Community Conversations

What are your memories from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma?

We asked the following question to readers on social media and the Public Insight Network recently: What are your memories from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma? Thanks for all of your responses. Below is a sampling of your comments, some of which were edited for length and clarity. Learn more about the Public Insight Network and comment on previous discussions at MiamiHerald.com/community and select Community Conversations.

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I was forced to drive from Fort Lauderdale to Kendall in Katrina and that night was like a horror movie. My God, the things I saw: wrecked cars at intersections that I could not even check to see if anyone was injured inside because the winds were so high that my door would not open, all of the street lights were out and it was so dark it was nearly impossible to see, a huge medal roof almost crashed through my windshield but dropped down at the last split second and flew under the front of my car. I almost ran into fallen palm trees, power lines and fallen street lights several times. In Rita I was caught in a water spout with my 3-month-old son, Isaac, in a car while driving across the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. As for Wilma, she was very intense. I rode it out in my West Kendall apartment, recorded most of it and watched parts of the buildings come apart and crash all around me and destroy cars in the parking lot and even witnessed a few cars flip upside down. Massive, never-ending destruction in every direction I looked. It looked like a different world.

Robert Molina, Kendall

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The thing I remember the most about Hurricane Wilma is that my electricity went off for around a week and my water was also off for a good while. That was the year that my favorite baseball team won the World Series — the Chicago White Sox. I listened to all of the 2005 World Series games on my portable radio. That is, until the last inning of the last game. My radio started getting full of static, so I didn’t get to hear the game when my favorite team finally won the World Series. The next day I went to work. My Cuban-American co-workers said that Castro had caused the interference on my radio!

Sara Leviten, North Miami

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I remember Katrina as surprisingly fierce for a Category 1. It had taken a sharp southwest turn and churned down over us here near Dadeland, its gathering strength perhaps a harbinger of what it would become or the damage it would unleash. Wilma was a long overnight slog and more destructive than one might initially have imagined. In Bay Harbor, it lifted untethered building materials off the flat roof across the street and blew out the tall windows of my mother’s fifth floor apartment, wrecking furniture and making her fear that her 16-year-old shih tzu had been sucked out into the storm — until the nearly blind and deaf Tashee poked her head out from a closet.

Peter Schmitt, Miami

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We were living in Miami at the time Wilma hit. I opened the door only to see one of those big, old satellite dishes come rolling by like a giant hula hoop. Of course we drove immediately after it passed (when we shouldn’t have) to see what the apocalypse had wrought. Trees and pieces of homes littered the street as we weaved in and out of the debris. We managed to get to our local gas station and get some meager supplies. Later that morning, my mother started a fire with downed trees in our yard to cook all of the remaining food in the fridge. We were out of power for at least three weeks. Phones, Internet, everything was down. I didn’t speak to my boss for a week. We ate meals over a fire in a circle like primitive folks. It was amazing how quickly our society reverted back to one without power. Interesting times.

Nogui Aramburo, Miami

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One of my closest friends, who lives in Australia, had come to visit a week or so before South Florida was ravaged by Hurricane Wilma. I mostly remember my buddy and I standing on my apartment terrace in Sunrise, Fla., watching as the wind and rain blew in, turning everything white. Since I lived on the second floor, I was genuinely concerned about the roof. I had been in South Florida during Hurricane Andrew and I knew all too well what that storm had done to roofs. The roof did hold up and there was no visible damage to my apartment. However, we did lose electricity and even lost phone service — both cellular and land line.

Brian Rick, Plantation

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Hurricane Katrina destroyed the roof of our townhouse. We think if was a small tornado or a type of micro burst. We had rain inside our house and it was just awful. However, we were able to get a roofer immediately to repair it. The inside work involved replacing most interior walls downstairs as well as the entire kitchen. When Wilma came through that same year lots of people lost their roofs. We luckily had no damage.

Evelyn Stahl, Hallandale Beach

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“Did you know [a very famous British singer] is staying with us?” the concierge asked. “Yes, she just came up on my computer,” I replied. “Well, she just called down to say she is bored.” It’s the eve of hurricane Wilma and I’m just about to finish my shift at a luxury hotel on Brickell. I was having a conversation with the concierge who had just stopped by to make a few copies of the letter being placed in the rooms that night. It read: “Dear guest, we wish to inform you that a hurricane shall be approaching this evening.” Between martinis and massages, a few guests may have missed this fact. An elegant, hand-signed letter on Irish stationery carefully placed on a mahogany tray on their bed hoped to clarify this matter. The hotel had a program which alerted you when celebrities, dignitaries or politicians were staying there. We were in “hurricane preparedness” mode which meant most of the outlets and entertainment were either closed or in the process of shutting down. Bored stiff at a five-star hotel as a hurricane approaches. Bummer.

