Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Andrew 17 Years Later...

I had never encountered anything like it before or since. His wrath was pure hell. It sounded like a war zone out there, while we were safely bunkered in our house, Andrew pounded South Florida with its giant dick like we were a fresh virgin pussy.

See, I knew I could somehow turn the second worst natural disaster in American History and worst I’ve ever lived through into a giant double entendre, but I honestly think that hurricanes are named to provide these. It’s more fun to say that New Orleans was fucked by Katrina than it is to say New Orleans was decimated by a hurricane, it also makes it easier to find the parallel’s in relationships too. But the experience itself was not fun.

Yes, there’s such a thing as fun hurricanes. In 2005 while everyone’s focus was on the devastation in New Orleans, Miami actually got hit by two storms (Wilma and the aforementioned Katrina), And grazed by one more (Dennis). Wilma and Dennis I’ll admit were fun, it’s easy to make hurricanes fun when they’re category 3 or lower. Get friends together, get some alcohol, maybe some weed (if you smoke weed that is, I don’t but just putting it out there) play some music and just party till the storm ends or the power goes out, whichever comes first. Katrina wasn’t as fun because of the location I was at (dad’s house, he’s a bit more conservative) and because of the fact that the storm was really worse than the Miami Media had us believe it to be. (They said it was a category 1 when it came ashore, yet it didn’t feel like a category 1, and the damage I saw outside didn’t say category 1, however, it still wasn’t bad enough to stop MTV, who held the VMA’s only three days later.)

Andrew though, which ravaged the South Dade area 17 years ago today, was when I lost my hurricane cherry. Part of the reason why I can look back at Dennis, Katrina, and Wilma so fondly was because I was old enough to know and respect what hurricanes can do, I could see the sense of humor in them, and because by the time these storms came to us, we knew what we had to do to prepare. Hell preparing for hurricanes has become old hat down here. We know that at any time between June 1st and November 30th; even more so between August 1st and October 1st, whenever we see a tropical wave coming of the western coast of Africa, it’s time to get ready. See I know the science of hurricanes now, they’re necessities, they cool off the earth by releasing excess heat, and they take seeds of plants from Africa and move them to Florida, creating Mangroves, which are used as habitats for many of Florida’s diverse wildlife. God has a reason for everything. (Once again, Science and Religion CAN MIX!!! Don’t let anybody tell you differently! Science proves God, and even the best scientist will tell you, even if he’s atheist, that there are some things that science alone cannot explain.)

However, no one sees the good of hurricanes, and it’s pretty easy to ignore it when levies are bursting open in New Orleans, or houses are being flattened in Homestead and Florida City. The flip side of the coin is that sometimes, people do lose everything. Granted, in the case of Katrina as well as Andrew, the disaster was compounded by man-made human errors. We all know about the case with New Orleans, the city government’s continual procrastination in fortifying the levies, but no one talks about why Andrew really messed up South Florida the way it did anymore, it’s become a lost story, so to speak.

Because South Florida was growing so much, new developments sprung up like weeds in the late 80’s-early 90’s, mainly in South Dade. These houses were built quickly and efficiently, however, the houses that were built were built poorly, and code enforcement wasn’t as strict as it should’ve been. This lead to scenes like this one: listen to what the guy is saying, that was pretty much the sentiment, that the homes were death traps. Yet no one talks about it anymore. (BTW: Most of the older houses survived Andrew with flying colors, to the point where my mom would rather ride out a hurricane in an older house built pre-Andrew. To her, if it could survive Andrew, it could survive anything, which is probably true.)

