It was hotter than blue blazes, nowhere to stop and we were lost. Two days after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Dade County. along with an engineer who worked for Dade County, I was assessing school damage.
With downed trees, roads blocked by debris and landmarks blown away, the young engineer who had been assigned to southern Dade for years, couldn’t locate the schools.
Block after block we passed heavily damaged homes: roofs blown off, trees uprooted and cars overturned. Some homeowners spray painted defiant signs on the sides of their houses: “We survived,” “You loot—we shoot” and “To hell with Andrew.” Others demonstrated their sense of humor: “Firewood for Sale” and “Used furniture—cheap.” Most frequently you would see the name of their insurance company: “Allstate—stop here,” “State Farm—where are you.”
In almost every yard home owners were cleaning up after the storm. No electricity, tropical hot—many without a roof over their heads—they continued working. Impossible tasks, that day after day, had to be undertaken one limb, one piece of debris, one precious memento at a time.
People faced the heat, the lack of water and the endless clean up and they dealt with the fear of looters. Armed with pistols and hunting rifles they banded together to patrol and protect their neighborhoods. They told stories of gunshots in the night and despite a dawn to dusk curfew, strangers roaming the streets.
Exiting from an elementary school near Homestead I heard a loud noise. Walking to the sound I spotted people standing on the sidewalk, cheering and crying tears of relief as soldiers from the 82nd airborne marched down the street. Dispensed only to provide humanitarian aid, nevertheless, their presence provided a needed sense of security.
When I left the key in the ignition and locked the car, The 7:00 PM curfew became a serious issue. Not wanting to spend the night in south Dade, I waived down a passing deputy who unsuccessfully tried to Jimmy the lock. In desperation I shattered a ventilation window and unlocked the vehicle. A damaged window was the cost for me to leave behind the misery that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were enduring daily.
Andrew taught me lessons about resilience, determination and community. I observed people pulling themselves up to rebuild and band with neighbors to protect their homes; I passed volunteers directing traffic in the brutal midday tropical sun.
I learned People are tougher than I thought. In the midst of chaos and the absence of government they will do what is necessary to protect their families, homes and community.