The Bahamas were no match for the storm as it rapidly reached maximum intensity and only on Sunday morning, August 23rd, did South Floridians realize they were in the bullseye, particularly south of Miami. There was very little time to prepare or to evacuate, yet thousands did so while others barricaded themselves in their homes in Homestead and all areas south and west of Miami proper awaiting the storm. It hit like a freight train running into balsa wood, splintering houses, swirling debris like a tornado and leaving those in its wake unable to recognize the communities that had been home. Only foundations were left where there had been homes. The only saving grace was that it was a small and tightly wound storm, so if you were seventy miles or more away from the storm, you probably just received some rain and gusty winds.
The top winds recorded in the area were 177 mph, a clear category 5 storm and some fourteen inches of rain accompanied the wind. Thankfully, however the storm began to pick up forward speed as it headed for its next and final victim, Louisiana. They were spared some of the worst since it came ashore from the Gulf of Mexico as a low end category 3 storm, yet damage was still significant. But back in South Florida, some 25,000 homes were completely destroyed, over 100.00 more received significant damage, the cost was estimated to be a record-shattering $25 billion and the death toll, including those from hurricane-related causes after the storm in Florida was over 40. Those who fled had trouble even finding where they lived upon return with street signs destroyed and homes now in rubble and unrecognizable. It is remarkable, however, that the death toll wasn't higher, but the recovery took not months, but years and the impact lives on. Building codes have been beefed up significantly raising the cost of housing and only time will tell how effective that will be.
Andrew's record as the costliest national storm lived until Katrina struck Lousiana thirteen years later. It was the most expensive Florida storm until Irma last year, a storm which covered nearly the entire state in its northward motion over the entire Peninsula. Only the far Panhandle escaped the wrath of that one.
Many families left the area never to return, Homestead Air Force Base was rebuilt but became a reserve facility in its new capacity, and the emotional scars left behind will always remain. Once again, reconstruction was done, yet rather than learning the lesson of crowding thousands upon thousands of people together in areas of high risk, the growth has gone on, even at a higher level than before.
So, what can we on the entire Eastern Seaboard learn from Hurricane Andrew. First, we need to learn from her history, which we frequently ignore to our peril and we need to realize just because August is coming to a close, never let your guard down for the possibility of fall hurricanes. There are even some long-term weather reports now saying that the conditions in the Eastern Atlantic hurricane breeding grounds show signs of becoming more hurricane-friendly by mid-September. Two plus weeks in hurricane predicting, however, is an awfully long time, so don't get too worried about a statement like that. But do realize that being prepared for any weather situation is always a wise course, even if you never have to face it. Hurricanes are a fact of life along the Atlantic coast and the sooner everyone realizes that, the better.