Hurricane Andrew Stories
2012 marks 20 years since Hurricane Andrew and the birth of what is now Neighbors 4 Neighbors. Everyone who lived in South Florida in 1992 experienced the devastation Hurricane Andrew caused. But they also witnessed the kindness between neighbors after the storm. Read some of the stories below...
"As a young man growing-up in a tradition filled Jewish family my grandparents taught me that no matter what financial situation you are in or you achieve to remember that there is always someone less fortunate than you and to always provide a helping hand.
These words have guided me my whole life and afforded me many opportunities to create and or get involved in charitable endeavors. In 1989, I founded with a couple of friends, the Hebrew Free Loan Association of South Florida, Inc., a 501c3 Non-Profit charity providing short-term interest free loans to those in financial need throughout the tri-county area. I have volunteered my time and energy in the growth and management of the HFLA and proud to have been able to recycle over 2 million charitable dollars over the past 23 years.
However, my most cherished charitable moment was when Hurricane Andrew, my namesake, devastated part of Miami-Dade County, in particular Gould’s, Florida. I felt the need to get involved and to somehow lend a helping hand to those families devastated by the storm and to let them know that people cared. So, with the help of family, friends and fellow members of Temple Sinai of North Dade, I raised $14,000.00 and contacted Nelly Rubio at Channel 6 and offered to donate a Thanksgiving style meal with all of the fixings and to bring clowns, hip-hop performers, face painting and balloons and music for the children. I hired Catering by Nancy of North Miami who cooked with a lot of love BBQ Chicken, Turkey, Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, plus stuffing, salad, cookies and drinks.
We based our mobile kitchen out of the partially damaged Mays Middle School Auditorium and with volunteers from Temple Sinai, family and friends we began a full day of cooking and meeting and feeding the community around us. We served about 1200 meals in the auditorium which was filled with laughter, tears, prayers and a strong feeling of family and hope. We also packaged meals “to go” which were distributed throughout the community to families who were still reestablishing their homes and lives.
After this event, I was honored along with other local volunteers at Channel 6 with Community Service Plaques for our commitment to those in need. I feel grateful and blessed to have had this opportunity and to have shared it with a group of truly wonderful, caring and loving volunteers. To be able to not only provide nourishment, but a sense of community to those so traumatized by this storm was a feeling of accomplishment and of pride in lending a helping hand to others in their time of need that I will never forget."
-Andrew, Miami, FL
"I was 10 years old when Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida. I can't remember any significant storms before that and I wasn't really sure what to expect out of this one, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for the destruction and devastation that was about to come.
I remember going to Home Depot to buy cases of water and sheets of plywood which I had to help bolt onto all of the windows. Our home was in Palmetto Bay which was in the direct path of the storm. We finally packed up whatever necessities we could and left for my aunt and uncle’s house in Kendall. Everything was fine when we got there, but after a few hours the rain and wind started. We all squeezed into a windowless room in the middle of the house, while my father and uncle took turns making sure all the windows and doors were still secured. It was a terrifying occurrence and I can't remember how long we were in there, but at some point I ended up falling asleep. The hurricane had finally passed and we had to make the journey back home. The roads were covered in debris and fallen trees. Homes and businesses were demolished. I even remember passing a U-Haul and seeing one of their trucks which had been thrown onto the roof from the wind. It was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen. The city I had been living in all of my life was completely unrecognizable to me.
We finally made it back home and saw the damage. Our house was completely destroyed. Walls had been penetrated by flying debris and parts of the roof had been torn off from the wind. Once we got inside, we saw the water damage from all the rain coming in. I had an aquarium filled with fish and corals which was totally destroyed. We tried to salvage whatever we could, but there wasn't much left.
The National Guard commandeered the house next door to me since it was unoccupied. They brought food and water over and their presence helped secure the area against looters. Hurricane Andrew was one of the most destructive forces I've ever experienced, but for a brief time it seemed to bring a community together. It's funny how it takes disaster like that for people realize their true humanity."
-David, Miami, FL
"I was 8 years old when Hurricane Andrew hit. I had lived my whole life at Lot #35 in Cove trailer park at the corner of US1 and SW 344th Street (Palm Drive) in Florida City. My dad had lived in Florida his whole life and didn't think anything of Andrew. Luckily, my mom's friend Alice convinced us to stay at her house on 16th Street, a block east of Redland Road.
