Hurricane seasons come and go every year, and have for quite some time, without much incident. Hurricane Andrew, which made landfall in Miami-Dade 20 years ago today, showed South Florida what can happen when things go awry.
Building codes and construction practices were called into question when entire neighborhoods of houses and mobile homes were destroyed and scattered. Hundreds of thousands of South Floridians became homeless, and photographs from 1992 show that in a crisis, it can become every man for himself.
Two decades later, some feel that we still haven’t learned (see a survivor's opinion in the video above). After the hurricane, the Miami-Dade Grand Jury Report slammed the community and officials for a lack of preparedness that turned South Florida into a “third-world existence.”
“A major failing of all Floridians has been our apparent inability to learn and retain the important lessons previous hurricanes should have taught us,” the report read.
Hurricane Andrew may have been 20 years ago, and no one who lived through it will forget it, but how much does everyone else remember? Here are 20 facts about Hurricane Andrew, the third-costliest tropical cyclone in U.S. history:
- Hurricane Andrew had humble beginnings, starting as a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa on Aug. 14, 1992.
- The hurricane made landfall near Homestead in the early morning hours of Aug. 24, 1992.
- Warnings of Hurricane Andrew’s arrival led to massive evacuations across Florida, Louisiana and Texas. In South Florida, 55,000 left the Florida Keys, 517,000 abandoned Miami-Dade County, 300,000 left Broward County, and 315,000 fled Palm Beach County.
- Hurricane Andrew’s winds were thought to be 145 miles per hour at its height, but the data was revisited in 2002 and determined to be 165 miles per hour. This bumped the hurricane's previous ranking from a Category 4 to a Category 5.
- The morning of Aug. 24, 1992, a storm tide of 4 to 6 feet was measured in Biscayne Bay. Heights as high as nearly 17 feet were measured at the waterfront Burger King International Headquarters.
- In Florida, almost 8 inches of rain came down in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. The most rainfall from Hurricane Andrew was in Hammond, La. with almost 1 foot of rain.
- The nationwide total death toll from Hurricane Andrew was 26, with another 40 people dying as an indirect result of the storm. In Florida, 15 died directly from the hurricane and another 29 died indirectly.
- The damage from Hurricane Andrew was staggering, with about $25-26.5 billion in damages in Florida alone. The area impacted most was a swatch from Homestead and Florida City north to Kendall.
- The hurricane caused more than $10 billion in insured residential homestead damage and $16 billion in total insured damages.
- Hurricane Andrew destroyed 25,524 homes and damaged another 101,241.
- Mobile homes had almost no chance against Hurricane Andrew: 90 percent of mobile homes in the southern part of the county were destroyed. In Homestead, this number was at almost 100 percent with only nine of 1,176 mobile homes spared.
- The hurricane damaged or destroyed 9,500 traffic signs and signals, 3,300 miles of powerlines, 3,000 watermains, 59 health facilities, 31 public schools, 32,900 acres of farmland and 82,000 businesses.
- 160,000 of Dade County residents became temporarily homeless. In a Dade County Grand Jury Report, staff was disappointed in the how the aftermath played out:
- Another Grand Jury Report concluded “inadequate building code” and “inadequate inspections by building officials” led to the extreme damage in the area. In 2002, the Florida Building Code was created.
- The hurricane knocked out utilities we took for granted: 1.4 million lost electricity and 150,000 lost telephone service.
- Hurricane Andrew caused major job loss while also creating jobs, simultaneously. About 600 people in Miami-Dade working in crops production and harvesting lost their jobs after the storm. However, by the middle of 1993, close to 10,000 jobs were created as a result of rebuilding South Florida after the hurricane.
- Because the hurricane tore through the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, Florida’s wildlife and ecosystem was also damaged. It’s estimated about 70,000 acres of mangroves were severely damaged or completely knocked down.
- Somehow, Florida’s wildlife managed to survive the storm. Adult alligators seemed unphased by Andrew, although nests and young were not so lucky. The population of wading birds before and after the storm were similar in number.
- Hurricane Andrew made the record books. It was the third strongest hurricane to hit the country in the 20th century, in company with the Florida Keys 1935 Hurricane, and Hurricane Camille in 1969.
- For the state of Florida, Andrew was the strongest hurricane to hit the state in 30 years.
“The lack of adequate preparation by our community and our state was obvious. Even more obvious was the total lack of coordination that existed between the various disaster relief agencies after the hurricane had passed. No one was in charge. No one knew what to do. There was no plan. As a result, a large segment of our community that had been reduced to a 'third world' existence remained that way."
(Wikimedia photo by FEMA News.)
Check out WLRN's Storify on Hurricane Andrew below: