gallery What makes a place real?

I wrote this post about my experience with the US Army supporting disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 for a Masters level Travel Writing class that I took in the summer of 2016. It was originally published on I didn’t realize that it would become relevant so soon. My thoughts are with not only those who I know, but everyone who is evacuating and seeking safety as Irma heads to their state.


The first time I ever visited Miami, Florida was in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew, which at the time was one of the country’s most destructive hurricanes.  Hurricane Andrew was so destructive that it destroyed approximately 25,000 homes, damaged another 90,000 – 100,000 and caused approximately $26.5 billion in damage.  Insurance companies went bankrupt trying to pay claims after Hurricane Andrew.  At the end of that year’s hurricane season, the name “Andrew” was retired from the list of named Atlantic hurricanes and replaced with “Alex”.


I was in the Army at the time, stationed at Ft. Bragg with the 82nd Airborne Division and we were deployed to provide disaster relief.  I was there for two weeks.  I remember arriving in Florida on that sticky day in August.  The tarmac was blazing hot.  I could almost see the heat rising off the asphalt and it seemed like I was sweating even…

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  1. Interesting read. I have never been on either side of a disaster like that (and I hope to never experience one but I would absolutely go for disaster relief). The closest I’ve come is being in Kathmandu two years after the devastating earthquake – that was weird because you just can’t tell what is earthquake damage or just construction. I think it’s a god question, and since you got to see the people, I think maybe you saw the “real” Miami.

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  2. What a powerful experience. I’ve never been through much of a natural disaster except for tornadoes here in Tennessee. I did see Ground Zero 6 months after the towers fell and that was surreal. I had also been in the towers only a year before they were hit. Not a natural disaster, but definitely a weird feeling for sure. I’ve grown up going to Miami every year because we have family there so this was a bit scary for me.

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  3. We try and help when we can in situations like these – I bet it was an eye-opening experience for you. Thank you for helping all of those people in the time of need, I’m sure it made a difference in all of their lives!

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  4. Great read, such a timely read. I don’t remember Hurricane Andrew but I visited Phuket years after the tsunami and its been completely rebuilt like the natural disaster never happened. Amazing!

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  5. I lived in Alabama when a couple really bad tornadoes went through about six years ago. The devastation was horrible and it was a surreal experience. It did bring out the best in people though. They banded together to be helpful and everyone was so kind.

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  6. My ex mother-in-law lived in the Keys (Marathon) during Andrew. I remember going down there to visit in 1996 (I believe) & even then there was still visible damage from Andrew. I have seen the recent photos & videos from the Keys after Irma, & I am just heartbroken for the people there. Luckily, my ex mother-in-law doesn’t live there anymore, but I think that she still owns & rents out a house in Key West.

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  7. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through a disaster on this scale… this is actually the 1st time I’ve heard of Hurricane Andrew, a timely read for a similar predicament right now 20+ years on

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  8. I grew up in central Florida, but my mom’s family was in Miami. Andrew had a HUGE and lasting impact on them and on us. Years later, when Floyd threatened, we were all terrified that we’d end up like the folks you ended up helping in South Florida. Luckily, Floyd took a turn for the better (literally), but being a Floridian and knowing the terror of hurricanes, I’ll always admire and be grateful for first responders and those providing disaster relief – otherwise known as heroes 🙂

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  9. What a wonderful read. I just moved to Florida 5 years ago so my town has been battered by both Hurricane Irma and Matthew. While I was evacuated both times, I was lucky enough to have somewhere to go and money to do so (plus insurance). I feel so bad for the people who do not have options and no chance of rebuilding without FEMA or one of those rescue agencies coming into play. Hurricanes are a sensitive subject but I liked reading your personal story.

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  10. Interesting read and an interesting question about what is “real” about a place. I feel for all the people and places hit by the hurricanes (and earthquakes), but somehow the disaster becomes more “real” for me when I see the effects (in photos) on places I’ve been to.

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