Coastal Processes, Hazards, and Society

Hurricane Andrew: August 1992


Hurricane Andrew: August 1992

Hurricane Andrew was a wake-up call for the US. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 had caused a massive amount of damage in Charleston, SC as a result of wind and a massive storm surge up to 6 meters (20 feet). But Andrew was the first major hurricane to hit a major metropolitan area in a long time, and it exposed glaring weaknesses in preparedness, especially building codes. The storm narrowly missed downtown Miami and Miami Beach, which would have led to truly catastrophic damage and many more fatalities. However, the areas that took direct hit including South Miami, Perrine, Cutler Ridge, and Kendall had seen rampant development over the preceding ten years so the damage was still devastating.

Hurricane Andrew

Andrew came ashore in the early morning of August 24, 1992, near Homestead with sustained winds of 165 mph, gusts of 177 mph and a storm surge up to 5 meters (17 feet). Fortunately, the storm had a very rapid forward motion of 16 mph so the maximum impact didn’t last that long, and the storm was quite compact, however, Andrew’s winds still wrecked a narrow trail of havoc. In 1992 development in South Florida was booming. Much of the western part of the Miami metro area is land that has been reclaimed from the Everglades over the past half-century, one of the most extensive and radical reclamation projects in the world. The Everglades is the largest subtropical wetlands in the world, aptly called “a sea of grass” by the famous naturalist Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. The wetlands naturally drain to the south, but this was changed in the 1950s to 1970s when drainage canals were constructed, supposedly to control flooding from hurricanes, and diverted the water to the west and east. The resulting changes to the natural landscape were nothing short of disastrous. Rapid urbanization has covered large areas of the former Everglades with concrete leading to flash flooding in storms, which undoubtedly made damage from Andrew more intense. As devastating storms like Andrew and sea level rise (Module 3) threaten coastal parts of South Florida, we are constantly reminded that the Everglades were not meant to be urbanized.

The other lesson from Andrew had to do with building codes. I remember from my time living in Miami in the late 1980s numerous sprawling developments with large, wooden framed and wood and plaster sided homes packed close to one another on meandering streets with pools, clubhouses, and other amenities. Country Walk was one of them, a particularly massive development of wood-framed houses, which now lives in Andrew infamy. Construction in Country Walk by the company Arvida was particularly shoddy and houses fell like match-sticks in Andrew. The damage was just catastrophic. Residents told harrowing stories of windows and doors exploding, walls toppling over and popcorn ceilings, and whole second stories collapsing. Many people sheltered in interior bathrooms only to have the roofs collapse on them. Almost no homes were left with roofs after the storm. 95% of the 1700 homes in Country Walk were completely destroyed. The difference between Country Walk and neighboring developments with more solid construction was stark. Most residents of Country Walk collected their insurance money and moved away, often out of state.

Investigations of Country Walk found gables that were not braced or connected to roofs, plus poorly connected trusses, sheathing, strapping, and tie beams. Pre-construction plans on models were not checked by structural engineers and inspectors were found to have cut corners because of heavy workloads and many were just doing drive-bys instead of inspecting homes closely.

Video: Hurricane Andrew - Tamiami Airport/Country Walk (19:37) (Video is not narrated.)

This video shows the devastation of Country Walk.

Country Walk was not the only development with severe damage from Andrew. The storm basically exposed all poor construction. In light of this damage and with a view towards the stronger storms of the future, South Florida counties instituted very strict building codes. Code in the so-called “high-velocity hurricane zone” where “basic wind speed” (a measure of the recurrence of strong storms) is over 180 mph, including Miami-Dade and Broward counties, requires new construction to be a wind-resistant design, including windows, doors, and eaves. Hurricane shutters are mandatory in all parts of the state where the basic wind speed is over 120 mph. The performance and installation of shutters are very strict. However, regulations other than shutters vary from area to area and are constantly under attack from the construction industry, so who knows what the future will bring. One last aspect of living in a hurricane-prone area is crazy expensive insurance. Rates for insurance depends on the number of hurricane improvements a home has but can be up to $8,000 a year for a home valued at $150,000!

See caption.
Florida homes with elevated structure and tin roofs to protect against wind damage
Credit: U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO-20-100SP (Public Domain)

Video: Hurricane Andrew - Miami-Dade County, Florida - August 23-24, 1992 (8:18) (Video includes people talking, but is not narrated.)

This video summarized the power of Andrew.

Video: Then and Now: Scenes from Hurricane Andrew (11:39)

This video provides a more personal glimpse of the impact of the storm.

Click here for a transcript of the Then and Now: Scenes from Hurricane Andrew Video.

[MUSIC PLAYING] C.M. GUERRERO: Hurricane eve, August 24th, and it's like around 3:00 morning. And it's getting louder and louder and flying projectiles all over the roof. And it's getting louder. And the next thing you know, sounds like it's a train, a locomotive above, and machine guns, bombs going off. That's what it seemed like anyway.

It was so noisy. It was so scary. It was absolute devastation. Pure destruction.

Rounded the corner off US1 and Palm Avenue, there was a trailer park there completely gone. And out comes this guy out of the woodwork from all this broken trees and branches. And I kind of focused on him. But this man was purely dazed and confused in his underwear and ankle-deep water. Nobody knew what hit us, including myself. It was quite a horrifying experience.

CARL JUSTE: After Hurricane Andrew, Harris Fields turned into a relief camp. With US soldiers sliding down the embankment of the tents as they scurry to build a little mini city for those who are devastated by the storm. Children gathering, playing, and do what children do. They wait to rebuild their lives.

