Reporting Gary Nelson
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Jorge Brugo was watching a movie in his Ritz Carlton condominium about three o’clock Tuesday morning when war broke out across the way at the abandoned Grand Bay hotel on Bayshore Drive.
“The movie outside was better than the movie I was looking at inside,” Brugo told CBS4′s Gary Nelson.
The “movie” outside was a massive anti-terror training exercise being conducted by U.S. Special Operations forces out of Macdill Air Force Base in Tampa. Members of all branches of the military participated in the operation. The scenario was loud. There was lots of gunfire and building-rattling helicopters and fighter jets.
“Helicopters came down with people, soldiers, coming down ropes and jumping from balcony to balcony,” Brugo said of the scene playing out at the empty Grand Bay, next to the Ritz. “They were throwing, like, fireworks, things that emulated bombs and grenades, and there was a lot of noise.”
Brugo and other residents of nearby buildings in Coconut Grove were not surprised by the surprise attack, they had received notices of the impending war game and were told “not to be alarmed.”
Patti Laird, a Grove resident who lives north of the Grand Bay near Bayshore Drive is among many who received no warning.
“It was terrifying, it was terrifying,” Laird told CBS4′s Nelson.
Laird said helicopters flew over her house at what seemed like rooftop level.
“It definitely shook the house, it was very loud. It shook the trees.”
Laird said she heard gunshots, lots of gunshots and what sounded like a bomb go off.
“There was a loud boom, at least one very loud boom,” She said. “I was very scared. I didn’t know what was happening.”
According to police sources, this is what came down in the mock anti-terror operation: Helicopters dropped Special Operations teams on the Grand Bay to rescue “hostages.” The freed hostages were spirited to nearby Peacock Park where more helicopters delivered them to safety at an undisclosed location.
While the commando raid was going on at the hotel, fighter jets strafed a “terrorist missile site” that had been established at Miami City Hall, across Bayshore Drive.
It all went on for more than an hour.
“I didn’t back to sleep after that. I’m exhausted,” said Laird, who remained awake from 3 a.m. “It’s going to be a long day,” she said, checking inventory at her store, Safer Kids and Homes in Pinecrest.
The military said it gave only short, limited notice of the exercise in order to protect the public safety. A vague release, issued by the Miami police department after 6 p.m. Monday, mentioned only military exercises from May 6th – 8th, but provided no times or even general locations.
“We didn’t want a crowd of spectators to gather,” U.S. Army Major Mike Burns told CBS4′s Gary Nelson. “Someone could have gotten hurt.”
Phones lit up at news organizations and several police agencies with concerned residents wanting to know what was going on.
Miami Police said a similar operation would be conducted in the wee hours Wednesday morning. The Ritz Carlton also notified residents and guests that another exercise would be conducted starting about 1:00 or 1:30 Wednesday morning.
The Army’s Major Burns, however, said there would be no more operations. He said an exercise Wednesday had been penciled in as a back-up in the event the operation Tuesday morning had to be delayed due to weather or other reasons.
“We’re done,” Burns said.