You might think that moving back to the Northeast after living 25+ years in South Florida would have one advantage to offset the winter snow, but that one advantage was vaporized a couple years ago with the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy. Who would have expected that the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, and second-costliest hurricane (behind Katrina) in United States history would strike so close to Connecticut?
My husband and I lived through many unnamed subtropical storms, tropical depressions, and minimal hurricanes, until we encountered Hurricane Andrew. That was the real deal. We lived in an inland gated community surrounding a large man made lake. I awoke to see ten-foot-high waves on that lake and heard clay roof tiles flying off like Frisbees crashing into royal palms. The wind battered away at the windows and sliding glass doors but they held, shielded by construction tape and plywood. When the first palm tree crashed against our garage, I woke up my husband.
When Andrew finally blew over, we joined all the neighbors in a post-hurricane “party” of clean-up since our street, and all of them in our community, were littered with tall palms, shattered orange roof tiles (including several from our home), detritus from anything that had been left outdoors, and broken glass. The men operated chain saws; my husband used his shop vacuum, but most folks were picking up shards with their bare hands and throwing them into barrels accustomed to holding ice and beer bottles. The women set up a drinks table with beer and hand-mixed Margaritas since the power was off, although it occurred to me at the time that recreational drinking while operating chain saws was perhaps not the best idea.
I didn’t feel in a party mood after getting the news that the direct hit from the hurricane, with 165 mph winds was just 40 miles south of us, where 25,000 homes were destroyed, 101,000 homes damaged and nearly 100 percent of the mobile homes were obliterated. When I returned to work the next morning at Miami International Airport, splashing through a foot of water in the parking lot, I learned that five of my co-workers were part of those statistics.
Those memories came rushing back with the onslaught of Dorian and also when I recently watched the 1948 movie classic “Key Largo,” starring Bogey, Bacall and Barrymore with the inimitably menacing Edward G. Robinson as the requisite gangster. It wasn’t a very accurate depiction of a hurricane; the exterior shots of the hurricane were taken from stock footage used in “Night Unto Night,” a Ronald Reagan melodrama which Warner Bros. also produced in 1948, but it put the Florida Keys on the map. Movie trivia: the boat used by Rocco’s gang to depart Key Largo, with Bogart’s character at the helm, is named the Santana, which was also the name of Bogart’s personal 55-foot sailing yacht.
Interestingly enough, if you visit Key Largo nowadays, you can’t see the Santana but you have the option to take a tour on The African Queen, the boat Bogart and Hepburn fell into during the 1951 movie of the same name. Seeing gangsters and hurricanes is also optional.