Hurricane Andrew Remembered 

Anniversary

Our Andrew rememberances

NATURE’S DEVASTATING POWER: HURRICANE ANDREW’S 20TH ANNIVERSARY

08/23/2012 · by Dani Lynn · in Current Events. ·

Let me start out here by stating that I tried to make this post much shorter a few times, but to no avail, this was about an experience that changed my life.  So I’ve boldedthings for readers who may just choose to scan.  LOL  :)

Friday, August 24, 2012 is the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew.  It is Thursday evening, August 23rd as I’m getting ready to post this…  and this image below is the weather report we’re looking at right now here in Florida as we await T.S. Isaac.

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round… the sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours… even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” -Black Elk (1863-1950) Oglala Sioux holy man

“In mid-afternoon on Thursday, Aug. 13, a fluffy cloud looked down upon the desolate slums of Khartoum, Sudan, offering a fleeting moment of blessed shade.  Once out upon the vast African veldt the cloud took a deep breath, caught on with Haboob and went tumbling westward across Africa’s midsection…  The natives call the wind Haboob; the wind that forms a powerful current propelling the storm clouds ever westward toward the Atlantic  Inspired by the rotation of the planet earth beneath it, the storm slowly began to spin as it slid onto the warm waters off the West African coast… On the satellite maps of the National Hurricane Center, 4,000 miles to the west in Coral Gables, Florida, sometime during the day on August 16, the storm that would become history’s most costly natural disaster was casually recorded as TD 3 — tropical depression number three.”

That was the birth of what would become Hurricane Andrew from Lessons from Hurricane Andrew by Rick Eyerdam, which includes an in depth look at the breakdown of communication and social services before, during and after Hurricane Andrew.  You’ll find quotes from the article (italicized) throughout this post.

Hurricane Andrewto this day, I get teary eyed if I give it too much thought.  If I give it focus, like in the way needed to write this post, I have to catch my breath.  My entire body reacts, every cell remembers, but I wanted to write about it on this anniversary.  I’ve had what I consider three life changing experiences in my adult life that stand out and Andrew is one of them.

I learned to appreciate, not just casually like thanking someone for a holiday gift, but deeply and with understanding, recognizing the life giving qualities of air and water and the joy of holding loved ones in your arms.  The sun came up from behind the darkest of nightmarish clouds with the passing of Andrew.  I live.  I breathe.  I love.

There were so very many tornados.  Andrew was first said to be a category 4 storm, but individuals had taken much higher wind speed readings.  It was ultimately determined to have been a 5.  I think the fact that the hurricane center itself in Miami had its own antenna blow away contributed to the confusion.

“At 4:55 am the eye wall reached land just south of Key Biscayne not far from Mercy Hospital.  At 4:57 a gust that might have been as high as 178 mph raked the Hurricane Center building…  The Center’s hurricane-proof radar antenna was blown off the top of the building by the gust, leaving the hurricane center virtually blind and deaf.  Its rooftop wind speed measuring devices were also destroyed but remained in place with a final reading of 164 miles-an-hour.”

I lived through Andrew.  I hear that term often from storm survivors across the country, be it a hurricane, flood, tornado… “lived through”.  It is a particularly accurate term.  If I were to get dramatic I would say that you find yourself in the middle of a war, standing between the gates of heaven and the gates of hell, and you wonder who will win the battle.  To be a little less dramatic, you realize that if your shelter is compromised, if you lose even a portion of your roof, your door or a window, all bets are off.  You will ride out the storm with fear and trepidation, or you will make peace within yourself.  Along whatever the lines are of one’s particular beliefs… you will reach out for the hand of “God”.  “S/he” will take your hand in his and either protect you here, or take you with him.  If you believe that you’ll be safe either way, you make peace.

Hurricane Warnings Are Posted

“At 5:45 p.m., just in time for prime time newscasts, Sheets (Dr. Robert Sheets, Director, National Hurricane Center, Coral Gables, Florida) decided he could wait no longer.  Hurricane watch flags were hoisted from Titusville to Key West.  Sheets said that at that moment, 36 hours before the ultimate landfall, the odds were highest– 20 percent– that Andrew would come ashore along the Dade and Broward county line.”

