From Andrew to Sandy… A Survivor’s Story

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If you missed Part One of this story, take a moment to catch up and come back to read the eye-witness account of a hurricane survivor. Someone whom I love dearly…My hubs. Sun’s family weathered through 92’s Hurricane Andrew in Miami, and he’s here with us today to share what life was like, post storm days. 

Raj: Hi Bubs! Thanks for guest-blogging today in my Hurricane series. Let’s start with a visual question. What did you see immediately after the hurricane passed and you were able to get out of the garage? Was anything still in tact?  

Sun: Let me back up a bit. When we saw the corner of the garage roofing lifting up, we started to see sunlight poke through the corner. But after several minutes the wind slowed down. Then we tried to get out of the garage, but we couldn’t open the door to get back into the kitchen.  It took my brother and I at least thirty minutes to open the door. When we finally opened the door, we saw debris covering the kitchen floor at least 2-3 feet deep. And as we glanced toward our backyard we didn’t have to look through the window or doorway, because the walls of our house were like a skeleton with the framing exposed. We saw a huge section of our neighbor’s roof in our dining room; it had to be at least an 8×10 foot section. I remember seeing a glass ceiling light shade that laying on the living room floor, unbroken but also not from our house. I remember a pair of black Umbro athletic shorts on the floor, again not belonging to anyone in the family.  Strangely, small items sitting on top of the TV, small hand-carved wooden elephants, were still in place and unmoved. Massive structures had entered our living room left lying next to items that weighed a fraction of their weight unmoved.

We then went upstairs and saw my bedroom, which faced the back side of our house with walls and ceiling completely exposed…My bedroom was completely destroyed. I remember finding my Michael Jordan in his second NBA season card, still in it’s protective case, given to me by Mallory Cole’s younger brother, totally soaked.

We went to my brother’s room in search of our Ding Dongs that we had left behind, and found my brother’s Cockatiel bird, once beautiful—gray, white, blue, yellow and white. Now she was entirely a dirty off-white, wet plastered color. All of the drywall that had been soaked and blown off the walls had coated this poor bird. In the months following the hurricane, my brother’s bird definitely suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD].  It was easily startled and did not whistle as often as it did prior to Andrew. We found the Ding Dongs…and boy, did they taste good.

Raj: Wow. So, what was it like in the first days after the hurricane?

Sun: My Dad, brother and I piled into my brother’s 1972 Ford Mustang, which probably saved our lives, because my brother had parked it sideways in the driveway and it was in front of the two garage doors. The mustang took the brunt of all the blows. All of the flying debri…flying tree limbs, parts of people’s homes came crashing into the Mustang and smashed up the side and cracked the windshield. This may be why we didn’t hear too much of the devastation that was going on outside while we were on the other side of the garage door for the night. It took us almost three hours to travel two miles to get to our friend Char’s house. We had to travel over people’s lawns and drive through small ponds created by the storm just to get to her house. We stayed several nights with our friend who had lost power and had some roof damage over a portion of her house. It was good to be with friends during this chaotic time. 

We then started to try to salvage our own roof, by repairing it with pieces of plywood and covering it with tarp. It was a daily ritual, where we would pick up people starting at 6:00 to 6:30 in the morning, friends like Danny Cordoba, Shiner Godwin, Zulima Rosenow would help in this endeavor. We’d drive for several hours just to cover the ten mile distance to what was left of our house. Other friends, like Priscilla Malin and Dao Pham, would deliver a meal in the afternoon, sometimes our only meal of the day and then we would start our several hour trek back to a friend’s home in the evening and do the whole routine again the next day. I remember going to Priscilla’s parents’ house, the Santiago’s, where we took our first bath in the swimming pool, several weeks after the hurricane.

Raj: Wow. No bath in weeks. Sounds miserable! What were the best and most useful things that people donated or gave you in those first days?

