Editor’s note: This is part of our feature on Concordia’s professor Tobin Beck and The Sower’s adviser Ellen Beck reporting on Hurricane Andrew in 1992. This article was originally published by UPI on Aug. 24, 1992.
by Tobin Beck
Hurricane Andrew smashed across southern Florida Monday with winds of up to 145 mph, carving a path of destruction and leaving 1 million people without power before churning through Florida’s west coast and into the Gulf of Mexico, where it aimed for a possible strike at Mississippi and Louisiana.
President George Bush toured heavily damaged areas south of Miami Monday and signed a federal disaster declaration for Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties of South Florida.
”I’d say to the people of Florida you’ve been hit awful hard and you are going to make it, and all of us want to help,” Bush said at a hard-hit shopping mall south of Miami, where National Guard troops patrolled to keep out looters.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was in the process of bringing some 250 people to Miami to help residents obtain disaster aid.
”As far as this storm goes, we’ve only seen part of this storm,” said FEMA Director Wallace Stickney, who was in Miami to tour the devastated area and coordinate federal efforts. ”Right now it’s headed dead-on to New Orleans…and if it goes ashore in New Orleans or does significant damage in the New Orleans area, it could be one of the storms of the century before we’re done.”
Stickney said storm damage will be in the billions before Andrew is finished.
The hurricane churned ashore south of Miami with sustained winds of up to 145 mph early Monday and carved a path of death and destruction across the state into the Gulf of Mexico, where it aimed for a possible strike at Mississippi and Louisiana.
At 11 p.m. EDT, the center of Andrew was near latitude 26.3 north and longitude 85.7 west, or about 365 miles southeast of New Orleans. The storm was moving west at about 17 mph and a gradual turn to the west northwest was expected Tuesday.
Hurricane warnings extended from Pascagoula, Mississippi, through Vermillion Bay, Louisiana. A hurricane watch remained in effect from west of Vermillion Bay west to Sabine Pass, Texas, and from east of Pascagoula east to Mobile, Alabama.
The hurricane center said maximum sustained winds were near 140 mph and some strengthening was possible during the next 24 hours. Hurricane force winds extended 70 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extended up to 140 miles.
Evacuations began Monday in low-lying coastal areas of the western Gulf of Mexico as Louisiana officials and Texans on the fringe of the warning area prepared for Hurricane Andrew. Mayor Sidney Barthelemy ordered people living in low areas outside New Orleans’ protective levees to voluntarily leave their homes and seek haven with friends, relatives, or at designated Red Cross emergency shelters.
Hardware stores and supermarkets reported a run on emergency supplies such as bottled water, canned goods, food supplies and batteries. Stores reported stocks dwindled rapidly as residents prepared for the storm.
Grand Isle, Louisiana., Mayor Andy Valence Monday said the 1,000 residents of the barrier island community 45 miles south of New Orleans were expected to be evacuated by late afternoon, leaving only a few key officials behind to guard against looting.
”I’ve never had to evacuate in the past but in this case, I’ll be the last to leave,” said Valance.
Galveston, Texas, officials opened an emergency operations center, even though the island city is outside the hurricane warning area.
”We take hurricanes very seriously and this being a Category 4 hurricane, we definitely cannot afford to make any mistakes,” said City Manager Doug Matthews.
Matthews said the island holds the record for the most deaths in a U. S. natural disaster—6,000 killed by a hurricane in 1900. None of the island’s 60,000 inhabitants had evacuated.
On Monday Andrew’s furious winds tore down power lines, uprooted trees and exploded windows with sudden drops in air pressure as the storm cut across Florida’s populous Atlantic coast.
Dade County officials said there were 10 confirmed deaths. Miami police identified one as Jesse James, 46, of Miami, who was killed by a falling tree as he tried to sleep in his brother’s truck.
There were four additional dead of natural causes and one suicide, officials said.
Andrew made its destructive landfall at about 4:45 a.m. some 35 miles south of Miami, ripping west into Homestead and the southern Dade County neighborhoods of Perrine and Cutler Ridge.
At Homestead Air Force Base, virtually every building was damaged or destroyed, Gov. Lawton Chiles said after a helicopter tour. That included some 200 housing units damaged by the storm.
The storm then tore across Everglades National Park and the West Coast resort areas and blew into the open gulf.
Late Monday more than 1 million residents in Dade and Broward Counties remained without power and Florida Power & Light Co. officials said it could take up to two weeks to restore all the electricity.
Chiles, who declared a state of emergency Sunday and put the Florida National Guard on alert, told a news conference Monday the Guardsmen dispersed about 100 looters in the Miami suburb of Cutler Ridge. There were no arrests. Scattered looting was reported elsewhere in Miami.