This was the year when we had a hurricane virtually every weekend. Much like the boy who cried wolf, I had become a bit unfazed at the fact that another storm was approaching and once again near the weekend. The other storms had been nothing more than “un viento platanero” as my grandfather used to say, so my preparations for this one were basically the same as the ones before. While everyone was out searching for water and batteries, I was rather upset that Norman Brothers didn’t have more chilled Pinot Grigio on hand. I bought a container of feta and sun-dried tomato spread, a couple bottles of Pellegrino, a few salted caramel truffles and a loaf of that amazing forgazza bread they have to make it through the night.

As life would have it, my roommate at the time was in Los Angeles as part of a grand jury trial for a former boss of his who apparently was being charged with grand theft, embezzlement and fraud. So I was alone that evening in our apartment right by Dadeland. I went about my night with no sense of urgency whatsoever. I was watching AbFab reruns on DVD while savoring my dip and wine. The wind began to howl and I thought, “It’s a great cozy night to watch TV. I wonder what they put in this dip to make it so good?” Then, the lights went out. Little did I know at that moment that they would not return for 28 days.

The rest of the night went the way that most “light” hurricanes go: lots of rain, wind and the occasional curious thought of wondering what may have just hit the building. The power, of course, never returned and eventually I just dozed off to sleep. When you work in hospitality, come hell or high water (literally in this case), the show must go on. I woke up with a bit of a headache and tried to call in sick. I was quickly told that we were severely understaffed and that I must come in unless I was “physically unable to.” I used to take the Metro to work and knew that it would not be running due to the storm which actually had not finished completely passing yet.

Nothing could have prepared me that morning for what I was about to see and experience. Before going any further, I must say that I lived through hurricane Andrew. I was 15 and my mother was 7 months pregnant with my brother. We lived near Country Walk, which was one of the most devastated areas. It was a frightening experience and our home was severely damaged. I know firsthand the damage a major hurricane can cause. Wilma was not “supposed” to be a major hurricane.

As I left the complex, I felt the wind buffeting my car but didn’t worry much. “Maybe I’ll get a coffee and a doughnut on the way in,” I thought. As I made it closer to downtown, fallen trees were everywhere, roads were closed and power lines swayed like streamers at a party. When I finally made it to Brickell Avenue, it looked as if a bomb had gone off. Entire skyscrapers were stripped of their windows and facades.

The Espirito Santo building along with Greenberg Traurig stood naked awkwardly facing their peers. You literally could see into the offices, documents and spreadsheets raining down on to the street below. At the hotel, the damage was extensive. An entire glass walkway had been blown out, shooting glass into all areas of the pool. The pool was full of an array of dead fish which had somehow made their way from the bay into the pool several floors up. Unbelievable! “Those poor fish,” I said to myself. The day consisted of clean up made that much more difficult wearing a double breasted suit. “Dignity and professionalism at all times,” was a clearly stated rule in the employee handbook. Knowing that I probably didn’t have power at home, I made sure to eat a big lunch at the employee cafeteria. Even right after a hurricane, lunch was the typical elaborate spread. Boy, do I miss those cream puffs and mini key lime tarts. Finally, my shift came to an end and it was time to get back home.

It took me about two hours but I finally made it home to the apartment. Still no power. I took a cold shower and went out to look for dinner. There was nothing to be had. All the usual local restaurants which knew my order by heart were closed. It occurred to me that another hotel would offer dinner, so I ended up at the Dadeland Marriott. Sure enough, they had a buffet going, a spectacular spread of revamped leftovers and everything that had to be cleared out of the fridge before going bad. Even better — the bar was open. Chicken surprise and an ice-cold vodka and cranberry? Sure, I’ll take it.

For the next 28 days, this was my life: Ice cold shower, breakfast and lunch at work and then dinner either at the Marriott, or from the scraps I was able to find at the market when it finally opened up again. Serving the super rich during the day and being without power alone in a fourth floor apartment at night gives you a whole lot of time to think and ponder your existence. There’s nothing like coming home to a stifling 90 degree room swarming with mosquitoes from having to have the windows open. How did the pioneers ever settle Florida? That’s determination!

I guess, dealing with hurricanes is the price we pay for living in paradise. Well, that and the traffic. Since Wilma, I’ve moved to Homestead and my hotel days are long behind me. The only traffic in Homestead is if you get caught behind a slow moving tractor. It is a very pleasant, slow-paced and bucolic way of life down here. I am always aware though of the damage hurricanes can cause. Homestead has never fully recovered from the ravages of Andrew.

On the 28th day when power finally did come back, it made me realize that God truly has a sense of humor. As the lights in the apartment flickered, the TV and DVD player came to life and began right where they left off — Patsy turning to Edina and saying, “Sweetie darling, you need a holiday! Let’s go on holiday!” I stood alone in the hot room and laughed hysterically. Yes, Patsy, I certainly need a holiday!

Santi Gabino, Homestead

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