It was born in the central Atlantic Ocean, 1,600 miles from Barbados, on Aug. 16, 1992. A day later, it was a tropical depression. Five days later, on Aug. 22, and 650 miles from the Bahamas, it was upgraded to a hurricane. By the following day, after dramatic changes in its composition and intensity, it had mushroomed into a Category 5.
At 3:40 a.m., Monday morning, Aug. 24, it slammed into Elliott Key at 165 mph. Within a half hour, it had made landfall northeast of Homestead. Four days later, it was no more.
But the devastation it left in its wake was awesome, stunning, and bewildering.
In the lead up to its approach, locals and tourists evacuated South Florida and the Keys. I-95 was jammed. Nearly 1.2 million in nine counties evacuated.
When they returned, thousands found homes and neighborhoods cut down, splintered and scattered, blown away. Homes. Businesses. Boats. Trees. Livestock.
No power. No fresh drinking water. No relief from the heat. Long lines formed at emergency supply trucks where water, ice, food, tents, and clothing were distributed.
Lack of order invited looting. Shock from their losses receded into despair and depression for many. Large pockets of a booming, thriving metropolitan region were, in a matter of a day, reduced to a surreal, primal resemblance to what life in South Florida must have looked like, felt like, turn-of-the-century when the region was first settled.
Then, slowly, surely, the region recovered. Old communities were rebuilt and new ones sprung up. The nation’s economic regeneration in coming years brought revitalization to the region. Tourists returned. The landscape’s scars from the storm eventually, for the most part, healed. There would come other tropical hits and near misses – Jeanne, Dennis, Ivan, Katrina, Wilma – but none ever matched the might of Andrew.
Twenty years after its assault, we recall, in words and pictures.
“I remember it was a beautiful day. Although Andrew was heading straight for us, it didn’t seem like a threat. We closed our hotels on Washington Ave. and sent all the guests to Miami, while we boarded up the buildings and emptied the ground floor rooms of TVs and bedding.
“We managed to finish the work and were able to leave late in the day, heading for Naples, the only place we could find hotel rooms. We thought we were well out of the storm only to find that it crossed Homestead and turned around, cutting back across Naples, but it did little damage there.” – David Kelsey, South Beach
We ran till the state ran out
I remember as a ten year old hiding from a patrol car circling my neighborhood. It crawled along repeating the same static-gargled public service announcement. We were in an evacuation zone, and our leaving seemed mandatory.
It had been hours since my pre-teen cohorts had left with their families; the streets seemed deserted. The sky looked like a massive gray Jiffy Pop about to burst with awfulness. Every gust of wind that rattled the leaves I attributed to be the long finger tips of a storm swirling off the coast.
The hurricane was called a “beast” by the matriarch of my extended family. She had taken to heart the warnings of the Bryan Norcrosses of the world and decided we’d all hit the road. Nine people made up our caravan. As soon as the last of us showed up, we rushed to our vehicles as if we were under fire.
I took with me a plastic suitcase in the shape of a giant Game Boy. Inside, it had padded slots specially made for the ’80s video game console, its game cartridges, batteries, and various wires that I never used. I simply trusted that my parents packed a change of clothes for me.
We raced north like fugitives, making few stops, and always looking behind our backs. The fear spread that we had left too late and the hurricane could catch us on the road. “You know what that means?” someone asked, but no one among the worried faces and shaking heads answered. Our shared psychosis probably didn’t extend past our caravan as we left South Florida, but still we ran. We ran till the state ran out.
Somehow a bustling Jacksonville annoyed us, and we headed back to that quaint St. Augustine with the fort. Rows of funny, antique-looking houses, each with an American flag, made up the calming vibe of the place.
We picked a hotel that had a number of adjacent rooms available. We made it in time to catch the pre-show of the storm. There was a Super Bowl intensity to our watching. The images of twisting signs, flying debris and bending trees drew out bacon-sizzle inhales through clenched teeth. I remember a slight excitement when I recognized an area being covered on TV. I watched till I fell asleep.
After it was done, we didn’t stick around to see the aftermath on TV. We had to see if our homes were still up. The bad part of taking everyone you know on the road is that no one is left behind on the scene to call.
The psychosis returned as we dashed south. Was the house still up? Were the windows broken? Was the house being ransacked by looters? I looked out the window at the dull Florida landscape of crap subtropic forest to see if I could spot the moment I recognized hurricane damage.
It was a long trip back.
Miami-Dade was a tree graveyard. We had to plow through downed trees and thickets of branches to get to our door. A cracked tree smashed a hole in a garage window, but the house was still standing. The roof however, had major damage.
A giant blue tarp became a familiar sight. A loud flapping happened every time wind got underneath the tarp. We waited for the day that blue parachute finally tore off the roof.
After the storm my neighbors were, for once, helpful and pleasant. There was a kind of Christmas-y goodwill flowing, and the carol was a somber Gloria Estefan song in a commercial advertising a fundraiser for the victims of the storm.
Like all seasons, it passed, and my neighbors went back to being assholes. - Frank Maradiaga
That Sunday afternoon (the 23rd), I was on a plane sitting on the tarmac in Charlotte, N.C., returning to my then-home in Daytona Beach from a trip up north. We were something like the tenth plane in a vast stretch of them, all waiting for nearly an hour for permission from air control to take off.
The pilot came on the loudspeaker and said we were awaiting permission from Jacksonville air control to take off. No other explanation given.
Eventually we were air-borne. On arriving home hours later, I turned on the TV to the news that there were mass evacuations of South Floridians. The Orlando-area hotels were inundated with emergency guests. I deduced that the cause of our tarmac delay was that Jacksonville had been deluged by air traffic departing Miami and all points south.
That night, as I went to bed, I noticed the curtains at my south-facing bedroom window billowing from a strong breeze, stronger than usual. The hurricane, I concluded. And that’s pretty much all we experienced in central Florida: just a strong, rather innocuous and pleasant, breeze through the night. - Charles Branham-Bailey