The two men prepared to dash to the one spot in the crumbling wood-frame home in Homestead most likely to hold up: a closet addition with concrete block walls. It wasnt far, maybe 20 feet, but theyd have to cross a room swirling with broken glass and debris blowing though shattered windows.
Between them, Jack Meeder and Mike Ross possessed five post-graduate science degrees, including a doctorate each. Neither was wearing shoes.
Not the most brilliant move, Meeder says now, laughing. Im somewhat of a backward jerk sometimes. I dont wear shoes very often and I never wear socks. I ran across there with no shoes on. I cut up my feet from my ankles to halfway to my knees.
But he did have something else perhaps more important a tool kit, which he used to nail the closet door safely shut.
The two men, who worked for Audubon in the Florida Keys but would soon join the environmental science faculty at Florida International University, admit they were woefully unprepared. Both had been out of town. Meeder caught the last flight from New York to Miami, rushing home with barely enough time to get his wife, eight months pregnant, into South Miami Hospital. He invited Ross up to Homestead, worried his colleague was more at risk in Key Largo.
Meeders home wound up bulldozed. Of course, Mikes wasnt even touched.
Aside from cut up feet, Ross escaped Andrew largely unscathed. Dirt from surrounding farms sandblasted the paint off his car and broke the windows. But the storm changed his life professionally. He shifted his research to hurricane impacts on coastal forests. Twenty years later, he still brings classes to Biscayne Bay mangroves to view Andrews now barely visible scars, rotting logs laying in one direction in the tangled thicket.
It seems quite healthy now, he said.
Meeder, who recently moved to western Pennsylvania where he is a visiting professor at Allegheny College, was an Army medic in Vietnam. There were moments in Andrew, he said, that brought back memories of the war, like the machine-gun-like crack of telephone poles snapping one after another.
I think for the average person it was probably about as scary as anything they would ever face, he said. Other than combat, whats worse?
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