When Hurricane Irma blew through Miami on Sept. 10, as a whole, our county got lucky. But the Category 1 winds did do some major damage to some of our favorite iconic spots.
We checked in with Zoo Miami, The University of Miami, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, and Fairchild Tropical Gardens to see what kind of impact the storm had and what the cleanup process has been like so far.
The zoo’s wildlife expert and spokesman, the Ron Magill, said the status update for the animals looks promising.
“We did lose a handful of birds, ironically by the stress of moving them, not from the hurricane,” he said. “But more than 90 percent of the animals are back safe in their exhibits.”
The biggest challenge for the zoo is destroyed landscaping, and lost trees. For outdoor enclosures, this means less shade for the animals.
“We’ve lost a lot of canopy, we’re definitely going to try and re-stand some trees. We had everybody from ticket takers to chefs out here with chainsaws,” Ron said.
Zoo workers are busy putting up new fences and repairing older ones, as well as still clearing leftover tree debris.
It looks like it’ll be a few weeks before Zoo Miami can reopen, but with the vast majority of animals safe and sound, Ron said the experience is so much better than what the zoo endured after Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago.
“Hurricane Andrew required a rebuilding effort. This just required a big clean up,” he said. “We feel extremely lucky.”
University of Miami
UM’s Coral Gables campus suffered a lot of downed trees too after Irma. That meant more than 75 percent of pathways and sidewalks were blocked.
Even after three days of cleanup, there were still a lot of impassable paths. But that didn’t stop Tommy Fletcher, a student and digital content producer for the student newspaper, The Miami Hurricane, from catching a ride with campus police and surveying the damages.
“I would say the damage was worse than, at least, what I personally expected,” Tommy said. “The only thing that was an issue — but it was a BIG issue— were downed trees.”
UM’s Director of Emergency Management, Matthew Shpiner, said it was the first time in the school’s history that it evacuated its students.
“What was different with this storm was the severity of the threat. We got enough to cause us real challenges,” he said.
It’s been 12 years since a major hurricane hit, which means there’s a lot more debris this time. All operations will be back up and running by Monday, when all classes are regular again.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Editor’s note: This paragraph has been updated to reflect what happened to the windows and doors. Miami’s historic estate (built by millionaire industrialist James Deering in the 1910s) was hit pretty hard by Irma. There was a team at the house during the storm on standby in case the historic windows and doors blew in, which they did.
But a bigger challenge was the three feet of water that flooded into the estate’s cafe and shop, and there was more flooding in the house’s pool and basement.
Its executive director Joel Hoffman said the first three days of recovery were spent on drying out the place.
“There was a lot of water from storm surge, and a lot of wind being on the bay,” he said. “The bridge to the historic yacht landing lost one of its stone walls.”
His team is still assessing damage to collections of outdoor statues and indoor art collections. But Joel said the gardens could still use ongoing volunteers to help continue to clear debris.
The most devestation was to the Hardwood Hammock forrest, between the Vizcaya house and South Miami Avenue.
“It looks quite bare there,” Joel said. “Thankfully from an art collections perspective, we did pretty well.”
The museum and gardens will open back up to the public as soon as full electricity and air-conditioning and everything inside the house is restored, date TBA.
Fairchild Tropical Gardens
There’s good news for fans of the tropical and botanical gardens: Fairchild will reopen to the public this Saturday, Sept. 23.
The director Carl Lewis said the damage to trees was pretty significant, but that staff and volunteers moved quickly on the clean up.
“It was just very messy, it’s large amounts of debris — it’s what you see all over Miami. That’s been our biggest challenge,” he said. “A few trees were uprooted.”
The length of time the winds were blowing during the storm, not the strength, is what damaged the trees at Fairchild the most.
The gardens are still in need of more volunteers, and donations to continue to restore the plants. But the butterfly conservatory (with its more than 1,000 butterflies who survived Irma) is back open for visitors. Plus admission on Sept. 23 and 24 is free as a way to thank the community and volunteers.