MIAMI — I’m writing this with a pen on moist yellow paper. It’s been a few days since there was electricity in my home; there is no internet, and no connection with the rest of the world. The screen on my phone says “No Service.”
My cold morning shower left me shivering. By contrast, I’ve been spending nights sweating until daybreak, since opening a window would expose me to a brutal mosquito attack. I’ve been reading by candlelight. I had some bread for dinner.
There’s nothing like a hurricane to remind us of how tiny we really are.
Since Hurricane Irma came to Florida earlier this month, nothing has been normal. Some parts of Miami remain impassable; the fallen trees are a consistent obstacle and a test of patience. Endless, winding lines at gas stations, supermarkets and hardware stores are enough to bring back painful memories for immigrants who have left Venezuela. At darkened traffic lights, the rule of kindness is in effect with regard to which car should go first. That, or the rule of who has the largest SUV.
I don’t recognize the city in which I live. And the worst part is that it will take a long while for it to go back to normal. I was also here after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and I know that recovering after such a disaster takes not weeks or months but years.
Miami is located in a very vulnerable area. And while Hurricane Irma hardly touched us, it seems to have upended everything. Brickell Avenue became a river, Coral Gables now resembles a tousled jungle and you can see lines of boats, piled like toppled dominoes, in Coconut Grove.
This is what happens when we insist on living by the sea. Yet despite the disruption and risk, scores of apartment buildings are still going up, defiantly, on Biscayne Bay. Global warming is not a hoax (as the noted scientist Donald Trump once asserted): Besides the danger posed by stronger and more unpredictable storms, sea temperatures are rising and the poles are melting. All that water has to go somewhere. Eventually, the sea will win.
I have a feeling that at some point real estate prices in Florida will plummet. Who wants to live in a place where your house might flood at any time, or your roof could be torn off by the wind every year?
While Irma neared, as in a horror movie, Miami residents fled north — to Naples, Tampa and Jacksonville — but those cities were eventually hit by the storm as well. I saw a satellite picture of Irma covering the entire Florida Peninsula. Nobody could escape.
However, hours after Irma passed, a second army came out and was ready to remove rubble and set things right — the immigrant army, that is. Suddenly, gardeners and laborers were the most sought-after workers in the state. Immigrant hands will rebuild Florida.
Of course, today’s Floridians aren’t the first to fall for the beauty of the region. Juan Ponce de León claimed this land for Spain in 1513, and it is here that the myth of a spring that made old men young again originated.
But the beauty of Florida hides huge perils. The Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico are claiming back beaches, streets and homes. And how long can cities withstand 150 mph winds and 10-foot storm surges?
Three days after Irma hit Florida, I went south to Big Pine Key. The eye of the hurricane had passed nearby. The road was covered with seaweed, and a nearby RV park looked like Lego pieces that had been kicked around. Nothing there will be the same again, not even after the caravans are standing on their wheels again.
Once the cellular network is back, and my garden looks like a garden again, and the lights come back on, and the internet can be accessed by a click, and I can fall asleep without sweating or worrying about mosquitoes, everything will be back to normal. Or will it?
I wonder whether we will be able to forget about all of this. Maybe we will tuck it away in the dark corners of our minds where we store uncomfortable memories. Maybe we will put it behind us, at least until the next hurricane season arrives, when I will read a tweet saying a tropical depression has formed on the coast of Africa and a bead of sweat forms on my forehead.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of several best-selling books. His latest is “Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.”