We didn't pack much. I remember taking my teddy bear and my “kitty” blanket with me. My mom was the neighborhood “crazy cat lady” and I kept bugging her to bring at least the kittens with us. She let me bring one, a fluffy tabby we had named Trouble who was about 6 months old. We left our dog Sammy in our trailer. I don't know why. I think she was too old to travel.
We headed over to Alice's house late in the afternoon on August 23. It was just like any other time we had went to visit, only they had me go to bed in the guest room in the early evening. Sometime in the middle of the night, one of the adults woke me up. The winds had started and I heard a horrible banging noises from outside along with the howl of the wind. They brought me into the living room with everyone else. The power had already gone out. We were chatting, trying to keep upbeat even though the noises grew louder.
I'm not sure how long after I came into the living room, but out of nowhere the sliding glass door in the kitchen exploded even though it was boarded up. They rushed me into a hallway on the north end of the house. The had me against the wall and all the adults sat around me. I was completely freaked out. The wind had broken the glass door, but apparently some of the wood was still up. The wind started breaking through the wood and I could feel the wind blowing harder in the house. The little hatch thing that allowed access into the ceiling started to come loose and make horrible noises.
The eye finally came. The men went out to cover up the sliding glass door and all of us moved into Alice's daughter's room on the south side of the house. Someone carried me over the broken glass. At first, they put me in the bathtub. While there, I realized I had left my teddy bear in the hall. Someone got it for me even though the wind had started again. My mom sat on the toilet and tried to cheer me up and keep my mind off the storm. At some point, she didn't like how the window over the tub was looking so she brought me into the bedroom and put me in the closet. Maria (Alice's daughter) had started tearing pages out of her magazines to makes fans because it had gotten so hot. Then the window above the bathtub blew out. My mom had saved me from getting sliced by falling glass. We talked as best we could over the wind. Sometimes the adults would talk quietly so I couldn't hear them. Often I would hear loud bangs above the wind.
Eventually, it started to get quiet outside. The still had me sit in the closet for a while, even after the adults went outside to check. My dad and Maria headed off to check on our house. My mom finally took me out side to look at what had happened around Alice's house. Maria's car was on top of a tree! Our car had all the door windows blown out. The house across the street had half of the roof missing. It looked like a monster had been pounding on the garage door. It was very hard for me to understand what I was seeing.
My dad and Maria came back a little later. I already knew, but they confirmed our trailer was destroyed. Strangely enough, half the trailer was still standing, but it was not livable. It was the part that always leaked, too. They also brought me one of the other kittens. They said the rest were still hiding under the trailer, but this one had come to them when they called. We named her Andrew, even though we later found out she was a girl. They made numerous trips back to the trailer and actually managed to salvage a lot of our stuff. I didn't find out until I was in high school, but our dog Sammy did survive the storm in the trailer. My dad ended up having to put her down because she was so injured. My mom still doesn't know about this.
Before the storm hit, my mom bought a lot of meat from the store. She filled our deep freeze with it and a bunch of ice. She then sealed it with duct tape. They brought the freezer to Alice's and we had a massive neighborhood cookout. Alice also had the only working phone in the neighborhood, so I met a lot of the people in the neighborhood who came by to call their family.
I think we stayed in the area for a little over a week. In that time, I saw so many interesting things. We played in a hole left by an uprooted tree. It was like exploring a cave to us kids. Royal Palm (on the corner of Campbell and Krome) had a food cart set up in front of their building. I remember the top floor of a building in downtown Homestead had lost its top floor so it looked like a random toilet was on the roof. I remember Maria bringing me ice cold milk. I remember they hooked a TV up to a generator so I could watch Darkwing Duck. I also remember we had rented a bunch of Nintendo games from Blockbuster and we got to keep them.
When they finally took me to see our trailer, I was amazed to see a lot of it still standing. The “roller room” addition was still there, just leaning. One wall (the west wall) was still standing and the a/c was still in the wall, but all the buttons and switches were missing. A tree had fell on my swing set. Despite the wind, a lot of stuff was exactly where we'd left it. They were just wet. All my school supplied for the upcoming school year were still sitting on the dishwasher. I was really mad about that. Even my sister's carousels and snow globes were intact. There was a lot of stuff that was salvageable, but we had no where to keep it.
