Following Hurricane Irma, Dave Lester of Coral Gables and his big dog, Mabel, now cautiously navigate city streets piled high with heavy dead oak branches and go around sidewalks torn from the ground by old ficus trees that survived Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
During Irma’s wrath, Lester and Mabel holed up in Little Havana.
“We stayed with my wife’s family for the storm because we were in an evacuation zone,” Lester said, as Mabel found a place to pee. “Only one tree fell in my yard. We were super lucky.”
Jack Power, a retiree who lives on Daroco Avenue, said a neighbor’s tree fell on his chain link fence in the backyard. He’s still trying to clean out his pool that’s now like a lake-filled with debris.
“It was coated with leaves. I gotta dive one more time,” Power said. “That’s the only thing cool about this storm. Getting in the pool.”
The yards of many homes in the South Gables remain covered in busted branches, with leaves now turning brown.
For those residents who stayed, and those who are returning to their homes, it’s an ominous scene. But windows are open, birds sing and flit into upturned trees, frogs chirp at night in pools turned green and a few generators hum.
Coral Gables Police officers patrol the streets throughout the night and sit in unmarked cars protecting main entrances to the city. During the day, the officers monitor the streets and direct traffic especially around FPL trucks with workers at downed lines trying to restore power.
Resident Power, who shows his bicep when asked his last name, sweeps his driveway and says he heard his neighborhood would have electricity again by Sunday.
“That’s what they said,” Power said, pointing to the FPL trucks and police at the end of his street.
Other residents take breaks from cleaning up and sit outside to catch a breeze. They read print newspapers and magazines. A mail truck drives by. Neighborhood mail delivery started up again on Tuesday.
At Taco Rico on U.S. 1, employees set up a grill out front with steak and chicken for customers hungry for hot food.
Starbucks, across from the University of Miami, is filled with people charging their devices, ordering beverages, and enjoying the air conditioning. It also has wifi — sometimes.
The sign on the door says, “Sorry. We are open, but no dairy. No food. No credit cards. Only almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk.”
The day after the storm, neighbors pulled together to help each other clear driveways and streets of branches.
But some drivers coming through knocked over a small freshly planted Poinciana sapling on Maggiore Street that was part of the recent Coral Gables tree-planting project. On the wide South Alhambra, all the new little oaks were still standing.
And on Marmore Avenue — where a big oak branch blocked passage — a “new street” went over the swale, over the sidewalk, and into a once tidy yard leaving a deep muddy track.
Erik Wesoloski on Savona Avenue drove his wife and three young children to Atlanta before the storm and flew back to secure their house. During Irma, he stayed with his brother-in-law in Miami Lakes, where the power lines are underground. Electricity was back up there in five hours, he said.
Wesoloski said it was so great that his neighbors were there for each other.
“We really came together helping each other on Savona both before and after the storm,” he said. “When I found out that Home Depot was closed and it was too late to get shutters, my neighbor Tom Mullen said he had some extra that he wasn’t using and he offered them. He also offered to put them up!”
Mullen and his wife, Maria, gave shelter to a couple in their 80s who live in an apartment building without power. They can’t get to their home because they need the elevator.
“This was neighbors helping neighbors,” said the generous resident as a helicopter flew low and loud overhead. “It brought out the best in everybody.”
If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at firstname.lastname@example.org.