Hurricane Andrew: A firsthand account on the 25-year anniversary of its landfall

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Photo Credit: NOAA/ 25th Anniversary of Hurricane Andrew Landfall

Beverly Hills, FL–Amanda Meeks, a Pine Ridge resident and Hurricane Andrew survivor shares her personal story with the Suncoast Standard.

Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida on this very day 25 years ago with a fury our modern society had seldom witnessed before on U.S. soil. My family, along with thousands of others, emerged from the shells of what were once our homes. We blinked in disbelief as the dawn crested over the horizon, and the once familiar landscape was unrecognizable. The trees had disappeared, and the few that remained stood with their craggy, broken branches staring up to the sky like petrified lightning crying to the heavens, stunned at their sudden nakedness. All familiar landmarks were moved, altered, or demolished altogether. People got lost in their own neighborhoods.

Hurricane Andrew
Photo Credit: Michele Foy/ Kings Highway in Homestead before Hurricane Andrew, 1992
Hurricane Andrew
Photo Credit: Michele Foy/ Kings Highway in Homestead after Hurricane Andrew, 1992

An April 1993 issue of National Geographic that covered the storm damage described the catastrophic event from the point of view from several National Guardsmen who served in Operation Desert Storm, and claimed that the devastation in Kuwait wasn’t nearly as bad. Red Cross damage-assessment officer, Nicholas Peake, was quoted as saying, “If you put Hurricane Hugo and the 1989 San Francisco Bay area earthquake together and doubled the magnitude of damage, that’s what we’d have.” As someone who lived it, I can attest his description is spot-on. We were ground-zero when the Cat 5 monster made landfall. My father recalls standing on what was left of our roof to survey the area, and he could see the Atlantic Ocean from our home 5 miles inland. The world was crumpled and flat.

June 1st is probably my least favorite day of the year (besides April 15th) as it signifies the start of hurricane season. Some people accuse me of overreacting. But to those who lived through that hellish night 25 years ago, they nod in agreeable solidarity. The Nature Coast is home to many transplants from South Florida. In fact, I’m willing to bet some of you reading this very article are Andrew survivors. You also have told your story to those who will listen. And the sound of wind still haunts you.

In light of the effects from Category 1 Hermine, serious questions for our own coastal counties need to be asked: Will we ever have to endure the trauma that was inflicted on Homestead? Will Hernando, Citrus, or any of our other coastal counties be forced to reckon with a Category 4 or even 5 storm that will forever change our landscape? If so, are we prepared to do so?

Unlike Homestead, the Nature Coast and Tampa Bay are comprised of extremely low-lying areas. If a storm with Andrew’s magnitude made it’s way to our coast, it would be unprecedented. The winds of Andrew combined with the flood-like storm surge of Katrina, words fail to express the catastrophic damage that would be done to our region.

Florida watched in horror last year as Hurricane Matthew worked his way towards the East Coast of the state. Millions fled inland, including my husband who was working at Port St. Lucie Nuclear Plant when the evacuations were ordered. Traffic snarled every paved artery leading away from the coastline, and a normal three-and-a-half hour drive turned into eight. Thankfully, the monster storm only brushed our state. However, it was a excellent “dry run” in the event it happens again. Much has been learned from Andrew, Katrina, and other life-altering catastrophes. You can thank Andrew for “Dade-County Building Code”.

As August winds up, the summer winds down, and our stores begin to stock fall holiday decorations, please don’t be lulled into a false sense of calm regarding our annual tropical weather. Andrew was only the first storm of the season and it didn’t make its appearance until today, 25 years ago. Hopefully, the rest of the year will be quiet in the tropics. And yet, Hurricane Wilma is a perfect example of why we should be ready at all times, with it making landfall on Oct. 24, 2005. Hurricane season ended Nov. 1st, but 2005 was a more active than usual season with storm names reaching all the way to Zeta in December and January.

To our county officials – please continue make sure every plan is in place, every “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed for our emergency management plan. Where changes need to be made, make them.

To Nature Coast residents – LISTEN. If you are told to evacuate, GET OUT. If you don’t have to evacuate and you don’t have a storm kit ready (supplies, water, food, first aid, etc), get one, don’t wait until the storm is churning in the Atlantic. Gas your vehicles, keep a few cans of Fix-O-Flat (you will need them), and heed the warnings.

And to my fellow hurricane survivors, keep telling your stories. There’s a purpose in our experience, perhaps so others will listen and learn from our own testimonies of survival.

Amanda Meeks is a local Pine Ridge resident, homemaker, mother of three, author of the Blog, Wandering Meekly, and contributing editor to the Suncoast Standard.

Submitted by: Lou Newman, Publisher, on August 24, 2017 at 5:09 PM.

Suncoast Standard (c) 2017. All rights reserved.

 

 

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