Hurricane Irma

The only thing that was …not disconcerting but certainly weird, was how familiar it was. I mean we haven’t had a storm like this, not really, since Andrew. And this didn’t hit. Even Wilma and Katrina had more people in the streets as they hit (because Wilma was “only” a cat 3 and Katrina a 1 when she came through). And I had that same creepy feeling of empty streets and a tense, city shushing itself down. There’s something weird and creepy about a place for people without people in it. Empty malls, empty apartment buildings, empty schools. And then after the storm, still the emptiness but also a mess. And when you did come across people it was in stressful and tense contexts. Cops at intersections, human streetlights. People in lines, being tense and short with each other, because we all need some gas, no one has ice, everyone is tired and uncomfortable and sticky and miserably dirty. No one had a hot meal for days. The only thing approaching comfort was cranking your car’s AC but you can’t drive because there’s a curfew and no gas and where would you go? How would you even get there, the streets are a maze of trees.
I have a good friend who is new to the state and had to explain that you want a fast hurricane, in movement. Slow wind speed is better — a cat 1 vs a cat 5 which is terrifying — but if it’s going to hit you, you want it to keep going as fast as possible. What made Andrew so devastating for Homestead was that it was so strong and then when it made landfall, just…fucking stayed there. Grinding the place down to rubble. You look at the pictures of homestead and they’re all from far away and it looks like bombs went off everywhere at the same time, but being there, being close to the detritus, the hot moist swampy air that’s so thick you can feel the effort it takes to breathe, and seeing the shit on the ground. Nails driven into cars. Asphalt just…peeled up. Walls shorn off buildings.
I did see some really good people’ing though. Working the shelter before it hit, checking people in, had a bunch of terrified people, with passports, with IDs, literally asking military personel what papers they needed to have to check in. I surprised more than a few by giving them their IDs back without even looking at it, “We don’t need it. Just tell me your name and write down everyone’s name in your party”. A family with a young lady, 17 or 18, decked out all in santero white. A lady who wasn’t checking in but bringing a coffeemaker to her friend at the shelter. A dude dragging a queen mattress, another with lawn furniture, another with a desktop computer and monitor. A transit worker who had no reason or cause to go out of his way to drop folks off where they actually needed to go (instead of at the pickup points) but who did anyway because otherwise those people would have been fucked (a family going to Grenada, they were just flying through Miami on a connection). Two Italian kids, brothers, 19 and 20, who were here on vacation and got picked up from south beach and had spent 4 of their 10 days here in a shelter, showing some 7 year old kid how to do flips and gymnastics, while they had no idea how they were going to get to FLL for their morning flight on Tuesday.