Thankfully Irma was no Andrew. Twenty-five years later, so much has changed… and so much is the same. When Mother Nature is at her worst human nature is at its best.
There were so many heroes during and after Irma that I will only scratch the surface with 11 of them. And in almost every case our heroes were the little guys. Large companies don't seem to have the "right stuff" in a hurricane crisis. Manuals and plans are no match for critical thinking. That is why the owner of a local gas station can splice wires into his store and pump gas to needy customers and AT&T and Comcast do face plants despite heavily documented disaster recovery strategies.
Sure, Hurricane Irma brought her wrath with wind and rain. Thankfully, in our immediate area, storm surge was minimal. Lots of people heeded the evacuation orders. Others stayed. I personally lost power Sunday, September 10 at 6:11 a.m. and regained it Tuesday, September 12 at 4:21 p.m. The way I found out the power was back was priceless. Like many who had been in cleanup mode, I was taking my third cold shower of the day when all of a sudden, the water got warmer. It was nirvana.
Even though my power outage was shorter than many, we can all identify with instinctually flipping on a light switch with no result, hitting your remote for the garage door and opening the refrigerator expecting a light and a draft of cool air. Yes, after we checked for any damage, it was the lack of power that most irked and concerned us all.
Hero #1 on my list is likely to cause controversy. First, because it's a big company and not the little guy hero. Second, because there was so much misinformation out there. Florida Power & Light should be given a lot of credit, with most of the credit going to the tireless field workers. Sure, we’ll be debriefing about how FPL seemed not to be hardened and woefully behind in tree trimming and general maintenance before the storm, but their linemen worked their butts off afterwards. So, a huge hero cheer goes out to them. Oh, and let me be clear, local politicians should not take credit or blame for the speed of power restoration. It is nonsense to believe anyone pounding on the table made FPL change their restoration game plan.
Hero #2: Zello Application
In Palmetto Bay (and I know South Miami did the same), many neighbors who never knew each other downloaded an app to their smartphones called Zello, a CB radio-like app, and joined the ‘Palmetto Bay Storm’ channel. Zello allowed residents to get and give live voice updates that were hyper-local and accurate. It also allowed people to share resources and comfort each other. Before the storm, I heard people donating their extra Tapcon screws and duct tape to neighbors that couldn’t find it in stores. During the hurricane, people talked about what was happening on their street and finding comfort in talking to others. Afterwards, Zello users communicated about power restoration, store openings and where to get critical items like gas, ice and food. This was new technology that worked to help neighbors and take community to a whole new level.
Hero #3: Saw Brigade
Here’s to all the homeowner heroes who dashed out and tackled the trees that blocked our streets. Whether with chainsaws or otherwise, most of the trees were at least partially tackled by residents. In particular, I want to thank my across the street neighbor, Eddy Smith, who spent nearly an entire day with a hand saw to remove a 70-foot tree from our road. I only helped when his arm appeared to be ready to fall off. These heroes didn’t have a plan. They had critical thinking and snapped into action to help their fellow neighbors.
Hero #4: My Neighbor
On my street, a zone B evacuation area, many homeowners left. Brian Socolow was one who stayed. On Monday, he called and let me know that another neighbor’s house was wide open to the elements, as Irma had blown their front door into the middle of the lawn. Without hesitation, the two of us got tools and used Tapcons screws to secure the door into the doorway’s concrete block. A police report was also made and nothing was taken from the home. That homeowner called us heroes. Cheers to Brian, a local hurricane hero.
Hero #5: Owner of the Marathon Gas Station at SW 168 Street and Old Cutler Road
Within hours of Irma’s winds dying down, this owner was creatively splicing a generator into two of its four pumps and getting gas into the tanks and containers of desperate customers. The station worked extra hours without air conditioning or any of their lights. Cash was king and this station saved a lot of people from dry generators with critical thinking that went above and beyond. Oh, and the owner said ‘Thank you for coming’ when I finished filling up!
Hero #6: Publix at US-1 and 146th Street
I was one of the first in line (of about 150 people) when Publix opened up at 8 a.m. They greeted everyone with a smile and somehow had the interior of the store up with all lights, refrigeration and actively stocked from the back as people cleared the shelves. Sure, the management of Publix should be thanked, but the real heroes here were the employees who found a way to get past their personal needs and show up to work with a smile.
Hero #7: Food and Ice Giveaway Volunteers
There were others, but Holy Rosary - St. Richard Church and Christ Fellowship (both in Palmetto Bay) snapped into action shortly after the winds died down and put together major food giveaways. Thanks to the crews who came in from North Carolina to serve meals. Whether it was families without food or first responder workers, these efforts raised spirits and fed the hungry at a critical time. It ultimately fueled the recovery. Both operated for days and fed nearly 1000 meals a day. Heroes for sure.
Hero #8 Kids with Tea/Lemonade Stand
Coral Reef Elementary students [L to R] Frankie Cullen, Elizabeth Sulkes, Elena Gonzalez and Sebatian Gonzalez were roadside in Palmetto Bay with tea and lemonade to quench workers’ and homeowners’ cleanup thirst. At 25-cents, their business was worth every sip. They got a bit scared when six police cars stopped on Friday. “We thought they were going to arrest ups or something,” said Elizabeth. “But we’re just trying to help out.” No doubt, these were my favorite heroes.
Hero #9: Anthony Askowitz, Broker of RE/MAX Advance Realty
When the lights came back on at the South Miami and Kendall offices of RE/MAX Advance Realty, Anthony decided to offer his locations to anyone who needed to get work done and didn’t have the power, Internet or desk to do it. Nearly 200 people took advantage of the free office space and resources. Here’s to you Anthony, a hurricane hero.
Hero #10: Bulky Waste Sanitation Workers
With mounting piles at every curb and street corner, the sanitation trucks had a monster task that seemed insurmountable. Yet, pile by pile these unsung heroes greeted homeowners with a smile and raked up even the smallest debris. I am still in awe of the speed and efficiency these workers showed. Service with a smile. Hats off to these heroes.
Hero #11: Cutler Stew at Black Point Ocean Grill
Local cover country & rock band Cutler Stew allowed a lot of people to let off some steam and provide a slice of normalcy on the Friday night following Irma. They played all night long at Black Point Ocean Grill powered by a generator they brought for the occasion. And, as one who attended, let me tell you band members [L to R] Raf, Mark, Dan and Ron went a long way in many people’s mental recovery. They even modified some of the lyrics to fit the Irma recovery efforts. Cheers to these rockin’ heroes.
While not necessarily a hero, Facebook played a major emotional role during Hurricane Irma. Whether it was to check on the latest weather warnings, get local news or just to get things off our chests, many of us used Facebook in a healthy way that wasn’t even a technical dream during Hurricane Andrew. I know several people who would have been basket cases without this personal way to communicate. So, here’s a ‘thumbs up’ LIKE for them.
I’d be remiss without a huge thanks to our police force who were on 12-hour shifts doing everything from monitoring gas station lines to directing traffic to patrolling for looters to pitching in a hand wherever needed. They too are our hurricane heroes. But then again, they are our heroes every day.