How to Survive a Natural Disaster

Hurricane Andrew, 1992.

Twenty years ago, as I eagerly awaited the first day of school, there stood a category 3 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. This storm would go down as the most devastating storm in United States history (until Katrina). Every year we watched the summer storms batter the Caribbean; Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas. Usually, by the time the storms reached the shores of South Florida, they would lose their strength and touch down as tropical storms or at worse, at category 1 hurricane. It is said that Miami sees nearly 100 thunderstorms a year, so we were used to lightening, heavy rains, rough winds and blackouts.

By the time I was twelve, I can say that I had survived at least six hurricanes. All of them had been quite disappointing until Andrew in 1992. Sure, a few trees would fall, some light flooding occurred and we’d be out of electricity for a few days, but that was to be expected. But Andrew changed Miami forever. The category 3 hurricane rocked Dade County, leaving over 100,000 homeless. People sought shelter and protection in their closets because their windows were blown out and their roofs were torn away, and when they came out, they could see endless destruction as far as their eyes could see. Residents had to spray paint their addresses on the street, because their homes were blown away.

A massive mango tree fell on my neighbor’s house, we heard the crack, the thud and the screams. Our kitchen door was ripped off of its hinges. My father chased after it into the storm and nailed it back into the threshold. We prayed that it would remain put until the storm ended. With winds running through the house over 100 miles per hour, it would have pushed our roof off. We were lucky. After eight hours of torrential rains and winds, I am blessed to say that we survived Andrew with minimal damage. A few damaged windows, some roof damage and worn-out kitchen door.

We were without electricity for two weeks. School was cancelled for at least three and we all had a new-found respect for mother nature.

Sandy reminds me a lot of Andrew. New Yorkers (in the boroughs) got a taste of what a hurricane might bring, but Irene was misleading. I’m not sure what preparations were made along the Jersey Shore, Lower Manhattan or some of the lower-lying coastal areas, but I don’t believe those communities were physically or mentally prepared for the kind of aftermath that comes with a storm of Sandy’s magnitude. You can never really be prepared for “the storm,” you can only learn.

I will never forget what Andrew did, therefore I have the utmost respect for mother nature. Aside from stocking up on batteries, non-perishables, and clean water, there was not a whole lot anyone could do to really prepare for Sandy. From here on out, it’s all about the aftermath. How will the people respond? How will the local government, state government and F.E.M.A. handle the situation?

Once again, I was lucky, I think one tree was actually uprooted on my block, in Morningside Heights. Others were not so fortunate. Lower Manhattan is underwater. Flooding has redrawn the New Jersey shoreline. Breezey Point (Queens) was devastated by an uncontrollable blaze, leaving over one hundred homes charred to the ground and hundreds of thousands are left in the dark, without electricity.

The text messages, facebook check-ins and phone calls started at 5 a.m. “We are fine, thanks for checking up on us,” I quickly replied. They called from Miami, the Midwest, Boston and even West Africa. I rolled out of bed, fixed myself a bowl of cereal and began to watch the local news. The images were breath-taking and the stories were heart-breaking. I cannot believe that all this mayhem and destruction occurred all within the a few miles from my doorstep.

So I have survived Andrew, Katrina and now Sandy, three of the most costly natural disasters in United States history. How did I do it?  With a little intuition and a whole lot of luck.

Hurricane Sandy, 2012.