Sun: That’s an easy one. New Fruit of the Loom underwear from a care package from Dao’s sister in Chicago. I think her name was Jamie.

Raj: All righty. :)  How about as time went on? What was it like in the coming months?

Sun: It was really tough…I lost 7-10 pounds from all of the physical activity and scarcity of meals. As bad as we had it, there were many who had it worse. My brother and I volunteered with the Red Cross, which was pretty cool, being able to go through the tolls for free, but we also got to see areas in Homestead where the devastation was even worse than where we lived. Houses were leveled.  We lived near Country Walk, around 148th Street and 142nd Avenue, right by Metro Zoo, in the Deerwood neighborhood. Many of the animals had escaped. The authorities had to capture some of the monkeys and over 300 birds were lost.

It was scary to walk around after dark. There was so much looting going on, it wasn’t uncommon to see people guard their properties which were so vulnerable to crime. People were so desperate that there was a lot theft going on. A common sight was one of individuals holding shot guns in plain sight in front of hand-drawn signs that read, “You loot – We shoot!”

Raj: No kidding. Wow. Now, when you hear the news of a coming hurricane, how do you react?  

Sun: As one who used to love hearing thunder, seeing lightning and just enjoying the power in a storm prior to Andrew, I now have a healthy respect…I’m not sure if I want to call it fear…but fear and respect kind of go hand in hand, right?  When my wife [that would be me!] and I were on the island of Dominica, Hurricane George threatened to hit the island. This was six years following Hurricane Andrew. Now, PTSD is characterized by intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks of past traumatic events, avoidance of reminders of trauma, hypervigilance, and sleep disturbance, all of which lead to considerable social, occupational, and interpersonal dysfunction. Let’s just say that I had a lot of symptoms of PTSD. That first year after Hurricane Andrew, I intentionally watched the movie, “Twister”  to help me get over some of my fear. My heart rate definitely goes up and I start sweatin’ when big storms are headed my way.

Raj: Yeah. I remember you being extremely anxious. Remember how we had to take baths in our bathing suits in the river after the water didn’t turn on for several days? But overall, George didn’t hit us too badly.

How is your perspective on life/material things/values different or transformed after surviving now 4 or 5 significant hurricanes? 

Sun: Let’s see: Andrew, George, Irene, Sandy and now, one day prior Nor’Easter Athena.

You leave the world the way you came into the world…with just your birthday suit!  He who dies with the most toys wins is not a completely accurate statement. What is true is that he dies. I’ve never seen a hearse with a U-haul attached, so I feel like while we have this short window period called life, we should try to bless others as much as possible with the blessings we have. 

Raj: Share. I like that. Finally, what would you say to victims of Sandy? To help them through the aftermath… 

Sun: It is okay to get help from others. This is a time where we need to rely on each other. It’s important for those who can help to have an opportunity to help, and it’s important for those who need the help to accept it. I pray for courage and initiative for those who need to step up and give and for humility for those who need to accept it.

Raj: Thanks so much for sharing your story. Anything you want to add?

Sun: I don’t know why these huge storms have to happen. I don’t know why after experiencing Superstorm Sandy, we encountered a Nor’easter – Athena. Why people are still without power and heat. I don’t know why there is a gas shortage. I don’t know why people have to lose their homes and families lose loved ones. There a lot of things, that I don’t know…but through all of this I know that:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. 

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God…

This is part of Psalm 46, which took on a whole different meaning for me after Andrew and George, Irene, Sandy and Athena. And there will be more names to follow, because the storms of life are going to keep coming and things will change because of them…

But our God is the same yesterday, today and forever!

I’m not sure if this is what you were looking for…but there you have it folks!

Raj: Just looking for your story. Thanks so much for sharing it. And so glad I have you with me for as many days as God gives us, to weather the storms of life together! :) 

**Any one else out there with a story they want to share? Gallon of Gas for your thoughts… wishing I had invented that car that runs on water right about now. 

 

 

 
 

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