At the time of Andrew, I lived about one mile from the Miami-Dade/Broward county line and my parent’s house (where I’ve lived now for the past few years) is 350 yards from the county line.

“As soon as the Hurricane Watch was posted at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 22, the volume of incoming calls (to the EOCEmergency Operations Center) jammed the lines and the phones did not stop ringing for the next week…  The volume of incoming calls also caused the switch to roll over and crash the 911 system…”

The picture above is Andrew nearing our coast, 20 hours out, but the wind and rain from the outer bands are already reaching the coast.  I’ve been experiencing hurricanes since the early 1960’s, but to this day, it’s hard to find the words to describe all that I feel inside when I watch news reports and see images like this one.

Hurricane Prep

Andrew struck the Bahamas August 23rd.  I knew what was coming.  I knew ahead of time that we’d be without electric for an extended period and I knew it’d be hot.  The thought of what we’d experience after the storm was as disheartening as the thought of the storm itself, but at least I knew the storm would end after a few hours.

Within a day or two prior to the storm, postal employees removed all the mailboxes from the streets, newspaper carriers laid flat all the newspaper boxes, railway workers removed all the railroad track’s crossing arms.  I thought for a moment that it wouldn’t be safe, but then I quickly realized there weren’t going to be any trains coming through.  The airports and the ports prepared to shut down, the many bridges would soon be locked down.  It was too late to leave town because at that point you’d be stuck on the highway when the storm hit.  It was eerie.  Nothing was getting in and nothing was getting out.

I went to the largest Publix in my area.  The grocery carts were all taken and people were actually using various laundry baskets and trash cans that were for sale themselves in the store to gather their groceries in.  The store didn’t even bother to unpack the hundreds of cases of bottled water.  The many wooden pallets would be left right up front and in no time, the pallets would be emptied by shoppers.  I rushed to get some of the last few cans of tuna, crackers, peanut butter and a couple loaves of bread.  I was making my way past other worried shoppers and at the same time, past lines of people waiting to check out, lines which extended down through every isle in the store and all the way to the very back wall of the building.

So let me talk about Home Depot.  OMG.  I don’t recall having to go before Andrew but I can tell you what it was like before Hurricane Floyd in September, 1999.  (It would’ve been just as crazy for Andrew.)  Lines of people wrapped through every isle in the store and back again, hundreds of people, some for as much as 8 hours.  The lines would stall when they’d run out of wood.  Yes, run out of wood, Home Depot.  On this particular evening, with CNN camped out in the parking lot, 2 different flatbed delivery trucks had overturned on I-595 delaying wood deliveries even further.  When I neared the front of the line, it was being announced that when it was your turn, you’d need to take whatever wood was at the top of the pile, no matter the type or the cost.  There was no time to be particular as there were just too many people.  The image below is Hurricane Floyd just off Florida.  It sat out there for so long, just spinning and spinning.  Then we heard it was expected to start moving again and turn slightly north, but let me tell you, when you’re looking at an image like this one here below with Category 4 winds, you don’t get out of line at Home Depot.  Just in case.  When we got nearer to the front of the line, we saw that a policeman stood on top of the wood pile, literally stood on top of the pile with his hands on his hips as if daring anyone to even think of starting trouble.  It was some sight, and a testament to the amount of anxiety people were experiencing.   It was after all, only 7 years after Andrew.

So back to Andrew, hotels throughout Florida had no vacancies and roads out were jammed packed.

“It took a televised complaint from the local weatherman (Brian Norcross) for the state to realize that taking tolls along the Turnpike system meant risking the lives of thousands of evacuees.  Long after the decision should have been made, the tollbooths were opened for unfettered passage.”

Riding Out The Storm

Brian Norcross stayed on the air for as long as possible throughout the storm taking telephone calls from frightened residents offering them guidance, guidance that saved lives.  I think his station was the last one to go down so he was on the air a long time.  He was active in getting the officials to take Andrew’s path seriously and did much during those days and hours leading up to and during the storm that made him a local hero FOREVER.  I recall he received flowers and numerous marriage proposals in the days that followed.