Let me describe for you Miami, Fl on August 23rd, 1992. We were still a growing community, on the cusp of becoming an economic and trade center, a gateway to the Americas so to speak. New developments seemed to spring up where there was once nothing but swamp and forests. We had gotten out of the Cocaine Cowboys/Miami Vice era, and while crime was still bad, it was nowhere near the early-80’s levels that caused Time Magazine to put the city on the front page with the title “Miami, Paradise Lost.” The day before, I was supposed to go to Disney World following my last basketball game, I was looking forward to school starting the following Monday (I was entering the 3rd grade) and the Dolphins kicking off their season against the Patriots (September 6th was the original date of their home opener.) As the family had gone to Wal-Mart to prepare for our Disney Trip on our last week off/last minute back to school shopping, we were greeted by a full store (I know, Wal-Mart’s on a Saturday Afternoon have been and always will be full, but that’s not the point) BUT unlike most Saturday afternoon’s, they were purchasing hurricane supplies, extra water, canned goods, power tools, generators. It was then that it hit my parents, still together at the time and only 6 months away from an acrimonious split that would turn out to be for the best in the end because of the blessings it gave us, holy fucking shit, this storm is coming right at us.

We enjoyed the rest of the day as a family, even ate at Tony Roma’s and took in the Dolphins/Bucs pre-season game there, which was played under a cloud of uncertainty, after all, Andrew was being looked at as “The Big One” and as such, it was a good possibility that maybe, just maybe, it could be the last game ever played at the then-Joe Robbie Stadium. (I didn’t realize the scope of it now, but seriously, had the hurricane’s center only hit about 20 miles to the north, very easy to do since hurricanes tend to wobble as they travel, for all we know the Dolphins could’ve been that year in the same situation as the Saints were after Katrina. And by the way, they still play at Joe Robbie Stadium, only now it’s called LandShark Stadium.)

The next day, it really was a big blur. Every TV station carried wall to wall news coverage of the impending storm, each with their own interpretation of the events. While everyone remembers Bryan Norcross and his calm demeanor through it all on WTVJ, I still remember Rick “Twitter God” Sanchez on channel 7. The sky was falling according to him; it was the anti-Norcross. Since I was only 8 and couldn’t help out anyone, all I could do was watch TV to see what would happen. It was repetitive. 2pm update from the National Hurricane Center, press conference from the Dade County emergency management office or whatever its called, press conference from Gov. Lawton Chiles, news report from gas station of people filling up their tank as well as filling up their spare tanks, news report from Home Depot, news report from Publix, 3pm update. It was the same thing, over and over again. Then it was time to go to sleep, but not for Andrew.

Andrew did its damage late at night; honestly, I slept through most of it. Because of my age and sleeping through most of it, I couldn’t tell you about Bryan Norcross that night, how he pretty much talked South Florida through the worst thing to ever happen to it. And yes, normally I’d make a Dave Wannstedt joke here, but this is a serious part of the blog. I didn’t know what was going on outside, in fact, our house got out of it unscathed, despite the fact that we were in Kendall, one of the areas that received the brunt of the damage. It was only when we woke up that we saw how bad it really was. One house only 5 blocks away from us had its entire wall ripped off. Just 5 blocks away! Sunset drive, the street our townhouse complex was (still is in the case of my dad, who lives there to this day) was completely flooded. I saw signs toppled, power lines knocked down like nothing, trees that were there, gone! This was a lot for my 8 year old brain to really comprehend. All I was thinking was “When does school start” and of course, “What does this mean for the Dolphins?” (Why wonder about the Dolphins? They had a great team that year, and no, Andrew had nothing to do with what ended up happening, I’ll explain later.)

It wasn’t until we were fortunate to get our power back only 3 days later that I found out what had really happened down south. The footage here doesn’t quite do it any justice. Even 17 years later, it’s still heartbreaking to watch. I ended up living in this area during 2005, and we came up relatively unscathed. The areas have picked up beautifully since then, but the psychological fear whenever a storm is approaching is still there. Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Publix and Winn Dixie are always filled, sadly the shelves of water and non-perishables (and in the case of Home Depot and Wal-Mart, power tools and generators) are not. Plywood is bought in bulk like it’s going out of style, because shutters are way too expensive. We’ve made it through other storms since Andrew, but they’ve been brushed off like mosquitoes. Andrew though, well we still haven’t quite shaken it off.

