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Now, perhaps, we'll develop with more care

August 27, 1992

OK, God, you got our attention.

Heck, you've eighty-sixed an entire U.S. Air Force base. Who wouldn't be impressed?

And about that South Florida Building Codewell, maybe it's not as tough as they promised us. Or maybe it's not being enforced with what you'd call unflagging diligence. Sure seems peculiar that so many older homes survived your Hurricane Andrew with little or no damage, while newer subdivisions exploded into match sticks.

God, was this hurricane a pop quiz on survival?

Because if you were testing courage and compassion, you won't find more of it anywhere. Heroes walk every street, or what's left of the streets. The valor on display in South Dade makes Desert Storm look like a Tupperware party.

But, God, if you were testing us on how wisely we've cared for this astonishingly fragile peninsula, then we failed. We've done some dumb things, starting with reckless planning and manic overdevelopment.

In our lust to carve up this place and hawk it as a waterfront paradise, we crammed four million people along a flat and vulnerable coast. It's complete lunacy, of course. We haven't been able to employ them all, protect them from crime, properly educate their children or even guarantee the most basic of human needsdrinking water.

And, as we've seen this week, we certainly haven't provided safe housing. Thousands and thousands of families are homeless and heartbroken this morning. The rest of us, blessed by capricious luck, finally have time to reflect.

We thought we were ready. Honest, we knew the drill. Who hadn't seen the harrowing footage from Donna, Camille and Hugo? By the time the TV weather people told us to worry, we were worried. We collected our D-cell batteries and our Sterno, our duct tape and our plywood, and then we watched Andrew march due west. We waited hopefully for the Big Swerve, but it never came.

Six hundred thousand souls who had never been through one of your hurricanes actually evacuated when they were told to do so. Elsewhere that might be routine behavior, God, but down here it's close to a miracle. Moses himself would have a hard time rousting the roller-bladers from South Beach.

All that valiant preparationand still the community lies devastated. What did we expect? Aim a hurricane's fury at four million people and the only possible outcome is a horror.

We had been warned, again and again. The people who should've been listening were too busy counting their campaign contributions from big developers. Now, as always, the suffering is heaped on the most helplessthose whose only sin was buying into the Florida dream.

The only good to come from Andrew would be a resolve not to let it happen again. We can't change the course of hurricanes, but we can damn sure build houses with walls that don't disintegrate and roofs that don't peel like rotted bananas.

It's been about 30 years since South Florida got nailed by a big storm. You probably figured we needed a reminder. Next time, don't wait so long. Send us a modest, midsize hurricane every couple of years, and soon Florida will have some of the world's sturdiest and most sensible housing developments.

Thirty years was plenty of time for us to screw up. We got lax, we got greedy. We quintupled the population and idiotically called it progress. Now it's a disaster area.

God, please don't say you told us so. We got the message.

And thanks for not making it worse.


Shhhhhh! Let the inspector get his sleep June 4, 1990 | Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen | Blustery talk about Andrew is all hot air October 18, 1992