Early in the morning, I listened to Today Show host Bryant Gumble’s report that Miami had suffered little damage from Hurricane Andrew. When I was unable to complete a telephone call to South Miami, I discovered that areas south of downtown Miami had been destroyed.
That evening an acquaintance called and asked if I would serve on an administrative team to assist in reopening damaged Dade County schools. He explained that many of the school administrators, having to deal with destroyed homes, were unable to work and the magnitude of the project required a team with experience in administration and construction. I agreed and early the following morning we left for Miami.
FEMA arranged for us to be comfortably housed in a luxury hotel located in downtown Miami. Arriving at the hotel and observing little evidence of a disaster, I thought I would be headed home in a couple of days. Later, as we traveled to the school administration’s temporary operations center southwest of downtown, I discovered how wrong I was.
Viewing the devastation wrought by a storm such as Andrew on television, your perspective is limited and it is difficult to comprehend the true scope of the disaster. I realized this as we drove by miles of destroyed homes; past deserted businesses; through intersection after intersection without traffic signals and past acres of broken and fallen trees.
At the command center, a school board engineer and I were assigned to assess the damages suffered by schools. It appeared to be an easy task—the engineer was familiar with and we had ID’s that granted access to all areas. In reality, with blocked streets and street signs destroyed,it was difficult to find the schools, and when we did, they were occupied by people left homeless by the storm.
One of the first schools we inspected was located in a lower income neighborhood. As we walked through the school, we passed peopled huddled in the rain-soaked, hot, humid hallways. From one side of the roof we saw vehicles overturned and tossed on top of each other. From the other we saw volunteers feeding hungry people from trailers, marked “Baptist Relief.” It was a contrast I witnessed over and over—devastation and the best of human nature.
We spent six weeks in South Florida. During that time, we executed contracts allowing schools to reopen—providing havens for children, and allowing their parents to begin to put their lives back together.
As I view on television the destruction wrought storms, I think of lessons I learned from Hurricane Andrew: the awe and terror inspired by the power of nature; the resiliency of humans and the willingness of people to help one another.
The World Is Not A Mere Bog
“I am convinced that the world is not a mere bog in which men and women trample themselves and die. Something magnificent is taking place here amidst the cruelties and tragedies, and the supreme challenge to intelligence is that of making the noblest and best in our curious heritage prevail.” – Charles Austin Beard