What Did and Didn’t Happen in Miami Last Weekend
Hurricane Irma should have been the big one for Miami—the storm that forced people to take a hard look at the city as the loss in the making that it is. But the storm shifted course to the west. The Florida Keys were battered, as were the resorts of Marco Island and the mansions to the north, and Miamians were left knowing that things could have gone much worse for them. What does a city do with half of a reckoning? Life simply goes on. Whatever sense of urgency existed before the storm will eventually get stacked up with the rest of the debris and carted off.
My parents moved to Miami, from Eritrea, in the nineteen-seventies, and I was born there. I spent much of my childhood exploring the city’s mosquito-infested swamps and its achingly beautiful beaches. My mother and I endured Hurricane Andrew together, in 1992. We lit candles while the world outside flailed around us. Back then, we didn’t talk about things like climate change or the rising sea level. I live in Oakland, California, now, which means that I was three thousand miles away last week, when my mother, who is in her sixties, told me over the phone that she’d decided not to evacuate. She could afford a flight, but this was her home, she said. “Where would I go?” she asked. “Anywhere else,” I responded. It wasn’t enough to convince her.
On Friday, when the forecasts were at their worst for Miami, I ran out of lies to tell her about what was to come. All I could do was reassure her that she was a survivor, and that she was loved. There would be nowhere for her to run, should it come to that. We both silently chose to avoid confrontation in our last hours of normalcy before the storm hit. Instead, my mother and I ran through an emergency checklist. Her hurricane shutters were up. The garbage bins were stowed. She had enough food and water to last for days. All the necessary documents were securely stored. We sought comfort in the fact that she had the means to prepare properly—many were not so fortunate. Then there was nothing to do but wait.
The storm surges brought on by Irma wreaked havoc on opposite corners of Florida, from Naples, in the southwest, to Jacksonville, in the northeast. The storm was enormous, but Dade County, where Miami sits, dodged the worst of it. My mother remained safe. Her roof stayed intact and her floors stayed dry. She lost power, but by Monday it was back.
For a time, Miamians will do their best to aid in the cleanup of their neighborhoods. This has been a summer ravaged by wildfires and hurricanes, and by political conflict that includes the ruling party’s refusal to address climate change. Florida will now focus its efforts on attainable goals—getting the lights back on, clearing the roads. This is what lucky looks like now.