August 24th, 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida. The Bahamas and Louisiana were also hit very hard. It was a category 5 storm. Not as much rain as expected but stronger winds than predicted. The Homestead area of Miami-Dade County was devastated.
I was living in south Florida at the time, completing my clinical training internship at Miami Children’s Hospital toward my certification as a music therapist. I had rented a room in one of the nurse’s houses about a 10 – 15 minute drive from the hospital, and the roof caved in during the storm…insurance put her up in a hotel until her house was fixed; I wound up moving about 45 minutes away to North Miami to live with my grandma. But we weren’t home when the hurricane hit – we were at the hospital, both for work and for safe shelter. My grandma came along; she lived in an evacuation zone due to the flooding in the forecast. We did not. Many of the areas that were not evacuated were demolished due to the winds.
It was eerie sitting outside during the calm before the storm, and then standing in the walkway between two wings of the hospital looking out the windows as the building swayed with the wind. And it was terrifying driving home eventually – over downed power lines, around enormous tree trunks…I never realized how huge the traffic lights were until they blocked the roads. Fortunately my grandma’s area was relatively in tact – trees were flipped and some cars were flattened or laying on their sides or stuck in sludge, but her apartment was not damaged. I knew she would be safe and I was grateful to have a home.
In the days and weeks following Hurricane Andrew, our mental health team from the hospital provided additional emotional support to patients whose families could not make it to the hospital to visit them. We (the music therapists, psychiatrists, and interns) were also sent out to “Tent City” in Homestead for crisis intervention. It looked like an army zone – large tents, jeeps, people in uniform. Children were scared and confused, adults were anxious and depressed – many had been separated from their families and not yet reunited, they had all lost their homes.
The intensity of the days that followed was palpable; I can still feel it when I think about the experience. It was so hot and so very strange. Those words don’t even begin to describe the feelings.
But Music Therapy was a lifesaver, some of the children and adults told us. It offered them a chance to express themselves, a way to work through the chaos, an opportunity to feel support from others rather than feeling isolated, so alone; it helped to alleviate some fears, allowing them to move forward in a more inspired and organized way…
I can’t say that I truly understand what people in Puerto Rico are experiencing post-Maria, or how families in Florida are recovering post-Irma, or the way the earthquake in Mexico has devastated that area and those families… but I remember a feeling so intense and I remember the fear that remained many, many storms after Andrew… While I can’t offer much, I do offer hope.
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