Country Walk community in Miami-Dade County marks Hurricane Andrew's 20th anniversary

Country Walk area hardest hit during hurricane Andrew in 1992

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter

MIAMI - Twenty years after Hurricane Andrew nearly destroyed the Country Walk community in Miami-Dade County, residents celebrated the storm's anniversary with music, food and much more.

A DJ blared Oscar De Leon's popular salsa song "Lloraras," as families danced and food truck owners grilled up scrumptious meals.

The event was organized to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, which many refer to as "The Big One."

"It was really, really rough," said Damian Figueroa.

Figueroa runs the Miami Spice Grill food truck and was happy to attend the event as a vendor.

In between cooking up some chicken, he helped set the scene. In 1992 he was 23 years old and traveled to the Country Walk area to check on a relative.

His girlfriend, who would later become his wife, hadn't heard from her uncle and she was nervous. As they approached his mobile home, Figueroa remembers how all that was left was the foundation. They survived, he said, by hunkering down in the bathtub.

"The thing I remember the most is that the trees looked like they were gift wrapped and it was the aluminum siding from all the trailer homes," he added.

The Southwest Miami-Dade community of Country Walk was one of the hardest hit. When Andrew's northern eye-wall crossed over, strong winds splintered the wood-framed homes.

Joe Claytor was in Country Walk when the storm hit.

"I had two 6-year-olds, two dogs in the house and I was carrying the kids around the house, two 45-pound kids, one under each arm, and the house was coming apart," Claytor said.

Claytor placed his 6-year-old daughter and his friend's son in a closet before deciding the family's car may be a safer bet.

"I decided I had to move them one at a time because glass was flying around, ceiling boards were coming down. My daughter, 6-year-old daughter got up out of the corner of the closet looked at me in the eye and said, 'Ladies first?' That's my memory."

If you were here when Andrew hit, the memories are still vivid.

Some described it as a "bomb" and most used the word, "scary".

Leonard Pitts Jr. survived the storm in Perrine, which is not too far from Country Walk.

The Miami-Herald columnist described it best when he recently wrote, "Have you ever felt a wall breathing? Expanding and contracting like lungs? I felt the closet wall breathing against my back all night long. It was the first time in my life — the only time, thank you, God — I ever felt the reality, the imminence, the nearness, the likelihood of my own death. It had, shall we say, a centering effect."

Time can't fade that feeling, not even after two decades.

"It's kind of ironic that we have this storm threatening us now," Figueroa said of Tropical Storm Isaac. "But I think it's good people are out enjoying themselves because that's the one thing that Andrew proved, as bad as it was, we were able to rebuild."

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