to it. In the dark we mopped up the floor and waited.

Then everything stopped; we  laughed and cried. However, to our dismay, it wasn't over.  It was the quiet before the eye of the storm made its presence known. Kendall was very closed to Homestead where the eye of the hurricane touched down. It didn't go to Miami Beach where it was forecast to go, but came inland. I will never forget that terrifying night as the wind continued to threaten us with that horrific sound and the rain was endless. We could hear flying debris hitting against the window.  But finally it did stop near sunrise, and the sun burst forth bright and hot.

We ventured out and with other neighbors shared our stories of Hurricane Andrew, an uninvited guest. One neighbor related the story of how his elderly mother was asleep in the bed when his young child woke her up and pulled her out of the bed. Seconds later a branch from a tree came through the window and landed where his mother had been sleeping. Except for my sister’s apartment, most of them were unlivable. Eventually, the building was condemned.

My sister told us how she had originally put a deposit on an apartment located on the first floor, but a feeling within her made her switch apartments. We later found out that the first floor apartment was totally destroyed.  She says, “The feeling she had was God guiding her and watching over us.”

The cars on the parking lot were also destroyed from the flying bricks of the roofs. A brick had shattered the front window of our rental car, otherwise we could drive it and we did.   Due to 100 degree heat that day and no water, electricity and air condition, we had to find a place to stay. 

Against all odds, in a car with a shattered window, no air and bumper to bumper traffic we drove to Ft. Lauderdale where some hotels were open. It took us seven hours for a normal forty-five minute to an hour trip.  We were fortunate to find a hotel and salvage some of our vacation. Eventually, we made it home, but my sister had to leave her apartment and stay with a co-worker for several weeks until she purchased her own home.

As Hurricane Irene, a Category 1, makes her way up the Northeast coastline, I asked myself what did I learn from the Hurricane Andrew experience that happened 19 years ago about this same time in August.

After a natural disaster, people come together and their hearts are open and pure. But we don’t hold on to it. We need to listen to what Mother Nature is trying to tell us.

The renowned Zen poet Ryokan summed this up this way:
The rain has stopped, the clouds have drifted away,
and the weather is clear again.
If your heart is pure, then all things in your world are pure…
Then the moon and flowers will guide you along the Way.

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