A slight and unexpected wobble by the storm before coming ashore changed its trajectory.  I was now 50 miles from where the eye of the storm was coming ashore.  I could hear the winds outside damaging the house, but I didn’t know what specifically.  There was a loud, deep thud that kept repeating for hours, I never figured that one out.  I also heard what I later learned was our back screened in patio being torn apart.  At the storm’s peak, the sliding glass doors at the back of the house were shaking like crazy as the wind whipped through them.  (I don’t know why they didn’t get boarded up.)  The wind sounded like a freight train barreling through the house.  I was in a corner bedroom with my 10 year old little boy and a very pregnant Rottweiler.

“For almost an hour, the EMT crew tried to reach Elaida.  But the storm’s winds made passage impossible and the crew was recalled.  She died at 9:30am having survived the storm, killed by a cerebral hemorrhage.  Her unborn baby also died.  – –  At 4:22, with hurricane winds howling in the background, emergency medical personnel assigned to the communications center successfully helped a desperate father deliver a baby over the phone.  – -  At 4:27am all of South Florida went dark.”

My husband was a firefighter/paramedic and had to ride out the storm at the station.  I had no other adult with me.  I was using a magazine to fan myself, my son who slept through most of it and our Rottie.  Thankfully, her pregnant self slept through most of it also.  LOL.  The heat was stifling.  I had a transistor radio but finally turned it off to conserve the batteries.  There wasn’t going to be anything I could do about anything until it was over anyway.

“Between twelve thirty and one in the morning, the window-locking devices began to pop open and pound closed. About the time the generator stopped working, the window in the room of a ventilator patient exploded, taking the window and frame apart and sending debris flying into the room.  It was time to move our patients to the hall.  Those who could sit up were placed in chairs.  Others who could not sit up were secured to their beds with sheets…  Those who needed life support were left in their rooms.  At the height of the storm, the window in one intensive care unit blew in.  But the patient was connected to too many machines to allow easy movement.  While he was disconnected, Degina stood in front of the open window, holding a mattress against the frame and shattered glass to slow the blow…  the power went out and the emergency generator stopped working.  For twelve hours thereafter volunteers pumped (by hand) the heart and lung machines that kept the machine dependent patients alive.  They did it calmly and with sufficient care that no patient was lost.  And they did it while the hospital was being ripped to pieces.”

I snuck out into the living room to see what I could see.  When I saw how badly the glass doors were shaking, I thought they were going to blow out.  I grabbed as many jugs of water from the kitchen table as I could hold, as fast as I could, and ran back to the bedroom.  Then I went back out and looked around the living room to see if there was anything else I could bring into the room with me.  I looked at the TV, stereo and other somewhat expensive items, and then spotted what was most valuable.  I grabbed up all the photo albums and ran back to the room.  I started moving things like the water into the bedroom closet in case we ended up having to hide in there and I didn’t leave the room again until it was over.  – –  Finally, after long, uncertain hours of hiding in the dark, I was able to go outside.

Storm Damage

The damage to South Florida was obvious, but the unseen emotional damage was just as wide spread.  Fear, stress, uncertainty, anxiety.

When I walked outside after the storm, I had 4 walls and roof, that was the phrase I used, and I just cried.  I’d seen images on my small 3 inch black and white portable TV coming out of Miami and I couldn’t even recognize what I was looking at. Neighborhoods were just gone.   I wasn’t able to make out the images on the tiny TV screen.  I couldn’t even tell that there used to be houses there.  I saw boats, big boats, where they absolutely did not belong and I couldn’t imagine how they got there.  And there I stood with my 4 walls and a roof, and I cried some more.  I’d hated the house.  When we bought it, I was just 19; it was just going to be a “starter” house.  There were many things I didn’t like about it.  But this house I’d hated kept me and my son safe through one of the scariest times of my life.  I didn’t hate it anymore.  Our wooden fence had been blown down during the storm, a couple windows were broken, the top layer of a corner of the roof over the bedroom I’d been in had been blow off and the back patio was just gone, but I had 4 walls and a roof.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words the level of gratitude I had for that, I just don’t. 

