Residents leave shelters to the sight of a war zone

August 25, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

MIAMI -- Laurice Smith didn't know what else to do, so sh decided to run a hoe across her kitchen floor.

The hoe was for the mess left behind after Hurricane Andrew ripped through southern Florida, killing at least 11 people with its 160-mph gusts of wind. Mrs. Smith raked up the remnants of the storm's fury: a soggy pile of newspapers, broken glass, attic insulation and a small white phone.

"I have to do something," Mrs. Smith said. "We did not know where to start."

She could have started anywhere in what was left of her two-story yellow house. Upstairs, what used to be a bathroom is now collapsed into the stairwell. Two of the three bedrooms have no roofs. In the living room a burglar alarm chirped quietly, still vigilant 12 hours after the storm set it off.

As for her newly upholstered couch, well, it's gone -- apparently sucked out through what used to be a plate-glass window in the den.

"It's gone, it's nowhere to be seen."

Mrs. Smith, 50, who had just moved to Miami from Prince George's County, spent all night Sunday cowering alone in her first-floor bathroom, listening to the sound of walls collapsing, glass shattering and the roof falling in. She was terrified.

"I thought I was going to die," she said. So did many of her neighbors.

All over Deer Wood Village southwest of Miami, people emerged from their small houses after daybreak yesterday to discover they were living in a war zone. The streets were covered with pieces of red Spanish tile blown off the houses. The storm's fierce winds sent huge pieces of wooden fencing pinwheeling across parking lots and flicked street signs with 50-pound chunks of concrete still attached.

With no supplies available, homeowners made half-hearted stabs at cleaning up the massive piles of wood and metal.

So it went across much of the Miami area yesterday, particularly in a band several miles wide south of the city that took the brunt of the storm.

Mile after mile was devastated: roofs ripped off, towering pines and cypresses toppled, and power lines fallen. Signs disappeared from store fronts. An Oldsmobile dealership collapsed, looking for all the world as if it had been bombed.

There was no power, no phones, no water. Just a distinct sense that the usual order had been replaced by disaster.

"I don't know where to go for help," said Rigoberto Diaz, a 26-year-old refrigerator mechanic whose small house in Deer Valley was cracked open like a tin can while he, his wife, and two young daughters huddled together in the garage.

Everywhere, people cruised the streets with their few possessions crammed into bashed-up cars. Many cars were coated with a dusting of roofing insulation.

Ken Kronheim, 35, had sought refuge from the storm with his housemate and his two friends in the downstairs bathroom.

After five hours of fighting to keep the doors shut and praying that the walls would not collapse around them, they emerged to find the second floor had vanished. Dazed, unshaven and slightly giddy, the men walked randomly around the house, marveling at the way the storm had scattered their belongings.

Watches ended up on a neighbor's roof. Socks and T-shirts were blown 30 yards away.

"That's the bathroom window," Mr. Kronheim noticed, kicking at a 4-foot by 6-foot piece floating in the canal 20 yards from the house.

"We have no house, no clothes, nothing," said Russell Emery, Mr. Kronheim's housemate. "We don't know what to do."

At Deering Hospital, down the street from Deer Valley, about 20 patients waited quietly on stretchers in the darkened lobby yesterday evening. The staff had managed to keep all 153 patients alive through the night, even without power.

Nurses had to pump manual breathing devices for some patients for 12 hours.

"An incredible thing happened here last night," said Tonua Fedusenko, director of marketing for the hospital, which sits less than a mile north of the area that was evacuated. But the storm came a little further north than expected and slammed the hospital hard.

Windows were shattered in patient's rooms and water welled up in many areas.

"We did not lose anyone," marveled Ms. Fedusenko.

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