Homestead almost looks brand new. Before Andrew their main focus was the Air Force Base. Things were looking up for the city, the Cleveland Indians were to conduct Spring Training in a brand new stadium there, and Homestead AFB was one of the main Air Force Bases in the Southeastern United States. Andrew however would destroy the stadium, and did enough damage to the base for the Government to consider closing it down completely before instead deciding to make it an Air Reserve Base.

The stadium, while it was rebuilt, wasn’t ready in time for the Indians though, who decided to move up to Winter Park in 1993 before moving back to Arizona last year. The stadium is now used for, well, I don’t even know what it’s used for, it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page for God’s sakes, everything has a Wikipedia page, our podcast is getting one soon!

The one benefit that Homestead received was the construction of a new race track that is the home of NASCAR’s Season Finale. It has been called one of the prettiest tracks in all of NASCAR and also hosts Indy Car races from time to time. The area has also undergone a building boom since Andrew due to the lack of available land throughout Miami-Dade County. It’s still a mostly rural community like it’s been for most of its life, but not as much as it’s been in the past. Still, it took nearly 10 years for the area to fully recover from Andrew’s wrath, and those that where there before and are still there to this day have not recovered psychologically from it.

The rest of Southern Miami-Dade County recovered quicker. Cutler Ridge mall, which was virtually destroyed by Andrew, was reborn as Southland Mall. It’s still kind of ghetto, but I like it. The only signs of Andrew you’ll see around there are psychological signs, and that’s only during Hurricane Season. Metro Zoo, which was destroyed during Andrew, has rebuilt, and while it’s not as much fun to go as it was when I was a kid (and a hell of a lot more expensive) that was probably bound to happen anyways.

Meanwhile, Broward County, mainly Miramar, Weston, and Pembroke Pines, grew thanks in part to those living in South Miami-Dade who lost their homes. Eleven insurance companies closed up shop and left Florida for good, some of them even went out of business outright.

On the sports side of things, which of course I’m known for, The Miami Dolphins ended up having to move their opening day game against the Patriots, but it was complicated. The original plan was to switch the dates, with the Dolphins opening up in New England and the Patriots closing it up in Miami. But due to a scheduling difficulty, the two teams instead had to take Week 1 as their bye week and make up that game on October 16th, their original bye week. They didn’t use that as an excuse though, as the Dolphins started 6-0, finishing with an 11-5 record, good enough for home field advantage in the playoffs. But their season came to an end at home as the Buffalo Bills defeated them 29-10 to move on to the Super Bowl where they would get destroyed by the Dallas Cowboys. (The Dolphins would’ve at least shown up for the game, the second time that had happened in the Marino era: Dolphins host the AFC Title game, lose to inferior opponent in said title game, watch inferior opponent lose Super Bowl, ugh, fucking Tom Olivadotti!)

The Heat (I know, I haven’t mentioned them all blog!) ended up hosting a charity game against Michael Jordan and the Bulls, a game that I had the pleasure of attending for free. Other than that, they were the pro sports team the least affected by the storm. Their season didn’t start until November anyways, so other than the Hurricane relief game against the Bulls, really not much to write about with them.

The Hurricanes probably had it the worst. Many players lost their homes in the storm. Yet the team ended up going undefeated during the regular season, including Wide Right II, before losing to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, thanks in part to their cocky trash talking, and the efforts of one Mr. George Teague.

The Marlins didn’t exist until March of 1993. Obviously had they been around, it probably would’ve been a tremendous problem for them. But they weren’t, so we can move on, not that I would’ve cared.

In 17 years, South Florida has changed since Andrew; the biggest change was the fact that it accelerated the White Flight that had been occurring in South Florida. Andrew for many was the last straw. But it also showed a community that came together in the aftermath, people were nicer to each other, and were always willing to help out. Sometimes, that’s the positive part of this otherwise terrible disaster. Plus, building codes were beefed up and are now the toughest in the country, and as a whole, we’re better prepared to handle any situation that comes our way. Andrew might have been a tragedy, but in the long run, can actually be looked at as a good thing, plus, a badge of honor for anyone living in Miami at the time.

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