What's Your Wildest Hurricane Story?
It's been 11 years since a serious hurricane touched Miami. But for locals who have lived through the megastorms, hurricane memories don't fade. As Hurricane Matthew edges closer to Florida, New Times asked its arts writers to tell us their most ridiculous, most terrifying, most authentically Miami storm stories. Share your own in the comments below — and pray we all won't be making new hurricane memories this week.
During Hurricane Katrina, I was at my neighbor's house for a hurricane party when we got calls from my mom saying the doors had flung wide open at our house, she couldn't close them, and my poodle was about to fly away. She wasn't joking. So my dad, brother, and I got in the car around 8 p.m., during the height of the storm, and drove out. But we quickly realized every road was blocked due to huge trees that had fallen, and then our car got completely stuck. The water started rising, so we had to risk it, jump into this "lake" of water, and run for safety to the nearest tree. At this point, the air was howling and I was praying, thinking we were going to die. We couldn't even knock on a nearby house because the wind and rain were that strong. Finally, some guy in a pickup truck with a bulldog in the backseat saw us behind the tree and was like, "Need a ride?" and saved us. My brother is terrified of dogs, but we threw him in the truck anyway. —Nicole Lopez-Alvar
A buddy of mine was living in Homestead during Andrew. His neighborhood was hit particularly hard, but his house was miraculously spared. He and his family stayed up all night as the storm wreaked havoc outside. In the darkness, they could hear the homes on either side of theirs being torn apart. They waited helplessly, fearing that, at any moment, their house would be next. Yet when the storm passed and morning came, the house was completely intact. They looked out the windows and saw the devastation stretching for blocks. My friend was so relieved and grateful that he went outside to take pictures of how his house was spared and, as he walked outside in bare feet, he stepped on a nail. The other families that had lost their homes were physically fine. But my friend, with his home intact, had to be taken to the emergency room with a nail in his foot. — Chris Joseph
I spent a lot of time on the house landline during Hurricane Andrew. My aunt in Washington, D.C., stayed up all night to give us regular reports from Bryan Norcross as we paced as far as the cord would let us. We had a full house. My mother's friend, her boyfriend, daughter, and dogs came to stay with us from Key Biscayne. And another friend from Little Italy, New York, and her young daughter just happened to be in town for a visit that was much extended by the hurricane. We went outside on Miller Road the day the storm hit, and there was an oddly quiet peace to the empty streets that usually were covered with spinning tires. No birds chirped or were visible, and the sky was completely clear and blue. My dad put wood and tape on the jalousie windows, and my mom moved furniture around inside just in case the roof came off and we ended up in the hallway or bathtub under mattresses. The sky turned more and more purple as the storm moved in slowly. We went to bed kind of early, but I laid there knowing I wouldn't sleep through this. The low-pressure system lulled everyone, even the dogs, to rest. I remember that when one of the avocado trees hit the garage, my dad and I checked on the damage. We wandered to each of the little cracks in the wood to witness the swirling debris outside. The eye of the storm was supposed to hit us in Coral Gables, but it veered south. As morning came, we found that the massive banyan tree in front of the house had fallen and draped the lawn with the best tree house ever. Sadly, Coral Gables taxes paid to have it removed before the opossum families could make a comfortable life there. There was no power for about two weeks, which was when I started my first day at Carver Middle School. I slept on the terrazzo floors to keep cool and washed myself using the hose in the backyard. We were lucky to still have well water; most didn't. A few days after the storm, the family drove down to Perrine to witness the devastation our friends endured. I remember a small sliver of wood that cut through the center of a tree — a small testament to the storm's full force. — Liz Tracy
The last time a hurricane rolled around, one of my co-workers lost power for 11 days straight. On the ninth or tenth day, after noticing that his neighbors had power and he didn’t, he called FPL. The woman who picked up the phone — after presumably dealing with a ton of nonsense all day — was not having it. After listening to him complain, she simply said, “And what do you want me to do, sir? Hold your hand until the power comes back on?” She hung up. When he told everyone at the office about the call, a co-worker decided to write a fake letter from FPL using the power company's exact formatting and all, offering him a ton of free things he hated as an apology. The co-worker went as far as to drop off the letter in his home mailbox for authenticity, and he and his wife didn’t catch on. When he went to the office to show his co-workers the letter, he saw it printed out and pasted all over the office. They’ve never let him live it down. — Juan Barquin
At the time Andrew hit, my family hadn’t lived here long, and our operational knowledge of natural disasters rested solely on the tremors of the Caracas Valley that we experienced in Venezuela. Shutters weren’t even a word in our vocabulary. As the storm approached, we packed up as much of the backyard as we could and retreated to the safety of a walk-in closet, my parents and my two younger brothers. When the winds started picking up, we heard the windows blow out, and all of a sudden things got very confusing inside the house — we hadn’t secured anything inside, hadn’t seen a point to it. In the darkness of the closet, my mom shot up and yelled, “My lamp!” and bolted out barefoot. The lamp was no big deal, a dark-grayish ball on small iron legs, maybe an antique, maybe not. But my mother is a psycho warrior of Corsican stock. Standing in the frame of the closet door, illuminated by lightning, drenched in hurricane water, her feet covered in blood — my mother made that lamp look like the greatest fucking lamp of all time. From what I could glimpse, my old man had a “that’s crazy and I married it” expression on his face. – Abel Folgar
Having spent much of my career working at a television station, I can tell you that TV weather people tend to get giddy at the mere thought that the Big One might be coming our way. After all, when you report on weather in South Florida, there’s not all that much to say from day to day. Either it rains or it doesn’t, and most of the time the sun shines and the temperatures are lingering well above the 80-degree mark. That makes the possibility of a major weather story — a hurricane, for example — something to get excited about. Meanwhile, legions of hapless reporters are tossed into the thick of the fury, forced to lash themselves to the nearest lamppost while giving their reports from the front lines, telling everyone else just what it’s like to be moronic enough to face down the frenzy of a tropical storm. I swear, I’ve seen reporters blown across rain-slicked parking lots, tossed like beanbag chairs. There’s nothing like a rain-soaked commentator, all drenched and disheveled, to convince us of the one thing we already know: It’s not safe in a storm, stupid! — Lee Zimmerman
When Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, I was superpumped about it. It was my first major storm, and at 11 years old, life or death didn’t mean shit to me. I was living in Little Havana, and initially we had been predicted to receive the full brunt of the hurricane, but it turned southwest at the last minute and annihilated Homestead. Of course, I knew none of this then. Instead, during the next 24 hours, I experienced fear only once: when a lightning bolt struck a nearby transformer. It exploded, sounding like the goddamn portals of Hell had opened on Earth. My family and I, all seven of us, rode out Andrew in the hallway closet of a two-bedroom apartment. No windows shattered, and no one was injured except for me. I busted my ass on a slippery cement floor when I walked outside in flip-flops as the eye was passing over. I was an idiot child. Perhaps my fondest memory is of the massive tree that toppled over in the backyard of our complex. It lay on its side for a week or two. During that time, I gathered leftover hurricane supplies, a boombox, and some blankets and camped out in the shade of the exposed roots like some sort of homeless Smurf. All in all, it was a pretty rad experience, a stark contrast to the anxiety I feel as an adult about Hurricane Matthew. Oh, to be an idiot child again. — Angel Melendez
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