August 24, 1992 Photo by Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post
In this image, Palm Beach Post photographer Lannis Waters captured a moment of hope amid the misery after Hurricane Andrew chewed through south Dade County (now Miami-Dade) in 1992. Gary Davis cradles his chihuahua Boo-Boo. The two spent the night in his truck after fleeing his disintegrating mobile home.
Lannis Waters, Palm Beach Post
On August 23, 1992, the day before Hurricane Andrew was expected to come ashore, former Palm Beach Post reporter Siobhan Morrisey and I boarded a chartered plane to Key West. While we were in the air, the path of Andrew changed, and we decided to land in Marathon instead. We talked an airport employee into renting us a condo for the night, then settled in to wait for the storm.
It got darker as we drove north. Around Key Largo we began seeing downed power lines and poles across the road. There was just enough room to squeeze through the northbound lane of U.S. 1.
It wasn’t until we arrived in Florida City that we realized how bad it was. Devastation was everywhere. Homes on the main road were piles of rubble. No one was on the street yet. Journalists coming south from Miami were still contending with debris-blocked roads and had plenty of damage to keep them busy farther north. We were alone when we walked into what had been the Goldcoaster Mobile Home Park.
Strips of aluminum and insulation covered the ground and some shattered trees, with a few only partially destroyed trailers rising above the rubble.
We didn’t see anyone so I climbed a few feet into a tree to look around, and spotted some movement in the distance. We kept going deeper into the park where we ran into house painter Gary Davis. He was wearing a trash bag and holding his chihuahua Boo-Boo.
He told us he and the dog rode out the storm in Davis’ trailer as it was being blown apart, then scrambled to his truck during the hurricane’s eye. He said he was praying on the passenger seat floorboard as wind tugged the pick-up three quarters of mile, burning rubber, until friction burst the tires.
When we found him, his home, vehicle and painting equipment were all gone. His other chihuahua, Little Bit, was missing and presumed dead (but was found later hiding under debris).
The photo ran not only in The Post, but also in Time magazine and newspapers around the country. We caught up with Gary a month later, when he was living in Homestead, had just gotten his truck replaced by insurance, and was doing restoration work. When Davis went to bid on a job the previous week, residents asked him to autograph copies of the picture. “I got famous for being stupid,” Davis said.
Even better, later, letters with checks, some for $50 or $100, reached him from strangers in other states. It was nice to find out that one of my photo subjects had benefited from my work.
“I lost just about everything I owned in a couple of hours, and I almost lost my life,” Davis said in an interview a year later. “I’ll never put myself in that situation again.”