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June 4, 2013

The night Hurricane Andrew fooled us

Hurricanes don’t take you by surprise, but they can fool you.

Hurricanes don’t take you by surprise, but they can fool you.

For days, you follow their every move. They grow stronger; they weaken. They speed up, they slow down. They head this way, then jog just a little bit that way.

Hurricane Andrew — the great Miami storm of our era — didn’t take us by surprise. But it fooled us.

I was deputy city editor on Aug. 23, 1992. I drove the family clunker to the Herald building; if storm surge soaked the beast, so be it. The shiny Dodge Caravan was safe at home in South Miami-Dade.

We hadn’t been expecting Andrew this soon, but the storm sped up.

I spent Andrew night on the fifth floor of One Herald Plaza. Lots of Herald people — reporters, editors, employees who had nowhere else to go — spent the night, some to work, others for safe haven.

I dozed off at one point on the floor of the city editor’s office. A piercing hum stirred me. What’s the buzz? Vibrating window glass. Should I be lying down next to them? No more sleep.

At first light, another editor and I crept outside. Trees down everywhere. Buildings glazed in light green — painted by blown leaves and palm fronds. Bad, but not catastrophic.

Soon after, the first reports from South Dade: Airplanes scattered like toys at Tamiami Airport. Roofs peeled off homes; walls caved in.

Andrew flattened my South Dade home. And dropped a fence on my shiny minivan.

We didn’t think Andrew would be so strong, but when it made landfall, it exploded with fury. We thought Andrew was headed to North Miami-Dade or Broward, but the storm zeroed in on South Dade.

Andrew fooled us.

The Miami Herald won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its coverage and service to the community in the wake of the storm.

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