Miami and Dade County officials issued a curfew for the city running from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., effective Monday night.
Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez said his city escaped major damage.
”The downtown area essentially was spared” as the eye of the storm passed south of the city, he said.
Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber said the city did not sustain the damage that was expected and should be up and running by Tuesday. Gelber said cleanup crews were beginning to take care of broken windows and debris.
Ironically, the National Hurricane Center at the University of Miami in Coral Gables recorded a gust to 164 mph as the strong winds preceding the eye slammed into Miami. A radar ball was blown from the roof and two steel-shuttered windows shattered.
Water pressure became a problem Monday because of uprooted watermains, and officials said residents who still had water pressure should boil the water to purify it for drinking.
Vince Lopez of Southern Bell said 98 percent of the company’s 1.3 million customers were in service. The others were in areas where they needed clearance from Florida Power & Light and police because of downed power lines.
School was canceled and courts were closed Monday for the counties under evacuation orders, and the Postal Service canceled mail delivery.
Officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport reopened the facility Monday night. Miami International Airport was scheduled to reopen Tuesday.
About 2,500 passengers, mainly cruise ship patrons and foreign visitors, were stranded at the Miami airport. Airport officials allowed them to ride out the storm and provided them with food and a place to sleep.
Andrew hit the northern Bahamas Sunday, but caused less damage than had been feared. Maurice Tynes, national disaster coordinator for the Bahamas, said from Nassau that one person was killed on northern Eleuthera Island.
Sheets said Andrew’s eye was ”wobbling,” and would probably come ashore anywhere from Miami to Fort Lauderdale.
”That 10 or 15 miles could make a world of difference,” Sheets said.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for more than 1 million coastal residents in Broward, Dade and Monroe counties—including the barrier islands of Miami Beach and Key Biscayne, neighborhoods as far inland as U.S. 1 in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and all of the Florida Keys.
Under Florida law, it is a second-degree misdemeanor to ignore an evacuation order. But Bob Nave, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, said it was unlikely police would have time to make arrests.
”If they are resistant to evacuation, we’ll get the name of a next of kin,” Nave said.
Humana Hospital-Biscayne in Aventura, 1 miles from the ocean, evacuated its 107 patients Sunday, moving most of them inland to Humana Hospital-Pembroke Pines.
”Knock on wood, it’s going very well and I’m very proud of everyone here,” said administrator Campbell Epes.
Throughout Miami, cars were lined up five and six deep waiting to buy gas, automatic teller machines ran out of cash, and grocery store parking lots were jammed.
Larry’s Chevron on Miami Beach sold 4,000 gallons of gasoline in a few hours, as much as it normally sells in a few days. When the pumps ran dry, employees began battening down.
”We’re trying to chain stuff down, board stuff up,” said station employee Nat Spangler.
The Red Cross opened 80 shelters in schools and churches in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas and the Upper Keys.
”We’re encouraging people that if they have relatives or friends they could live with, that would be best,” said Red Cross Spokeswoman Sharon Akinde. ”A shelter is not a glamorous place to be. It’s not exactly the Holiday Inn.”
In the upper Florida Keys, drawbridges were locked in the down position and tolls were waived to speed the evacuation, but traffic was backed up as much as 15 miles on the Overseas Highway through the northern islands.
Gov. Lawton Chiles declared a state of emergency Sunday, putting the Florida National Guard on alert.
Under a mutual assistance agreement, the North Carolina National Guard sent a plane to move patients from a hospital in the Florida Keys to one in Central Florida.
Police began stopping people from entering the evacuation area, and Southern Bell urged people to restrict their calls to emergencies only.
School was canceled and courts were closed for Monday for the counties under evacuation orders, and the Postal Service canceled mail delivery until further notice.
Florida Power & Light Co. put its nuclear power plants in Homestead and St. Lucie into a ”hot shutdown,” though that was not expected to affect power supplies.
Cruise ships sailing out of the Port of Miami altered their routes, sailing southeast of the Bahamas to avoid the storm. Cargo ships were ordered to clear out of the port, and the Coast Guard sent most of its fleet out to weather the storm at sea.
Miami International Airport stopped issuing gates for departure at 8 p.m. and set closing at 9:30 p.m. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport wrapped up its flight schedule starting at 6 p.m.
Hundreds of stranded passengers, mainly cruise ship patrons and foreign visitors were stranded at the Miami airport. Airport officials allowed them to ride out the storm at the airport and provided them with food and a place to sleep.