Two days after Hurricane Andrew tore through South Miami-Dade, my husband and I were in the front yard of our first home, picking up the debris that littered the lawn. Much of it was remnants from our house, like the shredded brown roof shingles. Some of it was from unknown neighbors, like the color photograph of two children we did not recognize. There was barely a house in our neighborhood in Lakes by the Bay in what was then called Cutler Ridge that was untouched by the quick and destructive force of Andrew’s Category 5 winds.
The concrete shell of our two-story house still stood, but the wind had burst through a second-story bedroom window and blown a hole through the roof, an engineer later told us. On that sweltering August morning, as we began the cleanup, a passing car slowed in front of our house. The passenger rolled down the window and offered a copy of that day’s Miami Herald.
The driver and delivery person was then-Executive Editor Doug Clifton and his wife Peggy. At the time, I was a reporter in The Herald’s Neighbors operation, but Clifton had no idea that I lived there when he drove up that morning. He was one of dozens of employees — from executives to clerks from every corner of the company — who volunteered to deliver the newspaper when only 13 of the 93 carriers were able to report for duty.
“That’s the kind of heart our newspaper has,” said Amy Driscoll, the assistant city editor who plans and oversees our hurricane coverage. “That’s what we’d display again if something were to happen.”
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With no mail service, no electricity, no phone, no running water, the newspaper was a lifeline for me and thousands of others in South Florida and beyond. The Miami Herald continued to publish, as it has without fail for 108 years. For days, The Herald put all of the hurricane coverage in the first section, including such key information as where to get ice and how to file an insurance claim. Several pages a day were devoted to helping find missing persons and soliciting volunteers.
It will be 20 years in August and we have planned a series of stories to mark the anniversary, from the examination of the tougher building codes instituted after Andrew on today’s front page to revisiting a devastated block that we first wrote about in the aftermath of the hurricane.
As we look back on the costliest storm to strike Florida, we are also revising our well-worn hurricane coverage plans, which have evolved from decades of experience. Much has changed. Andrew struck four years before The Miami Herald had a website. Cell phone technology was in its infancy. It was decades before the existence of the social media sites we now take for granted, such as Twitter and Facebook.
Those are all new tools at our disposal as we tweak our coverage plans — then hope that we don’t have to use them. And if the cell phone towers fail and the electricity is out, we know we have a plan you can rely on: the newspaper at your door. This time, it may be me in the car.