My mom, sister, and I moved to La Belle, where my dad is from. My dad had to stay in Homestead because he worked for the county. We moved back in January 1993 and I was amazed by how devastated the area was. Even into 2003, you could still see A LOT of buildings left abandoned and area just...empty. This was especially bad in Naranja, along bus route 35.
Cove trailer park sat as an empty lot until around 2004. The first built a Cracker Barrel, followed by a Walgreens. It's still a little strange for me to go to those places."
- Danielle, Florida City, FL
"We had just arrived back to our home on North Waterway Drive in Miami from visiting family in Massachusetts. We started hearing weather reports about Hurricane Andrew. Our children, then 12 and 8, were nervous and my husband and I reassured them that we had emergency supplies, water and food. My husband and I come from the south shore of Mass. and we’ve seen our share of hurricanes and nor'easters. Since we lived on a canal, we were concerned about flooding.
We have a dear friend and charter boat captain who lives in Key West. His father was a light house keeper and Captain Dave knows the waters. He had an open invitation to stay with us if a hurricane came close by. Through the years, he had never taken us up on our invitation. Well….he showed up at our door on the morning of August 23rd with his duffel bag and some food, water and ice. He sat us down and explained that this was going to be a “hell of a blow” and we better get the hurricane shutters up!
While the guys put the shutters up, I prepared food and stored clean water in every container I could find because Capt. Dave told me there would be no water after this storm. I dragged in big buckets of water and placed them in the bathrooms for flushing. I plugged in our princess phone knowing that we would probably lose power, but that the phone might still work. The kids and I cleared out the walk-in closet in our master bedroom. We put blankets, flashlights, water, toys and snacks up on the shelves. My husband had just finished working on a commercial for a construction company and he had several hard hats in the trunk of the car. Yup-you guessed it. They went into the closet, too. Thinking our closet would be crowded, Capt. Dave opted to stay in the walk-in closet in the kitchen.
Bryan Norcross, then with channel 6, became our “eyes and ears” and we listened to him when he told us it was time to get in the closet, even as he was holed up in “the bunker” with others at the station. His was a calm and reassuring voice through the long hours of the night and into the early morning.
The storm came on fast and furious! These were sounds we had never heard before, and it took all we had to remain calm for the kids. They were very brave and their only question was “how much longer is it going to last? “ It truly sounded like a freight train was barreling down on us. The trees were snapping and cracking so loud that it sounded like explosions. The shutters were being battered by tree limbs and flying debris. The pressure dropped so low that I felt like howling. We all chewed gum furiously to try to keep our ears open. During a lull in the storm, I called out to Capt. Dave and he came and joined us in our closet.
We slept on and off and early in the morning we poked our heads out of the closet. The adults in that closet were kids when Hurricane Diane hit New England. It was a category 3 and a devastating storm. However, nothing could prepare us for what we were seeing now.
Our street was littered with fallen trees, electrical wires, awnings, car parts, lawn furniture, and debris. The canal was choked with litter and fallen trees. Our pool was pitch-black and I shuttered to think what we might find in there. Our roof was torn off in places and leaking water all over the floors. Sure enough, there was no water and no power. But our phone worked! We were able to assure our families that we were okay.
Almost immediately after the storm passed, neighbors began checking on neighbors. We arranged a neighborhood barbeque. Folks brought out what food they could spare and we cooked and shared our food and experiences of the storm. (It’s sad to say that nothing brings out the goodness of neighbors like a disaster.) Friends from around South Florida started showing up with ice and food and other supplies. We shared with the neighbors and they shared with us.
In the next few days, we watched all manner of wild life making their way down the canal and back to their habitats. We had exotic monkeys from Monkey Jungle and all manner of birds from Parrot Jungle passing through. My husband rescued a nutria from our swimming pool.
I wanted to check up on my friends who owned The Blarney Stone Tavern in Homestead. My band played there almost every weekend and I was very worried when I was unable to get in touch with them. My daughter insisted on going with me. Oh, what devastation we saw on our way. My daughter and I cried all the way through Homestead. We finally winded our way through streets that I didn’t even recognize any more and arrived at The Blarney Stone. Only sections of the building were spared. Ziggy and Tad showed us where a tooth pick had imbedded itself in the thick glass of their trophy case. The trophy case was intact and all of the trophies were undisturbed. Not three feet away, the bar was a shambles. The National Guard used the back section of their place as a relief site. There were motorcycles with side-cars, 18-wheelers, and cars from all over the U.S. bringing down supplies. The sign at the door to the relief center read: Take what you need, not what you want.
