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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.



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