Hurricane Andrew Devastates Southern Florida Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Hurricane Andrew was the costliest and most damaging hurricane to hit the United States in the twentieth century and resulted in the deaths of sixty-five people. The storm’s record winds included gusts nearing speeds of two hundred miles per hour. Government response to the vast destruction and chaos revealed bureaucratic confusion and incompetence and miscommunication at local, state, and federal levels.

Summary of Event

For almost three decades, no severe hurricanes had struck southern Florida until August, 1992. Two days after a tropical wave formed off western Africa on August 14, the National Hurricane Center National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Coral Gables, Florida, said that the wave had become a tropical depression. On August 17, the NHC designated that depression the tropical storm Andrew. Moving west across the Atlantic, the storm grew into Hurricane Andrew, which would become the costliest hurricane in U.S. history until Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast in 2005. Disasters;hurricanes Hurricane Andrew [kw]Hurricane Andrew Devastates Southern Florida (Aug. 24, 1992) [kw]Andrew Devastates Southern Florida, Hurricane (Aug. 24, 1992) [kw]Southern Florida, Hurricane Andrew Devastates (Aug. 24, 1992) [kw]Florida, Hurricane Andrew Devastates Southern (Aug. 24, 1992) Disasters;hurricanes Hurricane Andrew [g]North America;Aug. 24, 1992: Hurricane Andrew Devastates Southern Florida[08400] [g]United States;Aug. 24, 1992: Hurricane Andrew Devastates Southern Florida[08400] [c]Disasters;Aug. 24, 1992: Hurricane Andrew Devastates Southern Florida[08400] Chiles, Lawton M., Jr. Edwards, Edwin Bush, George H. W. [p]Bush, George H. W.;Hurricane Andrew Sheets, Robert C. Stickney, Wallace Card, Andrew Heldstab, John C. Hale, Kate

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Several weather systems shaped Hurricane Andrew’s strength and path, and it reached the northwestern islands of the Bahamas before evening on August 23. The storm’s 120-mile-per-hour winds caused a surge to rise twenty-three feet, engulfing coastal areas on Eleuthera Island, damaging buildings, eroding beaches, and resulting in the drowning of four people. Heading west through the Florida Straits, the hurricane intensified to a category 4 before making landfall.

At the NHC, meteorologists monitored the storm during the night, recommending an evacuation of people from the southeastern Florida coast. NHC director Robert C. Sheets appeared on television, warning south Floridians to leave, and newspaper, radio, and television reporters stressed the urgency of the impending hurricane. Governor Lawton M. Chiles, Jr., declared a state of emergency for Florida.

Before dawn on August 24, Hurricane Andrew moved through Elliott Key, Florida, and reached shore near Homestead in Dade County, approximately thirty miles south of Miami. Meteorologists measured the storm’s central barometric pressure at 922 millibars (27.23 inches) and its winds at 145 miles per hour. Winds accelerated to 175 miles per hour, gusting to 190 miles per hour, and the surge neared seventeen feet. Pouring rain, gusts, and mini-swirls, which resembled tornadoes, sheared trees, flooded transportation routes, and severed electrical cables. The Everglades suffered significant losses of mangroves, wildlife, and habitats.

The category 4 winds of Hurricane Andrew embedded this plank in the trunk of a royal palm.

(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Because most television stations lost broadcasting equipment, only two stations aired during the hurricane. Meteorologist Brian Norcross Norcross, Brian of station WTVJ broadcast via television and radio from a storage room, comforting listeners throughout the storm. Reconnaissance airplanes observed the hurricane, and satellite and radar images documented its movement. Hurricane Andrew’s winds destroyed measuring instruments and the radar dish at the NHC.

By August 25, Hurricane Andrew had entered the Gulf of Mexico. The warm temperatures of the gulf’s waters intensified the hurricane’s energy as it moved northwest, arcing toward Louisiana. Because NHC personnel projected Hurricane Andrew and its accompanying surge might hit near New Orleans, approximately 1.2 million residents evacuated areas vulnerable to flooding.

On the next morning, Hurricane Andrew’s winds struck Louisiana ninety miles west of New Orleans near Lafayette and New Iberia at a speed of 115 miles per hour, with gusts as high as 160 miles per hour, severely damaging structures and disrupting utilities. Lafayette and Marsh Island were hardest hit. Two people died when a tornado from the hurricane hit La Place. By nightfall on August 26, Hurricane Andrew, designated a tropical storm earlier at noon, headed northeast, losing wind speed. Tornadoes caused damage as the hurricane’s remnants moved through Mississippi toward the mid-Atlantic coast.