It took the kids and I months to get used to the wind again. Our kids, now young adults, take hurricane warnings very seriously. They still remember the safety precautions that helped us survive Hurricane Andrew. I will never forget Captain Dave’s warning to put up the hurricane shutters!!! I will also be forever grateful to our friends and neighbors who came together to get through a terrible experience."
- Lynne, Palmetto Bay, FL
"We live in Leisure City, Fla, and were hunkered down in an interior bedroom while all the devastation was taking place, except for the kitchen , and the room we were in , the roof of the remainder of our house was gone , exposing the trusses . Leaving us, and our 6 Dogs pretty shaken up!"
– Demetrio, Leisure City, FL
"August 23, 1992 started out as a beautiful day on the beach of our mini family vacation. Jackie our 18 month old woke up all excited for a fun filled day building sandcastles and playing in the waves of Riviera Beach. I had been so busy preparing for our little trip that I hadn’t been paying any attention to the news or of the impending weather. While Jackie and I were making breakfast, my husband Steve turned on the morning news. That newscast would be the beginning of what changed our lives forever. Hurricane Andrew, an extremely powerful storm was heading straight for us and we were not prepared at all.
As we drove south towards home, we couldn’t help but notice the heavy traffic heading north. People were leaving while we were heading right into danger. I knew we had no hurricane shutters and only had some scraps of plywood to protect our windows. I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach and I knew Jackie could sense it too.
As everyone knows, Hurricane Andrew struck in the early morning hours of August 24th. The eye of the storms path had moved further south and was expected to pass directly over us. The storm hit with a vengeance and had us moving from our hallway, to the garage, and finally our master bedroom closet when it was at its worse. We had lost the plywood on the windows and the wind was incredibly strong in the room. The only protection between us and the storm in the closet was a bi-fold door. I ripped clothes from hangers to form a little cocoon to protect us. I sat down and held Jackie to me. I rocked her back and forth as I watched my husband on his knees in front of us holding the bi-fold door closed with his finger tips.
When the sun came up and the winds died down, what we saw was devastating to say the least. Our first home was in shambles. Broken glass covered the floors and treasured photos and mementos were destroyed. We could see the devastation through the broken windows. We were terrified that some of our neighbors had not survived. As we stood outside and surveyed the damage, a group of firefighters walked through our backyard. It was an amazing site to see and I recognized who was leading the group. It was a neighbor of ours and she had brought her team to our neighborhood to check for survivors and help those they could. They were on foot carrying all their gear because they couldn’t drive through the neighborhood because of all the devastation.
That day and the days to come showed me a different side of humanity I had never seen before. So many people banding together to help those of us in need. People from Dade & Broward County and as far as Jacksonville loaded up U-Haul trucks with items they had collected from co-workers, family and friends and drove them down to pass out to strangers they had never met. The sense of communities coming together was so unexpected and it changed people’s lives. Volunteers from all over began to clear the streets of debris and even opened their homes to people with nowhere else to go. Neighbors helped neighbors clean up and secure their homes & Neighborhood crime watch teams began to emerge to patrol the neighborhoods. Although many of our lives were changed because of Hurricane Andrew’s fury, they were also changed by the kindness and unconditional giving of strangers, neighbors, families and friends."
- Ruth, Miramar, FL
Here's an excerpt from a letter written by a woman to her friend after the storm on August 28, 1992.
"I’m on a BWIA West Indies Airways flight home to Miami from Grenada via Barbados. I guess it was only a matter of time that a hurricane would hit Miami. I live in the Kendall area and from all accounts our neighborhood south to Homestead was the most severely hit.
Before I left for Tortola on Thursday, the 20th of August, we had made arrangements to evacuate our passengers in Flying Cloud and Polynesia to Tortola and St. Kitts respectively. Fortunately, the hurricane moved away from the Northern Leewards. I was a little apprehensive about flying that day but both Miami to San Juan and San Juan to Beef Island were great flights.
