It had become a ritual: In the days since Hurricane Irma blew through South Miami-Dade, hundreds of farm workers whose homes had no power lined up outside the Homestead Housing Authority, patiently waiting for food and water in the searing heat.
At the Redland camp in Homestead, mothers pushing baby strollers held umbrellas to shield families from the sun. Grandmothers sat in wheelchairs under a small tiki hut. Children played with sticks and empty plastic bottles.
Volunteers wore straw hats while passing out nonperishable foods.
Then, at 1:58 p.m. Friday, came a collective roar. The constant humming of generators had ground to a halt. Light bulbs on front porches of dozens of homes just off Southwest 293rd Street and U.S. 1 came to life.
The power had returned — and with it, air conditioning.
“We officially have light,” said Shane White, the housing authority’s executive director.
That was great news — sort of — to Julisa, a 10-year-old Leisure City public school student. She admitted she was scared of the dark and tired of cold showers. But the return of power also likely meant a return to school was just around the corner.
“I don’t want to go back,” she giggled to friends.
Hurricane Irma’s winds dealt a particularly harsh blow to the hundreds of farm workers who live in South Dade camps with their families. Most don’t make much money, so evacuations meant moving inland to shelters.
When they returned on Monday or Tuesday, their homes were dark and hot. Downed trees had blocked access to roadways in and out. And most supermarkets or groceries in the county’s southern end were closed or sorely lacking supplies.
At the Redland camp where about 1,000 people live in 250 single-family, ranch-style tan and red homes, the Homestead Housing Authority quickly went to work clearing out debris and finding food and water from Farm Share and Miami-Dade Public Schools.
Florida Power & Light trucks were in and out of the neighborhood all week, as were politicians from as far away as Arkansas.
For many residents, Hurricane Irma wasn’t their first dance with the wind.
Elvira Gonzalez-Borja survived Hurricane Andrew in 1992 in a trailer home with her three children. She moved briefly to Arkansas after the storm because South Dade living was hell. Since then, she’s been doing volunteer work in the community through the Christ Fellowship church in Palmetto Bay.
She braved Irma inside her Redland camp home. This week, like the hundreds around her, Gonzalez-Borja was seeking help — instead of delivering it. Friday, she stood in line waiting on food and drink.
“I think I’m becoming more of a pro at helping others,” she said. “But I think it was just the hand of God that took care of these homes. And now I’m in need. How about that.”
Down the line from Gonzalez-Borja was Rosa Maria Moya, 72. Irma was particularly tough on her, she said, because she recently suffered a stroke. Friday she sat just outside the long lines, in the shade and in a wheelchair.
Maria Moya said she’s been using her backyard hose since Monday to shower two or three times a day.
“I was really stressed so I took some medicine and slept through” Irma, she said. “I think this is the worst thing ever.”