That made me question, are those the same feelings that refugees feel when they come to this new city? I think back and ask the question, now, do these Americans understand? Do they understand the urgency for normalcy? Do they understand the value of cold and clean water? Do they understand that their life has changed?

I understand. And I think Hurricane Andrew has taught us people to be more understanding. And it's clear that for a brief moment Miamians became tent people. For a brief moment, Miamians understood what it is to be a tent person, to be displaced. I understand.

PETER ANDREW BOSCH: I was headed down south, dodging telephone poles, downed wires, downed trees. And I was headed down south of Country Walk. And I came across a trailer park that, well, it was a trailer park. By the time I got there, it was nothing but debris flying and gone.

And I got out of my car, started walking through all this rubble and everything. And there was a little girl, probably about seven, eight years old with her mother running down the street holding this little cat. And she was just crying. And they both had just looks of despair in their face.

And they had left the park along with everybody else, but they couldn't find their cat. So they had returned. And luckily, they had found the cat. And it was still alive. Could not believe the devastation. It was just like God put his arm down and just wiped it all out.

MARICE COHN BAND: We were riding around in the back of a pickup truck that was delivering water and supplies to people who had been without electricity and water for over a week. And at this point in time, the trucks were being stormed by the neighborhood people. As soon as they'd hear we were there, they would surround the truck. And it was so unmanageable that the people felt like they had to carry weapons with them just to keep the crowds controlled.

They were living in rubble, basically. The majority of the houses were reduced to matchsticks. And they were beginning to put together the tent city where they were living. And I think that they felt more desperate than the rest of Miami.

C.W. GRIFFIN: I met Marjorie Conklin at the Gold Coast Mobile Home and RV Park in Florida City a few days after Hurricane Andrew had impacted South Florida. I returned later that afternoon to photograph her, only to find her taking a heavenly reprieve from the unrelenting heat. She was soaking in a tub of cool water.

Weary from an individual near her demolished double wide mobile home, she spoke for most survivors saying, we're alive and well. The rest is just stuff that can be replaced.

CHARLES TRAINOR JR: My assignment for The Miami Herald was to go to Nassau and meet Hurricane Andrew there. Not much happened. Went back to the hotel room in Nassau and turned on the TV. And right there on CNN, South Florida was just leveled. So we turned back and immediately went to work covering South Dade.

And the first day driving back from South Dade back to the Herald, Old Cutler, about 180th Street, I drove by this canal. And I noticed this research vessel on the banks of the canal behind this house. And it was spoke to the power of the storm to be able to pick this vessel up and put it there.

PATRICK FARRELL: It was scary. It was pitch black. There was no lighting in the intersections.

And we happened upon this family living outside their family-owned Days Inn. And these kids were sound asleep, probably just because they were so exhausted. And it was kind of still a very eerie situation down there and scary.

Folks were worried about looters and were armed. And Donnelly and I were even a little worried about approaching people at that time of night because they couldn't see you approach. And we didn't want people to think we were looters.

So anyway, I had made this photograph 20 years ago. And I went back to visit the Days Inn just recently. And I walked in. And I talked to the guy at the front desk. And he says, oh, Izzy Hatem just sold this three months ago.

So they had actually persevered and raised their kids in Homestead. And the kids are, of course, you know, probably in their late 20s, early 30s. They're out of the house. But they persevered and stayed there and rebuilt. Up until three months ago, they were still there.

TIM CHAPMAN: When I flew over Country Walk to photograph the damage we'd heard about, I was expecting something, but it was much worse than I even imagined. All the roofs were gone. Trusses were exposed. There was no bracing.

The design flaws of flat surfaces, no hip roofs, it was just a prime example of the intense building in the '70s and '80s without proper inspection. And it showed a lack of will on the population of South Florida to build strong. And although we've improved our building codes tremendously, if we slack off on inspecting those and having the will to build strong structures, it'll happen again.

CHUCK FADELY: Cauley Square was a collection of antique shops and tea rooms. And they had this beautiful canopy of trees over it, little historic wooden cottages. And after the hurricane, the trees were all bare. The buildings were torn up. And this woman was walking down the street, bent over, feeling the full weight of the storm, and what had it done to the little shops.

AL DIAZ: I arrived at Loren Roberts' apartment. There's I don't know, several hundred, 1,000 people there. And then this food truck pulls up from with donations from the Florida Jaycees. And you know, all hell starts to break loose. And people start scrambling to get in line.

And the Florida Guardsmen had to contain order and keeping everyone in an orderly fashion lining up for the food. So it was pretty chaotic. And you could see it in people's eyes how desperate they were.

I mean, three days without food, you know? Whatever you got in the fridge, if you're living in a trailer, there's no trailer to go to. There's no place to go.

MARSHA HALPER: 15 days after Hurricane Andrew, I was driving slowly around Florida City still on marked streets. I was surprised to find one shop open for business.

Juan Dominguez's Florida City barbershop, which he had bought the year before, was open, despite no windows and no electricity. The backdrop was desolate. And here he was actually doing a business.

His customers included locals and some military folks who were in South Dade County, then known as Dade County, to help in the cleanup efforts. Dominguez charged $6 a haircut. And he said that he vowed to bring his business back to how it was before the storm.

Today, if you go there, you see a beautiful five-chair shop. The Royal Poinciana tree outside is fully grown back and blossoming beautifully. And Dominguez charges $10 a haircut and says he still has customers from even before Hurricane Andrew.

At the back of Juan Dominguez's shop near the chair he uses for customers is a small framed yellowed newspaper clipping. It shows the photograph that I took in 1992 of his shop after Hurricane Andrew. And Dominguez said he vows to keep that up until he closes up shop.


There is no doubt that South Florida is much better prepared than it was in 1992. And there is also no doubt it will need to be.