After 30 years, Hurricane Andrew has left scars


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In this August 1992 photo from the Miami Herald-published book about Hurricane Andrew, “The Big One,” South Miami-Dade resident Sharon Hench looks up at the huge holes in the roof of her Country Walk home. During the storm, she and her husband, Michael, dashed from room to room to survive.

Miami Herald file


Hurricane Andrew: 30 years later

The storm changed lives in South Florida. It destroyed homes and landmarks. And it left indelible memories of survival. Hurricane Andrew roared ashore on Aug. 24, 1992, 30 years ago.

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We will always have that night.

Our lives have since gone in millions of directions, as many different directions as there were people in South Florida, but the thing we will always have in common, the thing that will always bind us, is what we went through that night — Aug. 24, 1992 — when the storm smashed its way onshore and made kindling of our hopes and homes and lives.

Somehow, that’s now 30 years in the past. It seems impossible it could be that long. Then you realize that cellphones and streaming services didn’t exist when Hurricane Andrew hit. Nor did Keke Palmer and Tyler Herro.

It turns out time doesn’t much care if you’re having fun. Time flies, regardless. And suddenly, that night my family spent huddled in a closet, that night we felt the walls breathe and heard a freight train howl overhead, that night the roof was peeled away like the rind off an orange, that night we faced the possibility — even the likelihood — of death, that terrifying night, is just a memory.

The home we lost has been replaced and replaced again. The 22-month-old daughter to whom my wife explained the destruction in words of toddler-sized poignancy — “The house broke” — is a busy young mother now. The 7-year-old son who asked fearfully if hurricanes ever “come inside your house” is a budding filmmaker a few inches taller than me.

We don’t talk about Andrew much any more. Yet signs of the storm are still with us. If you flip through our photo albums, you see page after page of pictures ruined by water. In the Polaroid of 10-year-old me with my great-aunt Mariah, half the image is stuck to the plastic sheet that covers it. A portrait of my sister as an infant smears into a kaleidoscope just above her eyebrows.

Out in the garage, my wife now keeps an emergency cache of first-aid equipment, non-perishable food and bottled water — just in case. Survey my old vinyl record albums and you’ll find dozens of them in nondescript white jackets with handwritten labels, with many more hopelessly stuck together after storm water turned cover photos to glue, binding Lenny Williams to Robin Williams.

Seeing those things always brings back that night. The memory doesn’t make me sad — it never has — but it does have a way of centering me, of reminding me, as the old saying goes, that the most important things in life aren’t things.

Lately, I find myself thinking a lot about a song by Merry Clayton, the legendary 73-year-old background singer who has supported everyone from the Rolling Stones to Ray Charles to Coldplay. These last years have been tough on her; in 2014, she was injured so badly in a car accident that both legs had to be amputated. Last year, she released an album called “Beautiful Scars,” whose title song speaks to making peace with the bruises and lacerations that living inevitably brings.

“I’ve been on the battlefield of life,” she sings, “I’ve been through it. But I just had to go through that to get to this.” And she finds joy in the “beautiful scars that I have on my heart, beautiful proof that I made it this far.” It’s the kind of song you sing in the aftermath, a benediction for when you find yourself, against all odds, still standing — because what broke the house did not break you. As they say in church, your test becomes your testimony.

Thirty years later, that’s what that night in the storm is for me. It’s why, when I hold my ruined things, what I feel is not grief, but grace. Because Merry Clayton was right.

And these, too, are beautiful scars.

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This story was originally published August 24, 2022 4:30 AM.

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