Due to Andrews “wobble”, the eye came ashore 50 miles south of where I lived.  It was originally expected to hit my area dead on.  I can’t imagine.  In the following weeks, a small group of us would occasionally travel south into Miami.  The father south we went, the more damage we saw.  There was a lot of structural damage to the homes that did remain standing.  Almost everyone after Andrew had a blue roof.  I don’t recall seeing any homes that weren’t covered with the blue tarps.  We always carried water.  We could stop our truck anywhere along I-95.  When people from the neighborhoods saw a truck stop, they’d just come.  My brain had trouble processing the extent of damage that I saw.  It was like my eyes said “Look at that!” and my brain said “No, that can’t be.  Look again.”  “Yea, that’s what it is.”  “No, can’t be, look again.”  I did that for 6 months.  I cried for 6 months.  I’m crying now.  There are just no words.  I think my brain didn’t have a place to file the info it was receiving from my eyes.  I just couldn’t fathom the power and strength it would’ve taken to do some of the things I saw.  And I’ll tell you, pictures are not the same as seeing something in person.  Seeing things in person makes them real, sometimes surreal.

“For days prior to the storm, the canals had been wide open to handle the expected flooding and each showed levels at or above sea level. But the last gasp of Andrew before it came ashore had sucked the water from the bay and the canal and piled it up somewhere offshore against the rushing seas.  A few minutes later the storm surge rose to 19 feet and plunged forward at break neck speed. It picked up the 114-foot long, 210-ton freighter, Seaward Explorer, just off Elliot Key, snapped the hawser that held the Seaward Explorer to its storm anchor, submerged Elliot Key and transported the freighter across Elliot Key.  Gathering speed, the wave and the freighter crossed Biscayne Bay and smashed ashore, the water covering everything that did not stand taller than 25 feet. The Seaward Explorer came to rest 200 yards from the shore in South Dade  The crew had no idea the ship was not still miles at sea until the surge receded, leaving it and them, high and dry.”

Where’s The Calvary?

“About mid-day on Monday, Weston met with Kate Hale, the person in charge of the emergency operation in Dade. She told Weston she had a chore for him. The president, George (H.W.) Bush, would be arriving in the afternoon and wanted to drive into the storm-damaged area, Hale told Weston.  Weston’s job was to supervise the clearing of the roads so the president could make his prime time appearance. Weston says he complained to Hale that the county clean up crews should be used to clear the way so his trucks could begin their errands of mercy.  He said he was overruled in favor of the presidential junket…  At 6:00pm candidate President George Bush arrived at Miami International Airport and led a cavalcade South from the airport along Interstate 95 to a partially cleared US 1, then to a partially cleared Old Cutler Road, a tree-line lane through one of Miami’s most affluent areas.  Bush went as far as the road had been cleared, to Cutler Ridge near property developed by one of his sons, where he posed by a damaged tree.  The visit took no more than two hours, counting nationally televised speech.  In three hours Bush was back in the air with South Florida designated a federal disaster area…  If President Bush’s party had tried to drive a few miles further south along U.S. 1, the entire nation would have known what remained a mystery for two more days, the total destruction of two small towns and a major (Homestead) Air Force base.”

I was back at work in about a week.  Broward County was for the most part, functional.  One of my co-workers had windows blow in and her family, including her young son, were covered with shattered glass.  There were a number of residents who had left the North Miami/South Broward county areas and went further south to avoid a direct hit.  People didn’t expect Andrew to make that slight turn.  In all, there were said to be 44 deaths from Hurricane Andrew from the Bahamas, Florida and Louisiana.

“The damage to community health clinics was potentially troublesome because the areas of far South Dade that endured the worst damage were also the poorest and most reliant on public assistance and public health services… we had no idea who was being served and who wasn’t.  After the storm we discovered an entire tribe of Guatemalan Indians who spoke neither English nor Spanish.  They spoke their native Mayan tongue.  No one had any idea these people existed.”

We’d heard that hundreds of migrant workers never received a warning of the storm, but nothing was said about them after the storm.  Where did they go?  Rumors flew about their probable deaths and a cover up.

To add to the anxiety, while so much of the population was living in structurally unsound buildings and tents, other storms were lining up in the Atlantic.  Some came closer than others; Hurr (cat 2) Bonnie 9/20,  Hurr (cat 2) Charley 9/23, TS Danielle 9/25, TD 7 9/25, TS Earl 9/29, Hurr (cat 1) Frances 10/23.  This is a link to the entire 1992 Storm Season.

