It was 20 years ago: Hurricane Andrew struck Florida

Hurricane Andrew satellite view
graphic: NOAA

Twenty years ago, Hurricane Andrew roared through south Florida. Although I live about 50 miles from the hurricane’s eye, my house groaned in the high winds. The storm built to a crescendo overnight. It “roared and growled and snapped and howled”.[*] I couldn’t see much of anything in the dark night. The cracking sounds of falling trees and limbs punctuated the shrieking night wind. My cat assumed the meatloaf position on a bed, her eyes wide open, ears at full attention. She knew that this was a big deal.

The following morning, as things quieted, we learned via broadcast AM radio that the town of Homestead, about 70 miles to the south, had been flattened. Ad-hoc collection centers for supply trucks had been established in my county. I gathered my unused lantern, tent, and sleeping bag, drove to the nearest collection center, and loaded them into a truck that was headed to Homestead. The trucks quickly filled with food, water, and tools, before driving south to Homestead.

Someone had painted on a box, in large letters, the encouraging words, “Hang in there!”

Seeing this effort come together was a very moving experience. It was a case of one neighbor helping another, with little or no government participation. It took me by surprise, since south Florida is not known for its cozy harmony.

During the next few days, I used my mobile 2-meter ham radio transceiver to help relay messages from Homestead. (Their telephone system had been torn apart by the storm, and Dade County’s 800-MHz trunked public safety system was knocked off the air. Most Broward County 2-meter amateur radio repeaters remained on the air.) I didn’t drive to Homestead, as I was told that I’d just get lost and interfere with essential traffic.

The whole experience restored my faith in people. That morning after the storm, it was wonderful to see how generous my neighbors were!

* The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge


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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

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