The Old Cul-de-Sac Where Hurricane Survivors Became Family

Aug 9, 2012

We’ve been listening to your stories and memories of Hurricane Andrew and life afterward. Many people have told us that one of their strongest memories from after the storm is how neighbors–who might have usually just walked from their car to their door without saying hello–banded together.

In one Cutler Bay neighborhood, people were already friendly and helpful. As the storm was coming, they helped each other put up shutters. But after the storm, the neighbors became a kind of surrogate family.

The people who live there call it their cul-de-sac. It’s really more like a park. After Hurricane Andrew neighbors were all trying to figure out what the heck had happened and what to do about it.  Donald “Thumper” Perry  lives on the cul-de-sac.

When we walked out at first light,  there was no color here. The paint was gone off the houses. There was no grass, no trees, no color, nothing. 

So, the cul-de-sac banded together to do the grunt work that hurricane clean-up requires and because they had this common land–this cul-de-sac–they had a place to go and getaway from their battered homes.  They brought their food out from their freezers, pulled out their barbecues and cooked up vegetables, chicken and burgers.

Neighbors here? They’d always been pleasant — even helpful, but after the storm, they realized pretty quickly they had to do more than that to survive. They identified each other’s strengths.  For example, “Thumper” Perry was the go-to guy for tools, so neighbors called his garage, “Thumper Depot.”

Every day the neighbors dug through all that mess and every single night, they’d head back to the cul-de-sac to decompress. The first couple of months after Andrew, six, maybe eight or 12 neighbors would drag their lawn chairs to the cul-de-sac. They’d eat, they’d grab a cold beer from the cooler and they’d catch up on each others’ progress: Who knew a roofer? Where can you get drywall?

With time,  that patch of grass took on a different role. Neighbor Marshall Chen described it this way:

It really became a godsend because it became a place where we could put our…..trash.

To even think a place to put your trash is a “godsend” shows exactly how much life had changed. Ten months later, that pile of ruined carpet, rotted wood and matted insulation finally got carted away. By then, the neighbors had gone back to their jobs as nurses, photocopy technicians and day care operators.

The lawn chair get-togethers became more of a weekend thing.  Services started to creep back: Thumper and his wife, Diana, got their phone service back in time for Christmas.

As their houses became more livable, the cul-de-sac became less vital, but on the first anniversary of Andrew, it beckoned again. The first year it was just the parents and their kids–17 kids–so, about 50 people in all.  It got bigger every single year.  Neighbor Lola Chen says, “The last  party we had got so humongous, we were having people from Kendall!”  And Sue Loyzelle (also a Cutler Bay councilwoman) remarked:

There’s people who don’t live in the cul de sac and we call them “Sac Wannabes” because they want to live here and they come and hang out with us.

But the families of the cul-de-sac—well, they really are family.  They even had a wedding on the cul-se-sac for one of their kids (Stacy Cusano) who was six when Andrew blew through. Neighbor Lisa Mongelia:

The wedding we had in the cul-de-sac–actually my house was the closest one, so I was the host to the bride. We put a big tent over over the whole length of the cul-de-sac, had it catered, fully catered, port-a-potties, air conditioned.

After a while, the Andrew parties that started all of this tapered off, but not the memories of the storm and the community it spawned.  This year, the neighbors are reviving the annual barbecue to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew.

Thank you to the cul-de-sac neighbors who helped us with this story:   Stacey Linfors, Sue Loyzelle, Lisa Mongelia, Lola and Marshall Chen, Donald and Diana Perry, and Stacy and Louis Cusano.

The song in this piece was “Thunder” by Miami musician, Jesse Jackson.