It took 5 days for help to arrive from the federal government.  There were many looters, but most were just people with no food or water.  Many had no shelter from the heat, rain and mosquitoes.  Any preparation they may have made for themselves before the storm was blown away.  There were some people selling ice for $10 a bag.  I recall a couple men in the Carolinas who were so appalled upon hearing about that, they loaded up a semi-truck filled with ice and drove it down to South Florida.  I saw photos of them standing in the back of the truck with shovels just giving it away.

“So many crimes were being committed that the police standing order was to respond only to assaults, murders and armed robberies that were in progress…  The air reeked with dead animals, human waste and soaked fabric.  The rains became a curse far worse than the storm.  A message was sent Wednesday, Day Three, to President (George H.W.) Bush that the National Guard could not control the mob, feed the hungry, rebuild the infrastructure and police the streets.  Within 24 hours (Day Five) the first contingent of federal troops arrived.  The total number was two thousand.”

I couldn’t get over that it took 4-5 days to get help to Louisiana and the Superdome after Katrina.  I though they would’ve learned from Andrew… and Hugo before that.

“After Hugo we felt that we were fully prepared for everything,” Ed Neafsey assistant fire chief  for operations said.  “Nothing but nothing could have prepared us for the crises caused by Andrew.” …  “As we moved into the response mode, things kept getting worse.  Our department logged 1,250 calls.  Our normal average for the day was 350.  And for every call that we logged, our staff told us that they handled at least three calls from people who would simply wave them down.  Our best guess is that we handled 3,000.  In most areas it took us an hour to go a mile with the debris in the way and the tremendous problem we had with flat tires.  What we had was a 625 square mile square  triage area and the nearest operating medical facility over 25 miles away.  We were faced with hundreds of people who needed emergency care with no place to take them.  In addition there were thousands who needed the basic necessities of life, simply food, water and shelter…  In Homestead and Florida City, according to one published study, one third of the families who remained at home during the storm spent the peak hours of the blow with nothing more than a mattress between them and the killer winds. Many of them would spend the next week with less in the way of assistance or protection.”

Construction material costs seemed to double overnight, there was extensive contractor fraud, radio stations played no music but gave instructions on where to find gas, water, food, and what specific stations and stores had received supplies.  When a couple fast food chains were able to open in my area on a limited basis, there was no “having it your way” to borrow a phrase – it was just whatever they had, take it or leave it, and you took it, believe me.  The street signs were all gone.  The insurance companies were dealing with a nightmare and had a lot of trouble finding people; you didn’t know where you were going with no signs and no points of reference because nothing looked the same.  Names, insurance companies, addresses were spray painted on anything left standing.  Our streets name was painted on the back of a stop sign for 5 years before the city finally replaced all the signs.

The 444 acre Deering Estate located along the edge of Biscayne Bay at Cutler, an environmental, archeological and historical preserve pictured above, was restored after Andrew.

The emotional scars left by Andrew for some were unbearable.  Domestic violence and divorce rates increased.  Many residents just moved away.

Environmental Damage  and South Florida’s Wildlife:

Hurricane Andrew caused damage to oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and at South Florida’s nuclear plant.

From Wikipedia… While Andrew entering the Gulf of Mexico, oil companies evacuated hundreds of employees off of the platforms.  The storm damaged 240 oil and gas facilities off the coast of Louisiana.  Overall, Hurricane Andrew left about $500 million (1992 USD) in damage to oil facilities. One company lost 13 platforms, had 104 structures damaged, and five drilling wells blown off course.

“During the storm, failed nonsafety-grade equipment damaged important equipment.  For example, the high water tank collapsed onto the fire water system, rendering the fire protection system inoperable. In addition, the storm threatened safety-related equipment (e.g., potential collapse of the damaged Unit 1 chimney onto the diesel generator building).”  Brian Grimes, NRC  from FP&L’s Turkey Point Nuke Plant During and After Hurricane Andrew reported by Eye On Miami.

Hurricane Andrew passed through the heart of the largest wetlands in the United States.  A U.S. Geological survey was completed on the Effects of Hurricane Andrew (1992) on Wetlands in Southern Florida and Louisiana, including the Florida Evergaldes.

Andrew wreaked havoc with the animal population in South Florida.  Many snakes and other reptiles escaped during the storm.  Some were said to be from Metro Zoo and others from individual breeders.

