The children of Hurricane Andrew, now adults, don’t talk much about the storm anymore. It’s 20 years ago, after all. Ancient history.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find an indelible mark on many. A heightened respect for Mother Nature. A clenched stomach during a bad thunderstorm. A little extra vigilance when it comes to disaster preparations.
You never forget it,” says Tom Vick, who was 9 in August 1992, when the storm that changed everything struck South Miami-Dade County. “It’s something you always carry with you no matter what happens to you.”
Most children who were initially traumatized by the disaster recovered fairly quickly, according to Annette M. La Greca , a psychology professor and pediatrics at the University of Miami and the lead investigator of two studies on children’s reactions to Andrew. While many children reported significant stress in the first three months after the hurricane, by the end of the school year, 10 months later, most no longer experienced symptoms. Those numbers had improved even more 42 months after the disaster, the last time La Greca and her colleagues interviewed the children.
“In the long haul, relatively few people, children or adults, go on to develop severe, permanent problems,” La Greca added.
Even for the most well-adjusted adult, though, the world after Andrew was altered, a little less certain. For some, it was the moment they grew up.
Tom Vick, 29, a fourth generation farmer, learned early on to respect the natural world . But from Andrew, he began to understand its sheer power . “She gives and she takes away,” he said, standing in a longan grove in the Redland.
His family lived in a house in the Redland in 1992 but decided to spend the hurricane at his grandfather’s home in Princeton. Built in 1923, it had been sturdy enough to weather other fierce hurricanes so Vick’s father figured they would be safe.
They were. But his grandfather’s house didn’t do as well. After the storm, “the only thing left of the house was the table we were under, three walls and comforters holding down the table,” he said.
The pine hammock with decades-old trees was cleaned out. The landscape looked like it had been blasted by a very powerful bomb.
“We could’ve been killed,” he said, shaking his head at the wonder of survival.
His father used a front-end loader to blaze a trail back to their house, which was in surprisingly good shape. But his school, Princeton Christian, had been demolished and classes didn’t start up again until a month later, when portables were delivered. In the meantime he spent his days tagging along with his father in the fields, cleaning up and preparing for fall planting. He now remembers those days as a happy, carefree time, though he knows it couldn’t have been the same for his parents.
He hasn’t forgotten the lesson Hurricane Andrew taught him. “Respect,” he said. “Respect of nature. That’s the biggest lesson.”
For others, Andrew taught something different: preparation. Jenny del Campo Bethencourt didn’t pay much attention to her parents’ harried preparations the night before Andrew struck. She was 17 and slept through the first part of the storm. But now as an adult, working in her brother’s insurance agency, she spends her time telling people to prepare for natural disasters. She’s seen the damage they can cause, first hand.