Hurricane Andrew

Hurricane Andrew was knocking at the door, and this is how we got ready

Note: On Aug. 23, 1992, South Florida got ready for Hurricane Andrew. Officials sounded warnings and people bought supplies, moved boats and hit the road. Devastation followed the next day, on Aug. 24. This is coverage from Miami Herald archives published the day before the hurricane hit.

Throughout South Florida, the thought materialized in the morning like a darkening blip on the horizon: This could be it. And by Saturday night, this thought billowed into something that was not quite fear, but close enough.

Call it advanced apprehension: This really could be it. We’d better get ready.

With Hurricane Andrew drawing a direct bead on Florida’s long, vulnerable coast, civil defense coordinators gathered in thick-walled bunkers and issued the following advice Saturday night:

Above all, do not panic. Stay in touch through the local media. Be alert and be ready. Evacuation orders may be issued today for certain areas.

Kate Hale, director of Dade’s Office of Emergency Management, said residents of Miami Beach, Surfside, Sunny Isles, Key Biscayne and other coastal areas should be particularly vigilant for evacuation orders today.

Said Arthur St. Amand, director of Broward County’s Division of Emergency Preparedness: “We’ve got a huge storm and, obviously, it’s heading right in our direction. We’re moving very rapidly.”

As were many people. The state opened its round-the-clock emergency center Saturday in Tallahassee, and coordinators throughout the state fine-tuned their plans.

“This is one of those 14-day weeks,” Thomas S. Rodgers, an emergency specialist with the Broward County chapter of the American Red Cross, told volunteers who could be assigned to 37 shelters in Broward.

Mark Goggin, another Red Cross emergency specialist, said Broward residents in any zones marked for evacuation should use shelters as a last resort. Their “primary option” should be to leave the area.

“We have room for 110,000 [in Broward], and that’s a tight fit,” Goggin said.

Farther north, workers at the Kennedy Space Center battened down the hatches and tentatively delayed the rollout of space shuttle Endeavour, which had been scheduled to move from a hangar to the launch pad Monday night.

Throughout South and Central Florida, people crowded into stores Saturday in search of batteries, flashlights, radios, plywood, bottled water, canned food. By Saturday night, some store shelves were bare.

At the Costco Wholesale Club in Davie, business was up 40 percent. Said manager Tom Haglund: “Today was like a Christmas day for us. It’s flying out.”

As expected, among the most popular items were plywood sheets to cover windows and glass doors.

“Every car I’ve seen on the road this afternoon has plywood strapped to the roof,” said Henry Losey, a fire rescue battalion chief in Sebastian, north of Vero Beach. “It’s unreal.”

David Maraj, lumber manager at Builder’s Square in Kendall, said the store sold 1,000 plywood sheets by 2 p.m. -- more than 10 times the usual amount. Today, he said, the store will have a truckload of the stuff in the parking lot for quicker, easier transactions.

At a Fort Lauderdale supermarket, Ben Clutter, 61, filled up his cart with canned goods. As a child, he learned to appreciate the fury of a major hurricane. It is something one never forgets.

“I want to be ready,” Clutter said. “I lived through the hurricane of ‘35, and we didn’t even have time to board up the house. The hurricane went up to Lake Okeechobee and did a U- turn.

“We ended up nailing the dining room table to a broken window.”

In Key West, crowds surged through Scotty’s hardware outlet.

“We’re sold all out of flashlights and flashlight batteries,” said employee John Ford Davis. “Gas grills are going real quick too.

“The gas pumps are staying busy too. Everybody wants to have enough fuel to get out of the Keys.”

Or enough fuel to last several days, if the worst were to occur.

Throughout coastal Florida, cars crawled into gasoline stations, where lines appeared late Saturday, and these cars had their radios turned up just a bit because there was important news to be heard.

“The more I hear, the more I worry,” said Susie Borgmeier, waiting to pump gas at a Vero Beach service station well positioned, for now, on the causeway linking the beach and the mainland.

Also on the move Saturday: boats. Everywhere.

At the Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove, Ron Staino waited for a friend to help secure his 30-foot sailboat at a safer spot up the Miami River. But first, Staino was removing some possessions from a boat that had served him well as a home.

“I saw what happened in Charleston . . . and I’m not taking any chances,” said Staino, referring to Hurricane Hugo, which devastated the Carolinas in 1989. “Everybody waited until the last minute.”

Such is human nature, but so is a sense of humor, which helps to lighten dark times.

John Hamilton, who lives on a 27-foot sailboat docked at the 79th Street Causeway in Dade, plans to anchor his boat off the Intracoastal’s main channel and rig the vessel to keep it from being slammed around.

On the other hand, joked Hamilton:

“If the boat is meant to sink, then God must have a bigger one in mind for me.”

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