When I was innocent and insurance was cheap

All of us can relate to our Hurricane Andrew anniversary coverage, including me. The storm turned my house into kindling.

08/11/2012 5:00 AM

08/19/2014 7:04 PM

On Aug. 23, 1992, I lived in a three-bedroom, two-bath house west of Metrozoo in a neighborhood called Kings Grant, just south of Country Walk. It was 1,600 square feet, wood-frame, on a builder’s half acre. We had paid $96,000 seven years before, and in a flat real estate market, it wasn’t valued at much more than the day we closed.

My Allstate homeowner insurance policy cost me $475 a year. Like a lot of South Floridians, I didn’t know much about what it did or didn’t cover.

I spent that day and night at The Miami Herald, helping lead coverage of the approaching Hurricane Andrew. By dawn on Aug. 24, the storm had crushed much of South Miami-Dade. My neighborhood — my house — took a direct hit.

During the next few weeks, like roughly 180,000 others, I learned loads about insurance, construction, my South Florida neighbors, my family and myself. Twenty years later, Andrew is a pivot point in my life, and if you were here then, probably yours, too.

The Herald’s coverage of the 20th anniversary of Andrew really started on June 3, just after the opening of the hurricane season, with a front page story that examined the tougher building codes put in place after Andrew exposed how low standards for construction and poor enforcement by inspectors led to destruction and disaster.

Those problems affected my home directly. My roof had been secured with staples, not nails, and my home was built with a roof design that enabled strong winds to act as a can opener, ripping the top of the house open to the storm. Neither roofing staples nor gable roofs are allowed today.

After Andrew, my Allstate policy covered the cost of rebuilding my home — nearly $80,000 — as well as the cost to rent an apartment for my family during the nine months we were displaced.

Twenty years after Andrew, Allstate is long gone from the South Florida homeowner insurance market. Insuring a home like the one I owned near Country Walk would cost at least $3,500 a year — with a $10,000 deductible. And it could be rising hundreds or thousands of dollars more, depending on rate increases or reinspections, as we learn today from a series of stories that begins on Page 1 from Herald reporter Toluse Olorunnipa. That examination of Citizens’ performance and its future continues on Monday, followed by another installment on Sunday, Aug. 26.

It’s only part of two weeks of coverage of Andrew’s impact on South Florida that you can read in our newspaper, on MiamiHerald.com and hear and view in reports done in conjunction with the WLRN-Miami Herald News team on WLRN 91.3 FM and our news partners at WFOR-CBS 4:

•  On Monday, Part 2 of the series on Citizens will focus on how the state-backed property insurer has advanced an agenda of higher insurance rates and reduced coverage, with little direction from Florida’s Legislature.
•  On Aug. 19, The Miami Herald and MiamiHerald.com take a deep look at Andrew’s impact through the experiences of people who span the spectrum of South Florida life. Written by environmental reporter Curtis Morgan, these accounts from the storm take you back to that chaotic night and the difficult days that followed. We’ll include photo galleries of Andrew’s impact, then and now.

Also that Sunday, at 6:30 p.m., our news partners at CBS 4 will air a 30-minute special called Remembering Hurricane Andrew: 20 Years, anchored by Eliott Rodriguez and Shannon Hori. Among other aspects of its coverage, CBS 4 will feature unforgettable video from the storm, and interviews with Miami Herald photographers who covered it.

•  On Aug. 23, CBS 4 is hosting a breakfast to mark the creation of Neighbors 4 Neighbors, a nonprofit organization that the television station launched after Andrew to assist families in need in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
•  On Aug. 24, The Herald will focus on the children of Hurricane Andrew, with a story from reporter and columnist Ana Veciana Suarez. Ana, whose home was seriously damaged in the storm, will zero in on the imprint Andrew left on a generation of young South Floridians.

At 9 a.m. the same day, WLRN 91.3 FM will air Remembering Andrew, an hour-long radio documentary from the WLRN-Miami Herald News team. It will be live-streamed at wlrn.org.

•  On Aug. 25, The Museum of Science, 3280 S. Miami Ave., will hold discussions and offer presentations about Andrew, the start of an exhibit throughout the fall that will include Miami Herald photography and front pages from the storm.

We also have stories planned on the impact of the storm on the city of Homestead, and before and after photography from key areas impacted by Andrew. We are creating a special section of MiamiHerald.com for all of our Andrew coverage, www.MiamiHerald.com/andrew.

Among its features will be front pages from The Herald in the days after the storm, the remarkable work of Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald photographers, and the recollections of many South Florida residents who responded to our Public Insight Network with their Hurricane Andrew stories. We’ll publish photos from our archives documenting the storm and our Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of it.

Throughout the next few weeks, we’ll also cover commemorative events across the cities and neighborhoods touched by the storm. If you have something you’d like to share, you can email me at rhirsch@MiamiHerald.com.

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