Saturday, August 26, 2017

Andrew - 25 Years Later – A Journey in Mindfulness by Kait Carson

Like most people, I had begun to feel a victim of the crazy pace of the world. It seemed my life was reactive not proactive. Much of my time was spent putting off anything that I wanted to do and instead dealing with endless lists of gotta dos. It was making me a) cranky, b) resentful, c) unhappy, d) all of the above. The feeling was exacerbated by our recent election that made it seem that the entire world was on a Tilt-A-Whirl and we were crashing ourselves to jelly against wire mesh walls with no end to the ride in sight. Each day brought new challenges. I needed a break.

Magazines and blogs around the New Year recommended something called mindfulness. I was already mindful of being out of control of my time and how it affected my mood. About the last thing I wanted was an app to reinforce that! Digging a little deeper and drawing on memories of the 1960s (it ain’t true. I WAS there, and I CAN remember it) I realized mindfulness was 21st century speak for meditation. So I bought an app. Headspace. The name called to mind memories of water buffalo sandals, Indian print skirts, and peasant blouses. It felt comfortable.

No Om-ing about it though, instead it’s a directed mediation, but the app does rely on the same principals of calming the mind, and setting it free. Before too long my creativity increased, I felt more in control of what I could and could not do, and able to look objectively at the things I couldn’t control and let them go. The program also reminded me that change in life happens not in sweeping arcs of time, but in the ninety degree turns of moments.

It was this newfound ability to connect the dots that gave rise to this blog. I’d planned to write about John Grisham and his early books.  Well, maybe next month. This month is about Hurricane Andrew.

For those who don’t remember—and if you weren’t living in South Florida on August 24, 1992, you probably don’t—Hurricane Andrew, the third category 5 hurricane to hit the United States since category record keeping began, struck Florida.

I lived in northern Dade (as it was called then) County. According to projections, Andrew’s intended landfall was in my neighborhood. My cat and I took shelter with a friend, inland, but still north, where we huddled in a windowless hallway watching a battery-operated TV while the wind howled outside and unknown objects struck the house. At some point, Bryan Norcross who broadcast on Channel 4 throughout the night, announced that the radar equipment for the weather service located at the University of Miami had blown off the roof and he was supplying updated data to them from a feed he had access to.

Throughout the night he gave instructions to people as to how they could stay safe, and in those pre-cell phone days, he took calls as he could from people in south Dade. People whose houses were blowing down around their heads. At around 3 AM Bryan Norcross announced, “People in Dade County are dying tonight.”

The howling abated at around 8 AM in north Dade and we managed to push open the doors and view the mess. Powerlines were dancing, limbs scattered everywhere, my friend’s white stucco house was now covered in a layer of green leaves, but with few exceptions, there was no structural damage anyplace we could see.  Reports from south Dade were grim. I called an elderly friend and got no answer, I called all of her neighbors that I had numbers for and got no answer, so I called Metro-Dade Police. They offered to track her for me and I gave them the information.[1] In return, I asked if there was anything I could do to help. The answer was swift. “Get your butt to the head of the Turnpike. A patrol officer will meet you there and escort you to the kill zone to help.” The kill zone. That’s what the dispatcher called it.

I went. I was led to Naranja Lakes. Ground zero. The place where three people died. The first duty, body recovery. There were simply not enough officers, not enough reserves, not enough volunteers able to get to work. No one was turned away in those early days and certainly not in the early hours. South Dade was gone. Officers had family priorities and they were honored. The volunteers worked identifying the missing (most had gone to seek shelter) contacting worried relatives, delivering food and water, providing first aid, doing whatever was needed until the cavalry arrived (shout out to the 82nd Airborne who setup camp at Naranja Lakes) and then we worked for them.

By late September offices were beginning to reopen downtown, people were beginning to get back to work. It took that long; the infrastructure was that damaged. South Florida was still under a curfew, rebuilding had not begun, but the supply lines had been established, tents and trailers were in place for shelter and things were getting a little easier. That’s when Comic Relief stepped in. A group of entertainers brought in by Cellar Door, Joe Robbie Stadium, Comic Relief, Estefan Enterprises, the Miami Dolphins, and the Florida Marlins took over Joe Robbie Stadium for one night.

Jimmy Buffett kicked it off. He came on stage, looked out over the crowd and said, “If ever a town needed a party, this one is it.” The concert was supposed to end at 10. Even though the curfew had been bent, it wasn’t meant to be lifted and the trip from JRS to south Dade was a good 45 minutes. A lot of us saw dawn break over Joe Robbie as entertainer after entertainer took the stage, sang, told jokes, told stories. It was amazing and for one night—the hurricane and the horror faded into the background. We were normal again. It was a turning point. South Florida came together that night. Tensions that were building eased, we remembered we were in it together.

South Dade these days is unrecognizable to what it was on August 23, 1992, when the area went to sleep. Miami-Dade County as it’s called now is a diverse place. The diversity did not come easy, but that moment in time gave us hope that it would come.

