Outside the Miami City Cemetery, tree limbs crowd the narrow sidewalk and a padlock secures the gated entryways. At the east end of the graveyard, dozens of tropical trees — some planted nearly 100 years ago — have toppled onto tombstones.
Established in 1887, the municipal cemetery has weathered every major hurricane to hit Miami, and after Irma's landfall in Florida over the weekend, city workers and volunteers are once again tasked with cleaning up the historic burial place.
But local historian Paul George says the damage is nothing compared to what befell the NE Second Avenue site after Hurricane Wilma.
"As bad as it is now, it's mild compared to the way it was at that time," he says, "nothing as bad as what I saw with Wilma."
New Times was unable to get ahold of the city's parks department, which oversees operations, but as of Thursday, it appeared workers had begun clearing vegetation from the west end of the cemetery.
As Miami's oldest burial site, the graveyard is the final resting place of some of the city's most famous residents. Julia Tuttle, the city's founder, was buried there in 1898, while members of other pioneering families, such as the Burdines, the Peacocks, and the Sewells, can also be found among the 9,000 graves. Notably, a controversial monument that refers to dead Confederate soldiers as "our heroes" sits prominently in the middle, though New Times was unable to get into the locked cemetery to see if it sustained any damage (as some hoped).
In Hurricane Andrew, the cemetery lost many of its giant red African mahogany trees, George says. Wilma was worse, though. After the Category 2 storm hit Miami October 24, 2005, George popped over to the cemetery to see if his annual Halloween tour would still be possible, he says. But with trees and branches covering the entire ten-acre historic site, the event had to be canceled.
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"It was so stacked up right in the middle of the cemetery that you couldn't walk through it or anything," he says. "It was wrecked."
Given that the cleanup after Wilma took more than two weeks, the cemetery should be up and
"From what I saw the other day, it wasn't as bad as those other two hurricanes," George says.