The Sun Sentinel: Tal Abbady/Associated Press reports Metro Zoo (now Zoo Miami) sustained massive damage:

  • “The destruction was overwhelming,” said Ron Magill, Metrozoo’s director of communications.  Airplanes were wrapped around trees “like tissue paper” at Tamiami airport, blocks from the zoo.  And all along the road, people stood with their hands on their heads sobbing, Magill recalled.
  • A small antelope was found walking down a hallway in the administration building’s ruins.
  • Shortly after the storm, a state trooper brought in a southeast Asian argus pheasant in the backseat of his car. He had found it walking down the Florida Turnpike.
  • A group of monkeys was running down Coral Reef Drive…  The monkeys were traced to the University of Miami’s primate research center, and a 20-foot python found dead on the beach was thought to be a private breeder’s.

The image above shows some of the flamingos that were quickly housed in restrooms before the storm.  Almost all the animals at the zoo survived.

CONCLUSION:

A few weeks later, government officials and the insurance industry acknowledged that if Andrew hadn’t made that little wobble before hitting land, and had in fact hit the Miami Dade/Broward county line as originally predicted, the damage and the costs would have been far more extensive in that more populated area.

The ferocious storm had left Florida and moved onto its next target.  Hurricane Andrew hit Louisiana on August 26, 1992 as a Category 3.

Thirteen years later, Florida and Louisiana would again meet another even more devastating Hurricane… Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina did make landfall at the Miami-Dade/Broward county line in South Florida with Category 1 winds on August 25, 2005.  This time I was at ground zero.  CNN: (Aug 26, 2005) Katrina hits Florida: 3 dead; 1 million in dark

CNN:  (Aug 29, 2005) New Orleans braces for monster hurricane:  New Orleans braced for a catastrophic blow from Hurricane Katrina overnight, as forecasters predicted the Category 5 storm could drive a wall of water over the city’s levees.  The huge storm, packing 160 mph winds, is expected to hit the northern Gulf Coast in the next nine hours and make landfall as a Category 4 or 5 hurricane Monday morning.

There but for the grace of God go I.

Footnotes:

Hurricanes and Global Warming:

In 2005, we had so many storms that the Hurricane Center went through the entire list of 21 names and had to finish out the remainder of hurricane season using letters from the Greek alphabet for the next 6 storms.

Is Global Warming Making Hurricanes Worse?  by John Roach for National Geographic News  –  “The duration and strength of hurricanes have increased by about 50 percent over the last three decades…”

Visit a Global Warming and Climate Change Portal here.

Related:  The Power and Intrigue of Mother Nature , my post from 5/22/12 including my Hurricane Katrina photos.

I wanted to again state that quotes contained in this post, unless otherwise indicated, were from Lessons from Hurricane Andrew by Rick Eyerdam and recommend this fascinating and informative book.

 

A Child’s View of Hurricane Andrew

The scene at Summit Towers

 

"That action somehow caused her window to burst and led to much screaming, a new loud whistle from the wind, and more panic from the same floor. She wanted to find refuge in the stairwell because she was convinced she was going to get sucked out.."

I was 6 years old when hurricane Andrew struck Miami. My mother tells me stories of how my father did not believe they were in any danger. He still gives me a hard time when I call him about severe weather headed his way. After watching the news the evening before Andrew hit Florida, he realized he needed to prepare for the coming storm. He went to the grocery store and found the shelves empty of canned food and bottled water. He was too late for last minute preparations. As he was driving he noticed people leaving the home improvement stores with plywood. He was able to buy some to protect our windows.

We went with my dad as he nailed plywood to the outside of our church building, sealing our missionaries in, as that was the safest building for them to bunker down in for the coming storm. As evening descended, my 8 year old and 1 month old sisters and I were put to bed for the night. My parents stayed up to watch the news and wait for the oncoming storm. Some time past midnight, our parents took all of us from our beds into the bathroom to wait out the storm. We knew there was a storm coming and had been warned we might be woken up, so we weren’t too grumpy. Actually we were excited. We heard talk about the strong winds and things that could fly around in the air and we wanted to see it in action. We pleaded to look out the window and my older sister was given that chance. I was very upset, but I later learned that the plywood was nailed to the outside of the windows and nothing could be seen anyway. My dad says the eye of the storm never crossed over us to give us respite, but we were on the north side of the eye getting pummeled for hours. My dad recalls having to brace himself on our front door to keep it closed. Though our apartment building had interior doors we were located on the first floor just to the left past the lobby. The lobby doors were made of glass and broke in the ferocity of the wind. In the middle of the storm’s chaos, a lady up on the 4th or 5th floor of our building panicked and opened her hallway door. That action somehow caused her window to burst and led to much screaming, a new loud whistle from the wind, and more panic from the same floor. She wanted to find refuge in the stairwell because she was convinced she was going to get sucked out her window. Her neighbors opened their doors to check on her, which led to more broken windows and a path for the high winds to cross through. Luckily, there were only mild injuries in our building.