The next 3 days were busy unloading cargo in the British Virgin Islands and Sint Maarten. Then, on Saturday evening we once again heard about Andrew. Sunday was very tense. We, of course, have access to some sophisticated weather information and as the mates tracked the storm on the chart, my heart began to sink.
I got up at 3:00 a.m. on Monday and virtually stayed up as we sailed down to Dominica from St. Barth’s. We were able to pick up “The Voice of America”. The eye of the storm was passing south of the city-that’s where I live.
Last year I tried to get the condo association or the maintenance company to take a set of keys for my condo since I travel a lot. They didn’t want to take the responsibility. So I gave the keys to Donna, my best friend, who lives in Coral Gables. We had an agreement that she’d remove the plants and patio furniture in case of a hurricane.
Well, Donna was on the Fantome last week. The ship has been in the Bahamas this summer. She got stuck in Nassau so all my patio furnishings including a ceiling fan remained on the porch.
When we got to Dominica, I asked a crew member who is from there where I could watch CNN. Fortunately, he was able to direct me to a Union Canteen. There I watched in disbelief. My area was hard-hit.
There was a phone nearby where I could use a phone card. I was able to get through to Fort Lauderdale and speak to my mom. Everyone in my family is okay. She tried to call Miami and get word on my place. When I called her later, she said no calls were getting down to that area. I went back to the ship and slept for 2 hours. I was just exhausted.
At Bequia on Tuesday, I went ashore and spoke to my mom. She had been able to reach a man on the second floor of my building. He said all the windows and doors had been blown out of the building. You can imagine. I left the phone and walked down the road in shock. I stopped at a market to buy some more phone cards. I burst out into tears and the island ladies were so sweet trying to console me. My mom had told me to have a drink – so I did – my nerves were shot. I forgot to tell you we spoke to the captain of Captain Burke’s Yacht earlier that morning via the single side band radio. Occasionally, I date the Chief Engineer there and he had left a radio message for me to call him. I did with one of the phone cards. He volunteered to drive out to my place and look around. He has a mobile phone so I gave him my mom’s number to keep her informed. I spoke to him the next morning from Palm Island. He said that my neighbors’ windows were out but it looked like mine survived! The girl with the key was still in the Bahamas but that’s what he saw looking up to the 4th floor. The next day Donna returned and got in for a check. I haven’t spoken to her, but she called my Mom and said that my place is okay. What an emotional roller coaster this has been and as we close in on Miami I am preparing for the worst. I picked up a Miami Herald in Barbados.
2nd September, 1992
As you can see, this letter has been delayed.
Patrick picked me up at the airport and took me directly home. The further south we drove, the worse it got. My condo complex has lots of missing roof tiles, windows and downed trees. It was like a miracle when we walked into I-406. Donna had even managed to pick up around the porch.
However, there was no electricity. Patrick was prepared. He brought two flashlights and extra batteries. He also got me a case (6) of gallon bottles of water.
On the west side of my condo there are no windows – just the front door. On that side is the parking lot and 4 tennis courts. I had to laugh when we drove in. Some kids were playing tennis. Around them were fallen trees and the poles which held the tennis court lights. I guess they had cleared the courts in the few days since the hurricane. Since then the courts have been closed.
On the east side I have 3 sets of sliding glass doors and one 4-window awning type structure. I look out over a “green belt” and to another building. Trees used to line the green belt. Now they all lay on the ground waiting for a chain saw to turn them into logs which will become mulch.
Then we took a walk. The Good Lord was looking after me – so many broken windows and downed roof shingles. As I said, at that time I had no electricity. When we were outside I spoke to some neighbors who informed me of a condo meeting scheduled at 7:00 p.m. at the Club House. It was information – all about insurance and plans by the association.
About 10:00 p.m. the electricity came on. I still have to boil my water. Our curfew was 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., then 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Now it’s 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
The National Guard and military are everywhere. Helicopters continuously fly overhead. The traffic is awful. Two thirds of our street lights are down! The only silver lining is people are helping one another. I’ve never met lots of my neighbors. We’re happy to be alive! I’m happy to have my home. The man next to me lost every window and consequently his furniture.
There are so many stories! I ride the transit system to work and everyone is willing to tell you their experience with Andrew..."
- Nancy, Miami, FL