By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The day after Hurricane Georges bodyslams the Keys, September 25th, Miami is a ghost town. Though the winds barely reach gale force, businesses close and workers shutter storefronts in a post-traumatic-stress flashback to Hurricane Andrew. Windblown detritus clogs empty roads: palm leaves, newspapers, scraps of wood. By late afternoon a sky the color of curdled milk begins to break apart and reveal the orange beyond.
On NE 121st Street, a tree-shaded road in North Miami, people begin to emerge from modest one-story homes. Litter is strewn about the road in front of number 739, a squat structure where Christopher Cole lives.
"Hello." Cole's British accent rounds out the O so the word sounds like Hey-low. He's standing in his doorway wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt. "Excuse us, we're trying to dig out," he says. Then he beckons a visitor to enter a house crammed with cardboard boxes, water jugs, tools, and other items.
Cole, a 40-year-old photographer, sits on a couch. A Trinidadian woman whom he introduces as Eleanor places a sheaf of papers before him on a coffee table. The manuscript outlines Cole's consuming passion: a hurricane readiness plan that he calls "Operation Nineveh." Eleanor serves cookies and Coca-Cola.
"Basically, this is a three-county network, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach," he says, sitting on the couch's edge. "The idea of having three counties is that in a worst-case scenario, two counties would be devastated and the third would be able to assist."
He explains rat-a-tat that he and a small cadre of volunteers visit businesses and churches, asking them to join his network. "We have roughly about 200 people. In the event that something happens, those 200 would gather other people." Then he describes supply routes, evacuation areas, and the logistics of setting up medical tents.
After talking nonstop for several minutes, Cole leans forward: "I'm going to share something with you now, I hope it doesn't scare you. But I trust you."
"On April 8 of last year I had very strong, vivid dreams. I had a vision." While meditating Cole says he saw a hurricane sent by God to destroy Miami. Images of winds ravaging Miami-Dade County flashed through his mind. Soon details began to emerge: The winds reached 185 miles per hour with gusts up to 220. The eye passed over South Beach, snapping the towering condos like twigs, and continued northwest into Pembroke Pines. It lasted twelve hours. Thousands died. This was only the beginning. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and tidal waves convulsed this country from coast to coast. All the major cities crumbled. And in the aftermath, a Christian Kingdom was born.
Cole knows one other thing: He is God's point man in Miami.
"I believe God has given us clear signs that this nation has entered into Judgment. I know that Miami will be the first major city to come under that Judgment." Moreover, his group's name, Nineveh, refers to an ancient Assyrian city that the prophet Jonah tried to warn about the Lord's vengeance.
Cole's parapet-roofed house exhibits his commitment. Outside the rear door are half a dozen blue, plastic, 50-gallon drums for water. A few feet away is a pump to access a reserve water supply. A line of searchlights rest on a wooden rack. Inside the house a bank of car batteries are mounted on a wall. They power a generator that can produce enough electricity to run the house for twelve hours. All conceivable surfaces in the kitchen and back rooms are crammed with supplies: economy-sized cereal boxes, jumbo cans of tuna fish and beans, rubber surgical gloves, bandages, and disinfectants. There are even helium tanks and boxes of balloons, which Cole plans to attach to the dead and wounded so rescue vehicles can spot them.
Cole may be obsessive, even fanatical, but he is not alone.
On the cusp of the year 2000, Christians the world over are preparing for the Millennium, the thousand year period, mentioned in the biblical book of Revelations, in which Jesus rules the world. The date is less meaningful to the non-Christian majority. Nonetheless, militia groups are stocking up on canned food and munitions, while religious cult members are selling their belongings and moving to sites they believe are way stations on the road to heaven.
Miami is no different. And Cole, with his uniquely subtropical spin on the apocalypse, has tapped into a local network preparing for the worst.
In the year and a half since his vision, Cole has spent hours preaching in one-room churches, faxing and phoning people in cities around the world, and meeting with county emergency coordinators. He estimates he's spent $15,000 in the last year preparing his house, buying supplies, and printing flyers that bear his message. "I've contacted over 400 people about this."
He has not exactly attracted the masses. The most recent hurricane season ended November 30 and no monster storm materialized. Some criticized Cole for crying wolf. "It has been very isolating," he says. "But in that isolation I've gotten closer to God."
Cole asserts he's become a pariah, repeatedly threatened for his proselytizing. "I've been called a false prophet, a cult leader, a Nazi trying to scare people. And this is from people in the churches!" he exclaims. He recently had to change his phone number, he says, because of the threats.