Before I made my decision to relocate to Miami, I asked a very important question: “Are you expecting a hurricane this year?”
I was informed that instead of hurricanes, there were hurricane parties. So since it had been decades since a hurricane had hit, I thought Miami was a great place for my children to grow up.
Then, it was fun in the sun. When we got hurricane warnings, we stocked up on emergency supplies, which we kept throughout each hurricane season. And we went merrily on our way.
That was B.A. – “Before Andrew.”
On Aug. 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew turned our South Florida paradise into a battle-torn war zone. Three days before I was to celebrate “the big 5-0,” Andrew tore through Kendall like a freight train. My youngest daughter and her two little ones spent five hours with me in my upstairs walk-in closet – a horrible experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
The funniest part of this experience was when my 6-year old grandson proclaimed with his arms flailing, “Mommy, Nana, don’t worry. We have prepared for Andrew!” My daughter and I broke down in laughter. He was partly right. We had shopped for water, canned goods, batteries, snacks, gas and cash – the usual for hurricane preparedness.
Here we were sitting on the edge of my bed in the master bedroom at 4 a.m., watching WFOR-TV Channel 4 Meteorologist Bryan Norcross describe this vicious, tree-bending storm as 150-plus miles per hour winds whistled through the sliding glass doors to the upstairs patio, forcing the gold metal vertical blinds to playing an eerie tune.
As we laughed at my grandson’s innocence, the entire area lost power. Dropped into total darkness, we found our way into the closet. The tension was palpable.
Never had I experienced so much fear. The clothes hung on the east wall seem to shake as Andrew’s winds and rain beat down on the outside concrete walls of the townhouse. My 3-year old granddaughter was oblivious to the danger as she played with hundred of pennies in a large glass bottle with only the light from a lantern.
Five hours later, we emerged to what looked like a scene from “The Twilight Zone” – huge trees uprooted, fences, utility poles and traffic lights strewn on the sidewalks and in the streets. Nothing looked familiar in our gated complex as neighbors walked around in a daze, not caring about the slow drizzle as we checked to see if everyone was all right.
But nothing would prepare me for the trip further south – houses destroyed, cars damaged, streets littered with debris. It looked as if bombs had been dropped on neighborhoods previously lined with beautiful palm trees.
I cried as I drove through Coconut Grove, where a boat had been thrown from the marina across the parking lot to the other side of Bayshore Drive, and where the trees that had formed a canopy across Main Highway were ripped away; you could see the sky for the first time in more than 40 years.
My family was blessed. We had a blackout for only four days. Hundreds suffered up to four months or more. Friends stood in food and supply lines because the stores were closed. Others were in gas lines because most gas stations were shut down.
We had to drive more than 40 miles north to get gas, and more than 20 miles for groceries. People guarded their houses with guns and scribbled on the walls that were left standing: “Looters will be shot.”
Andrew prepared us for any future hurricane. When Katrina hit, it dumped more water than Andrew and the levies broke, adding murderous flooding to the Gulf Coast. Thankfully Katrina missed us here in South Florida.
Hurricane Andrew brought new building codes, new traffic patterns, new demographics and a new look. Happily there were very few deaths, even though it looked like Afghanistan in south Miami-Dade.
We thought we would never get back to normal. But the cavalry finally arrived. The military and National Guard gave us a sense of security and hope.
Now 20 years later, Hurricane Andrew is nothing but a vague memory.
Barbara Howard is a South Florida public relations, media and governmental consultant, political talk show host and freelance journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.