Deep into her third straight day in the bunker of the Miami-Dade Emergency Operation Center, Michele Baker felt Andrew finally getting the better of her.
As emergency operations manager, shed directed the largest evacuation in state history but the onslaught of problems in the aftermath proved unending. She was barefoot, feet too swollen to fit in her shoes from hours standing. Shed had one catnap in what would wind up as a 72-hour shift.
Baker, 30 at the time, turned to a staffer for help with a call about trapped nursing home residents. He had no clue what to do. Thats when the enormity of the catastrophe hit her. She excused herself, retreated to a bathroom shower stall and had a private mini-meltdown. Then, she went back to work.
You cant go 72 hours with that kind of stress and not hit a breaking point, said Baker, now chief assistant county administrator for Pasco County. For me, that was my breaking point.
Andrew, the most destructive hurricane in United States history until Katrina in 2005, overwhelmed emergency managers. There were no plans for distributing food, water or ice. There werent enough police to secure streets and stores. No one had trained or planned for a disaster of such magnitude.
State and federal aid barely trickled in until Miami-Dade emergency management director Kate Hale, Bakers boss, stood on a chair at a press conference and famously implored, Where the hell is the cavalry on this one?
Even as outside help finally began to flow, emergency managers were forced to make up the rules as they went along, laying groundwork for a nationwide overhaul of disaster response sparked by Andrew.
For Baker, many decisions in those first days remain a blur. For months, she had vivid dreams of working the storm trying to fix problems, looking at maps. Her daughter, she said, likes to tell the story of knocking on her sleeping mothers bedroom door. I told her, You cant come in. I have a lot of people in here. I had a lot of meetings in my sleep.
Hurricane Andrew 20 years later
- The Intro
- The Captain
- The Emergency Manager
- In Country Walk
- At Turkey Point
- Stories of comfort
- Broward bound
- The Weatherman