Somehow in this insane tilt-a-whirl world we have to find a way to come to a moment. A moment where we pause and see value in each other. A moment where diversity will be a cause of strength not divisiveness. Where we will be mindful of each other and we will build on that moment to a new reality. We can’t rely on our leaders to do it for us or to lead us to it. It needs to be a grass roots effort.

We need to be mindful that we are the key.

[1] My friend, Lois was safe. She had managed to get to her cousin’s in Naples after the storm turned her second floor condo into a penthouse! She checked in with Metro-Dade Police as storm refugees were asked to do and Metro-Dade shared the good news with me.


  1. My then girlfriend’s brother lived in South Dade County. Trees took out about 50% of his house. It took 18 months before it was restored and they lived in the other half until then.

    Natural disasters tend to bring all kinds of people together. Human-caused are just as likely to create wedges unless leaders uniformly stand up and condemn the perpetrators.

    I'm hoping that everyone in Texas took precautions and come out safe from Hurricane Harvey.

    ~ Jim

  2. My Houston-based son and DIL are in Philadelphia for the weekend. I have no idea how or when they'll be able to return to Houston. My New Orleans-based daughter is ready to evacuate if New Orleans is predicted to get twelve inches of rain. Otherwise, she'll find a parking garage for her car during the worst of the rain.

    The Houston kids were at Tulane for Katrina. We lived through the horror of their evacuation and enrollment at home state universities, their joy returning to NOLA for spring semester, and the all-hands city rebuilding effort that lasted past their graduation in 2008. We lived in Atlanta, and took in wandering college students passing through the area.

  3. That must have seemed like forever to them. Building supplies were so hard to come by for so long. The FEMA trailers remained for three years in some areas. Even at that, there were unrestored pockets into the early 2000s. Eventually, they were torn down for spec developments when the real estate bubble was expanding.

    You are right about the differences between natural and human caused disasters. Natural disasters often provide prime ground for human caused ones though. They do bring out the best, and the worst, in people.

    My thoughts are with those in Texas, today and in the weeks to come. As I sit here this morning, memories of the stories of the men, women, and children who survived Hurricane Andrew's ground zero are playing in my mind and I know that there will be similar stories being told in Texas.

  4. Margaret, I am glad your son and DIL are out of Houston for the weekend. The law firm I work for has offices in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and NOLA. Our Houston office closed at noon on Friday. Hopefully, this storm will not stall as predicted and will dissipate quickly. Vain hope perhaps, but a fervent one! How very difficult to have loved ones in the two pronged path. Please keep us informed.

    I cannot imagine how hard it must have been to have kids at Tulane in the face of Katrina. Hopefully, they were evacuated in advance of the storm. Were they sent home? Not sure if it is memory or fact, but it seems that Katrina moved and strengthened quickly once she left Florida and got back into the Gulf leaving not much time for any proactive response.

  5. What a story, Kait and how wonderful that you went to volunteer. My cousin was in a hotel when that hurricane came through but it might have not been in the section you're mentioning.
    She and her husband were visiting their son who was in Miami University at the time.

    I totally agree with your take that we should all look out for each other. We are one country as a whole; black, white, brown, purple, male, female, trans-gender,Christian, Muslim, Jewish or agnostic.

  6. Your blog goes to show that communities hit by disaster do recover--although slowly. It speaks to the resilience of the people who live there. It is also a good reminder that we need to be prepared for things like this, regardless of where we live. Although I live in an area rarely hit by the weather to this degree (an occasional heavy snowfall), I still keep extra food, water, batteries, etc. It's the Capricorn in me.

  7. @Gloria - UM was further up the road in Coral Gables so although there was damage to the area (no part of Dade County escaped), the worst was most likely south of them. They must have been terrified that night though in an unfamiliar space with winds and debris swirling around. I graduated UM, they had few hurricane plans in effect in those days, mainly evacuate the students with enough notice, or pack them in the windowless dorm hallways that were built as safe zones. Andrew grew and strengthened so rapidly -- that evacuation wouldn't have been an option--a few days before the newspaper had an article that it had dissipated and was no longer a threat and they would no longer be following its progress.

    Volunteering was a natural thing to do. My area was damaged. I was unable to return home for two weeks but was lucky enough to be able to stay with a friend. I was out of work for over a month until the building inspectors could certify the building so helping out in an area that really needed assistance was a natural thing to do. I had been very lucky, I wanted to help ease the burden for others where I could.

  8. @Grace - Areas do recover, but the lessons are hard and recovery is so slow. It was easy to tell the volunteers from the survivors at a glance. The survivors had an empty look in their eyes. They had seen things no one should ever see. Their very core had been shaken and it showed in their eyes. It's a look common among battle survivors as well.

    I blame my preparedness compulsion on my Girl Scout past. It seems ingrained at this point and has always served me well!

  9. I hadn't realized that New Orleans would also be affected by Harvey. I'm just keeping everyone in Harvey's path in my prayers. Your post shows that it's not just getting through the storm that is harrowing - it's what comes after, the very long road back to normal. I'm so glad you and your friend were okay!

  10. Thanks, Shari - the road back is harrowing, and it is long and frustrating, truly a case of one step forward six back. Lois came through it well. As did her cat and dog after a night spent huddled in the bathtub under a mattress.