After the winds died down, the sun was already up and we emerged to see what kind of damage we were in for. There was a canopy in front of our apartment building before the storm, but after it was just a bunch of mangled metal bars. We spent about five minutes outside looking at the wreckage when we were assaulted by painful hail. I remember wondering why I felt like nails were hitting me. It was my first experience being hit by hail. We had to wait a little while longer before starting our cleanup. When the hail stopped, we found a big mess and all the cars pushed together. We had a tree 2 to 3 inches in diameter in our car through the back left window!

 As children, we were given simple jobs. We were in charge of picking up small limbs and piling them up out of the way in the parking lot. We also would fill buckets of water that were being pulled up by rope to the top floors of our building so they could still flush their toilets. Unfortunately, there were jobs that even most adults could not accomplish. In the entranceway to the parking lot was a large downed tree that was blocking our only way out. It took two days for someone to come with machinery to pull the tree out of the way. Finally, everyone could use their cars to travel again, if they were in drivable condition.

My dad comes from a family who like to camp, so we owned two Coleman stoves. One was taken by my dad, on bike, to our church building where he had to go with a hammer and pry bar to release the missionaries from the building. The other stove was with my mother, stationed outside the entrance of our apartment building, and people started lining up to be able to cook themselves some food. Our stove was the only other means of cooking anyone had in the apartments. My mom kept order with the line of hungry people, and made sure our stove wasn’t stolen.  The other option people chose were to start fires and cook on rocks. The absence of air-conditioning wasn’t too big of a deal for us kids, but the rain everyday made it hard to clean up.

 After a couple of days we joined our dad who had spent most of his time organizing and helping out with relief efforts at our church building. I remember seeing a tent with a hose going through the top which served as a shower. There was a Red Cross truck parked in the lot and medical people were stationed in many of the classrooms in the church. There were piles of clothes in half the cultural hall (gym area) and many sleeping bags and personal affects in the other. My mom recalls that some eighty or so missionaries were asked to come and stay at the church to help in recovery efforts. They were the ones sleeping in the cultural hall every night for weeks. There always seemed to be multiple helicopters in the sky. I questioned my mom about that and she says within the first few days the military flew in and took over the city. I remember lots of canned food, which was sorted and delivered to those with the most need. We even had to eat uncooked, canned food at the church because we were there most of the day. It was the first time I ever ate canned peaches, and even to this day I love the taste. I remember accidently stepping on an upturned nail, and though the wound wasn’t deep or wide enough for stitches, I had to get a tetanus shot. My mom wasn’t too upset because we were 30 seconds from medical professionals armed and ready with the vaccine I needed.

I think our apartment building was very lucky because, as I found out from reading my mom’s journal, it only took 6 days for our electricity to be restored. Our stove clock turned on and as soon as my mom noticed it she started jumping and yelling very excitedly. I remember being sent to the old neighbor lady across the hall to tell her the good news. We were all excited to receive a big step toward normalcy.

As I read the passages in my mother’s journal about the incident I realized, though this was a trying and hard experience, there were some wonderful consequences as well. She recounted a story about a business man, always in a nice suit, who never spoke to any of his neighbors, and always carried an air of importance. After hurricane Andrew we were all humbled and had to work together to survive. The pool shower still had a trickle of water and people lined up to clean themselves. She passed this business man waiting to shower and he was in pajamas and started talking to people, including my mother. Our building became a much closer community. We actually knew our neighbors and we became more than just people you pass by every day. In fact, everywhere we went we seemed to see people giving their time, effort, and love to those around who were in need. I want to thank my parents who still love each other and give everything they can when they find people who need help.

Julie Wulfenstein