Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida 22 years ago: A look back at the storm as it happened

08/24/2014 9:21 AM

08/24/2014 10:55 AM

This was Miami Herald staff writer Arnold Markowtiz’s report from the morning of Aug. 24, 1992.

Hurricane Andrew, the most fearsome storm to hit South Florida in decades, howled ashore early today with 138-mile- an- hour winds, killing at least two and leaving a path of destruction from Fort Lauderdale to the Florida Keys.

Complacency, growing almost without interruption since the last major hurricane hit the southeast coast in 1965, fell down with uncountable trees, power lines and assorted debris.

Five thousand people were left homeless by the storm, Metro Police Director Fred Taylor announced. They'll be moved into shelters in North Dade.

Taylor declared parts of South Dade a restricted area, meaning people are prohibited from going in.

The hurricane's center slashed ashore 28 miles south of downtown Miami, went ripping through the suburbs around a pulsating eye nearly 20 miles across. The strongest gust recorded, before 4 a.m. when instruments at the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables were blown out of commission, was 164 mph.

South Dade suffered the worst property damage. Houses were flattened in Kendall, power lines were knocked down, were ripped out of the ground.

Gov. Lawton Chiles said: "We keep getting reports that Homestead is hit very very hard. A certain percentage of it is no more. We think we're hit awfully, awfully hard in South Dade."

"It doesn't look like downtown Miami has been hit as hard as it could have been."

Two deaths had been confirmed in the Miami area, Chiles said -- one a heart attack victim, another person killed by a falling tree. Four people were reported killed in the Bahamas late Sunday night.

In Broward, the most widespread problem was the loss of phones and power. There was substantial flooding on Hallandale Beach Boulevard east of U.S. 1 and along State Road A1A in Fort Lauderdale.

Fire gutted an apartment building at 3212 NE Ninth St. in Pompano Beach, and a roof blew off a hangar at Pompano Beach Airfield. At North Perry Airport in Hollywood, two small airplanes were blown into each other on the ground, and a helicopter was flipped into the operations center of a private aircraft company. But there were no reports of injuries in Broward. Already 2,000 National Guardsmen had been deployed, and another 1,000 were being sent from Orlando and West Palm Beach Monday morning. The Coast Guard was being enlisted as well.

Andrew then went spinning through the Everglades, with wind speed reduced to 120 mph. It entered the Gulf of Mexico near Naples and quickly rebounded to 140 mph, aimed toward New Orleans.

The forecasts have the wind building for the next two days, with Andrew heading northwest. Another landfall is reckoned for Thursday, but that is too far ahead for confident forecasting. It depends on who is looking at the computer data:

"We're saying somewhere in southeast Louisiana, near New Orleans, " said Chris Burr, a meteorologist looking at a high- altitude mass of low atmospheric pressure in the western Gulf. Conditions like that draw hurricanes toward them.

President Bush said he would declare Florida a disaster area, enabling 27 government agencies to assist the state with almost any sort of relief. Bush said the Federal Emergency Management Agency already had two teams in the area.

The worst damage in Dade, according to Metro-Dade police director Fred Taylor, was from Kendall Drive south to the Monroe County line. Access to the area would be restricted, he said.

Emergency calls came in quickly after the eye of the storm reached Dade. Taylor said about 5,000 911 calls were received between 2:30 and 4:30 a.m. Volunteers at Broward's Hurricane information center said phones that had been ringing nonstop since Saturday quieted at around 2 a.m. About 42,000 people arrived in county shelters, far below the 70,000 the county had expected. Many people must have gone to friends' homes, said Assistant County Manager Tony Ojeda.

Some calls Monday morning ranged from reports of uprooted trees to missing doors, screens and in a couple of cases roofs. One Broward caller complained that the weather wasn't bad enough. Many people simply called for reassurance, volunteers said.

Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School shelter, one of the largest with 3,000 people -- mostly stranded Miami Beach tourists and elderly from Beach nursing homes and apartments -- lost running water at about 8:30 a.m. They had not had power since 4 a.m. They are operating on emergency power. Red Cross officials are discussing how to ration water.

The power of the storm fluctuated, with steady wind speed at times hitting 155 mph on the way to Florida from the Bahamas. When the eye arrived, the sustained winds were apparently down to 120. Bad, but not as bad as anticipated.

Bob Sheets, head of the Hurricane Center in Coral Gables near the University of Miami, said, "The eye hit shore at 4:35 a.m. over the Turkey Point area; we were in the northern edge."

Sheets said damage seemed to be less than feared, according to preliminary reports. He allowed himself to speculate that the worst damage was done to trees.

"If you take this hurricane and move it anywhere in the country, you'll find it causes considerably more damage than it did here, " he said. "The reason for that is the building codes."

Power outages were everywhere. About 1.3 million of 2 million homes in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County were without power by 8 a.m., said Ray Golden, a spokesman for FPL. In Dade, about 76 percent of people had no power and in Broward the number was even higher, Golden said.

Conditions in Cutler Ridge "couldn't be worse, " said police officer Earl Steinmetz. "The roads are just about impassable with downed lines, downed trees. We're picking our way through the rubble."

"It's impossible to know even where you are because nothing looks the same. It's devastating, " Steinmetz said.

"I'm sitting in the police station, which is half gone. The Government Center roof is all gone. The library is gone. Just getting in here was almost impossible."

No officers were injured when part of the Station 5 roof collapsed, he said.

Steinmetz also said the roof of his home, a mile away, "is gone."

U.S. 1 and State Route 874 were passable, Steinmetz said. But dozens of private airplanes were tossed around the field at Tamiami Airport.

The grim night had its weird coincidences. Two people were arrested for stealing a traffic light from Andrews Avenue and Northeast 13th Street in Fort Lauderdale. Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro spotted them at 8:30 a.m. while he was driving around the county assessing damage.

Surprisingly, Miami Beach was spared the worst of Andrew. It looked bad, worse than it was. A sea of broken glass covered streets. Downed trees and high water made many roads impassable. But there were no reports of flattened buildings or extensive structural damage.

At Burdines on Lincoln Road Mall, the display windows were smashed and mannequins hung from the building at odd angles. Three houseboats were overturned in Indian Creek along the 4700 block of Collins Avenue.

Along Collins Avenue, palm trees were pulled from the ground and tossed into the street. By 7 a.m., most of the signals had broken loose and were lying on the streets.

City repair crews were working by 8 a.m. to fix a broken sewer pump station that serves Miami Beach's northern section. Police were allowing only city employees back onto the Beach. A decision is expected later today on when others can return.

Police also closed Fort Lauderdale Beach Monday morning. On Sunday night, about 1,200 people housed at Dillard High School had to be moved because of concerns over the safety of the roof. It took two hours to move them to Boyd Anderson High School.

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