MIAMI — JUST before fleeing the oncoming hurricane, Bill and Pat Timmeny snapped photos of their home. Sitting in his living room, which now looks like a construction site, Mr. Timmeny pulls out those photos.
"You know, this was a beautiful place," he says of the green, suburban snapshots in front of him. "This won't come back. [But] I think it will probably be a better place."
This block of Miami's SW 91st Avenue faces its toughest challenge ever. After cleaning up, how will it rebuild? Can it reconstruct the old? Or should it build something new and better? All of southern Dade County faces these questions.
Mabel Gilley and her husband own the corner home on SW 91st Avenue. On Sunday, she attended services nearby at her badly damaged Baptist church.
"The church administrator said: `We have not lost our church. We lost our building,' " she says. "I think that's what all the people think. And I think it will make people less concerned about the material."
The other day she found purple flowers growing from a heap of debris in her yard.
Like the Gilleys, Chuck DiPasquale plans to rebuild. This is his first day off after a week of 12- and 15-hour days shuttling supplies to county relief workers. "A lot of the neighbors are pulling together," he says.
Mr. DiPasquale is soon joined by neighbors Jim Gray, a nuclear technician in a hospital closed down by the hurricane, and Cecil Duncan, an elderly Jamaican known as "Pepe." All three men greet Timmeny, who walks toward them carrying a dish of baked beans.
"This was a close block to begin with," Mr. Gray says. "We all knew each other."
It takes more than bricks and mortar to reassemble communities. This block of Miami is already well on its way.
Disasters rip the tops off communities and allow the sun to shine on hidden places. Strong neighborhoods, like this one, stand out. So do weak ones. Disasters focus attention on human generosity and also on racial and income inequality.
Many residents here call Andrew "the Great Leveler." But it is not, says Robert Bolin, a sociology professor at New Mexico State University and author of several books on disaster recovery. As a rule, people with means recover faster than those without.
`ALL a disaster does is reveal long-term needs," says Tony Oliver-Smith, an anthropology professor at the University of Florida.
If Dade County wants to build a community that will address those needs, experts say it needs to seize the moment.
"The time is now. Right in the heart of it," says Bernie Mazyck, program director for the neighborhood grants program of the Trident Community Foundation in Charleston, S.C.
When Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston in 1989, groups formed to handle everything from reconstruction to replanting. Mr. Mazyck says neighborhood groups there are stronger as a result of that disaster.
Certain principles should guide officials, these authorities say. Among them:
1. Never-again development. Communities should ensure that their new buildings and infrastructure will better survive a similar occurrence, Professor Bolin says.
2. Long-term planning. "Recovery is such a long-term thing," Bolin says. "It's measured in years or even decades. Planners will have to figure out what their community should look like in a generation, how many will inhabit it, and who those people will be.
3. Community involvement. Planners need as much local input as possible, especially from poor neighborhoods. "The last thing that's needed right now are `do-fors' and `think-fors,' " says Jo Anne Bander, vice-president of programs and projects for Dade Community Foundation in Miami.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson suggested during a recent tour of hard-hit Homestead, Fla., that the poor be trained and paid to do hurricane cleanup. These community and recovery experts endorse that idea.
But Dade County will have to balance many interests. After Hurricane Hugo, Charleston took a tough stand against coastal development, going against some residents and developers.
Quake-damaged Los Angeles and Whittier, Calif., took time to plan long-range development, Bolin says. But some businesses couldn't wait and left those areas. The 1989 earthquake forced Santa Cruz to rebuild using California's tough earthquake standards, but that raised rental costs for the poor.