National Weather Service Disaster Survey Team crews flew above damaged areas in helicopters. Although statistics on the hurricane damage vary, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration U.S. damages totaled $26.5 billion, with $1 billion in damages in Louisiana and the rest in southern Florida. At the time, Andrew was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Approximately $250 million in damages occurred in the Bahamas. About 250,000 Floridians lost their homes. Damages included U.S. Air Force property at the Homestead military base, and 22,000 homes were damaged in Louisiana. The hurricane was responsible for twenty-three deaths in the United States and three in the Bahamas, with the storm indirectly causing thirty-nine deaths.

President George H. W. Bush arrived in Florida twelve hours after the hurricane left the area. Kate Hale, director of the Dade County Emergency Management Agency, met him, Governor Chiles, and Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Wallace Stickney at the airport. The president declared South Florida a disaster area and visited his son’s home, which had sustained some damage. Two days later, President Bush designated hurricane-damaged areas in Louisiana as federally recognized disaster sites when he met with Governor Edwin Edwards. Despite the president’s declarations, relief did not immediately arrive.

Major General John C. Heldstab, Army director of military disaster relief, had tracked Hurricane Andrew’s path in the Atlantic Ocean and prepared at the Pentagon for relief work but was frustrated that he could not deliver those services, because there was no effective communication and coordination between state and FEMA officials. Secretary of Transportation Andrew Card talked with Chiles and state legislators regarding the aid impasse, explaining that unless the state asked for help formally, none would be issued. Chiles did not understand that President Bush’s declaration of disaster sites had not automatically deployed military and FEMA aid.

In Florida, three days after Hurricane Andrew had hit, Dade County leaders worried their communities, lacking electricity and experiencing water and food shortages, would escalate into violence. Emergency aid providers were poorly prepared to help the hurricane’s victims. Local and state relief efforts were insufficient.

Furious about the lack of relief, Hale spoke out on national news programs, stressing the urgent need for federal assistance. Soon after this, President Bush arranged for twenty thousand soldiers, and ships with several hundred tons of food and supplies, to be deployed to the disaster areas. The U.S. Army sent personnel to erect tents for those left homeless by the hurricane. More than three thousand National Guard troops assisted people and protected them from looters.

Significance

Meteorologists declared Hurricane Andrew the third-strongest hurricane in U.S. history. (It was moved to fourth when Hurricane Katrina took its place in 2005.) Hurricane Andrew caused overwhelming physical and socioeconomic devastation, leveling entire neighborhoods and communities. Florida’s agriculture suffered more than $1 billion in damages. Fifty percent of Louisiana’s agriculture, worth $350 million, was destroyed. Approximately 86,000 Floridians lost jobs as a result of the hurricane when businesses were wiped out physically or financially.

Victims filed insurance claims for damaged properties. Some insurance agencies went bankrupt, because policyholders filed as many as 700,000 claims, which paid $18.5 billion. Unfortunately, some property owners had not paid for complete coverage of losses and could not afford to rebuild. Post-Andrew insurance premiums increased to offset hurricane losses, and policies distinguished between wind and water damages, limiting owners’ options to protect investments in hurricane zones.

The hurricane severely wounded the environment. Scientists detected damaged reefs seventy-five feet deep. Surges and winds impacted natural gas and oil reserves and released toxic materials. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cleaned up 12.7 million cubic yards of debris. The National Park Service oversaw the restoration of damaged sites that had natural resources and archaeological value.

As a result of the devastating hurricane, scientists strived to develop better forecasting methods. Many government relief agencies, including FEMA, were criticized for their mishandling of the disaster, and their shortcomings would be revealed again when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Chiles encouraged Florida legislators to improve disaster preparation and response. He promoted the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, in which states assist others if governors declare emergency situations.

In 2002, Hurricane Andrew survivors remembered the impact of that storm when a plaque commemorating the tenth anniversary was placed at Biscayne National Park. Disasters;hurricanes Hurricane Andrew

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lyskowski, Roman, and Steve Rice, eds. The Big One: Hurricane Andrew. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews McMeel, 1992. Photographs and text from the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald presented chronologically. Includes people’s accounts of the disaster.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Peacock, Walter Gillis, Betty Hearn Morrow, and Hugh Gladwin, eds. Hurricane Andrew: Ethnicity, Gender, and the Sociology of Disasters. New York: Routledge, 1997. Focuses on socioeconomic and racial aspects of Hurricane Andrew relief policies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Provenzo, Eugene F., Jr., and Sandra H. Fradd. Hurricane Andrew, the Public Schools, and the Rebuilding of Community. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Examines Hurricane Andrew’s damage to schools and how education provides continuity during relief and recovery.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Provenzo, Eugene F., Jr., and Asterie Baker Provenzo. In the Eye of Hurricane Andrew. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002. Interviews with people who experienced the storm firsthand.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tuckwood, Jan, ed. Hurricane Andrew: Images from the Killer Storm. Marietta, Ga.: Longstreet Press, 1992. Includes articles, images, and maps from the Palm Beach Post thoroughly documenting diverse aspects of Hurricane Andrew experiences and relief work.

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