Here’s a short list of changes made in Florida as the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew approaches.
BY BRETT CLARKSON
SUN SENTINEL / TNS
SOUTH FLORIDA – As the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season begins, Andrew’s legacy is everywhere.
It’s there when we plan and prepare for potential disasters. It looms when we buy and build houses and property insurance.
In southern Miami-Dade County, it dots the landscape with vacant lots.
In southwestern Broward County, Andrew is partly credited – or blamed – for the population boom that changed seemingly overnight in the 1990s.
In August 1992, the wind picked up off the coast of Africa – the Atlantic Ocean’s hurricane incubator. Within days, it had become a tropical depression.
At about 5 a.m. Aug. 24, Hurricane Andrew made landfall near Elliott Key, the northernmost of the Florida Keys, with wind speeds that were later determined to have topped 165 mph. It was the third-strongest hurricane on record to strike the US.
In Miami-Dade, 15 people died as a direct result of Andrew. The official toll of people who died indirectly from Andrew was 25.
However, in January 1993, the Miami Herald reported that at least 43 more deaths could be indirectly linked to Andrew, a stat that was included in updated versions of the National Hurricane Center’s preliminary report on the storm.
Twenty-eight thousand homes were destroyed. Another 107,380 were damaged. About 180,000 people were left homeless, and 1.4 million had no power.
Changed culture, codes
Andrew changed the storm culture in South Florida. The complacency that arose in the largely hurricane-free 1970s and 1980s, reflected in hurricane parties and stubborn refusals to evacuate, isn’t as prevalent as it once was.
The South Florida Building Code, used by Dade and Broward counties, had been regarded as one of the best in the country. (A building code is a set of minimum standards that govern how homes and businesses are built.)
In 1994, the first post-Andrew version of the South Florida Building Code arrived.
Improved roofing standards came first. Impact-resistant windows or hurricane shutters were a requirement for new buildings. Other measures considered wind resistance and roof integrity.
Cheaper materials like particle board were prohibited.
The first statewide building code took effect in 2002, superseding local codes and incorporating the stronger provisions which still serve as the basis of the state’s current building codes.
High-cost property insurance can be traced to Andrew.
Insurers had dangerously underestimated the threat posed by a significant storm and paid more than $15.5 billion in claims related to Andrew, according to a 2012 report from the Insurance Information Institute.
That drove many insurers out of the state and some out of business. Those that remained raised rates and put the state on a path toward the high costs residents face today.
Before Andrew, one state-backed insurer, the Florida Windstorm Underwriting Association, existed specifically to offer coverage for difficult-to-insure coastal properties. The state formed a second state-backed company after Andrew. They merged to create Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which began taking on more policies as insurers left the state.
By 2012, Citizens had more than 1.4 million policies.
The response to Hurricane Andrew was a disaster. Survivors became desperate for food, water and shelter. There were communication breakdowns and confusion that led to the delayed arrival of supplies and troops.
Three days after the storm hit, Kate Hale, then Dade County’s director of emergency management, had had enough. With her famous “Where in the hell is the cavalry?” quote, help was on its way.
State and federal authorities recommended wholesale change in emergency management – better communications, better processes, better planning – at all levels.
“As they say, it only takes one,” said Miguel Ascarrunz, director of Broward’s Emergency Management Division. “It’s not a matter of if, but when. So therefore, prepare as you would every year, replenish your supplies, make sure you have an evacuation plan, (and) know whether or not you live in an evacuation zone.”
In 1992, the three-day forecast for Hurricane Andrew showed the storm heading anywhere between Cuba and St. Augustine. Today, that same three-day forecast area is much smaller, and for Andrew it would’ve showed landfall happening somewhere between Key Largo and Vero Beach, explained Dan Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
In 1992, the first hurricane warning was issued on the Sunday morning, only about 24 hours before landfall. Today, forecasters are able to refine the potential strike zone earlier – which means we get more time to prepare.