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Too Young For Andrew, I Learned Fear From Hurricane Wilma

Miami Herald Archives

This piece includes music by Brett Rothfeld.

I grew up watching hurricanes from the 21st floor of a high-rise condominium in Miami Beach.

I’d sit by the window and watch minor storm surge crash up against Normandy Isle, palm trees bend back and forth and transformers explode.

Some of my family and friends lived in the same building, so we’d get together and run around in the dark hallways with our flashlights and hopefully miss a day or two of school.

My parents say Hurricane Andrew was petrifying, but I was only 6 months old and slept through the whole storm in our Kendall townhouse. So I grew up without the fear of hurricanes.

It seemed like we had emerged unscathed from the record-breaking 2004 and 2005 hurricane season. Then Wilma showed up on the radar.

As soon as I stepped out of bed, I felt dizzy. When I walked into the living room, I saw my parents, my brother and my grandma looking up at our swaying chandelier. We’d filled the bathtub with extra water in case there wasn’t any running water later, and now it was all swishing around like a wave pool.

I wasn’t dizzy -- the whole building was swaying.

Then I noticed dirt coming into the apartment from under the front door.

When I opened the door, I saw three men holding up my neighbor’s wall, keeping it from caving into the hallway.

We headed straight for the stairwell, the only safe place we could think of. Other families were passing us on the stairs telling everyone that a tornado had blown out their windows.

Hurricane Wilma had produced 10 tornadoes over Florida and one of them had blown out an entire column of balcony windows on the east side of the 26-story building.

I wasn’t having fun anymore.

After the storm, I went to one of the staircases overlooking the pool to take a look at the east side of the building. I felt really lucky that our apartment faced west.

Credit Miami Herald archives
My mom, Adriana, looking over our neighbor's collapsed wall at the Grand View Palace condominium in North Bay Village after Hurricane Wilma.

The pool was so full of dirt it looked like coffee. Mattresses and chairs from people’s apartments were scattered around the area. Bushes were ripped to shreds.

Straight ahead, people stood over the shattered glass that had once been their windows. Their stuff was wet and muddy and they just stood over it, holding their foreheads.

Everything was wet and muddy and people were just standing over their stuff, holding their foreheads.

Some people joked later that they finally were forced to meet their neighbors because their walls had collapsed into each other’s apartments.

There was even a rumor that the building was going to be condemned.

Wilma was my Andrew.

Wilma was the storm that made me realize why people are afraid of hurricanes. Why authorities tell us to evacuate and why we should always prepare for the worst.

So many new people who have never been through a hurricane have moved to South Florida in the last 10 years.

Every time I meet someone who asks me what it’s like to be in a hurricane, I think of Wilma.

“Must be fun,” they’ll say. And I tell them, “It is, until it isn’t.”

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