Remembering the fury of Hurricane Andrew in South Florida

One terrible storm produced thousands of stories from survivors who rode out the hurricane’s rampage

08/18/2012 5:00 AM

08/20/2012 4:36 PM

Twenty years ago this week, a Category 5 chainsaw called Hurricane Andrew cut a swath of ruin like no storm before it.

More than 28,000 homes were destroyed, 107,000 damaged — a toll that made it the nation’s costliest natural catastrophe until Katrina in 2005. Fifteen people were killed in Miami-Dade alone. Dozens more died in exhausting months of clean-up. Some 180,000 were left homeless, 1.4 million without power.

The numbers don’t fully explain the impact. South Miami-Dade resembled a post-war zone for one grueling summer — tent cities, food lines, soldiers on patrol, residents packing weapons.

Andrew would strengthen building codes but send insurance rates soaring. It would force an overhaul of overwhelmed state and federal disaster agencies. It would fuel a boom in South Broward and flight from ground zero, where stress showed in spikes of divorce, murder and suicide rates.

And it would etch memories on a community — powerful, painful, even funny with the perspective of two decades. Thousands of people rode out Andrew. Kathy Stone did it in a place called Country Walk, which neighbors assured her was safe. Addi Casseus, terrified she’d never make it to high school, found strength in her parents’ stories as the family huddled together. Capt. Peter Skipp survived adrift in the maelstrom of Biscayne Bay.

In voices from the storm, a common theme emerges: To fully understand Andrew’s fury, you had to be there. But you wouldn’t want to be.

Hurricane Andrew 20 years later

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