The winds picked up at around 3:00 A.M. It was Monday, August 24, 1992, and Hurricane Andrew had made landfall in South Florida.
I was awakened by the sound of wind rustling through the trees outside my home. The TV weatherman said something that, in my half-slumber, I could not understand. My wife Patricia sat transfixed, following the storm coverage. My friend Joe, who had evacuated from Miami Beach, dozed on a nearby couch. Our 20-month old twins slept in their bedroom on the other side of the house.
When the winds became stronger, we turned off the set, grabbed flashlights, and walked to the hall on the bedroom side. I followed the advice of an earlier newscaster and hit the main switch, shutting off power throughout the house. We had been told that electrical drops and surges would occur throughout the night, and it would be safer to have power off altogether.
When the winds became stronger still, we picked up the kids and brought them with us into the hall. We sat on pillows, in the dark, ready to wait out what we suspected would be a long night.
What had begun as a barely discernable echo, the sound of rustling leaves, now reverberated throughout the house, increasing in intensity, letting up slightly, then increasing again. The noise from the thunder was deafening. The rain beat upon the roof and windows with such intensity that I wondered how the glass held up.
As the minutes passed and the noise outside grew louder, we looked nervously at each other, waiting for something, although none of us knew what. Then it came. At around 4:00 A.M., the wooden trap on the hall ceiling leading into the attic lifted with a popping sound. The roof had been compromised. The winds were in our home.
We gathered the kids and crowded into an interior closet I had cleaned out the previous day, again on the advice of a local weatherman. I had never imagined that we would actually use the closet. I had cleaned it out merely in an abundance of caution. But now there we were. The closet would be our sanctuary for the next several hours.
I had often heard the sound of a hurricane compared to that of a rushing locomotive, and believed that to be an exaggeration. I was wrong. The noise was relentless, filling every inch of the night, pressing into our heads until our ears felt on the edge of exploding. We kept expecting a letup that never came. As the hours passed, the noise intensified. The rain striking our roof brought images of an avalanche of stones dropping from above. The lapse between thunder strikes dissolved until it seemed as if one giant bolt of lightning engulfed the entire area, setting off explosion after explosion. The wind howled like a wounded animal in the throes of agony. We could literally not hear ourselves think.
We sat inside the closet, in near darkness, the only light coming from our flashlights. We heard the sound of glass breaking, wooden boards shifting, and car alarms outside the house. The sound of our battery-operated radio was barely discernable. There was fear in the newscaster’s voice.
At some point we felt water seep into the closet. It came from above and below, pouring down the walls from the ceiling, and steadily drifting in from outside, like a heavy fog emerging from under the closet doors. Our son had no inkling of what we were experiencing. Joe held him, while he splashed playfully about until he eventually drifted into sleep. Our daughter was a different story. She could sense something was wrong and refused to set foot on the wet floor. She clung to my wife and screamed uncontrollably. We held her and dampened her face lightly to help her calm down.
I sat with my back against the closet door, subconsciously pressing against it to protect us from the ravages outside. At one point I looked at Patricia, who held our daughter close to her. The look in Patricia’s eyes mirrored my own. As atmospheric pressure took its toll on my ears and my heart palpitated against my chest, I felt fear and regret that we had not evacuated. We had made a decision to stay for lack of other alternatives, yet I now feared that the decision would be costly for all of us, especially our children. They had no say in whether we stayed on fled. They trusted us completely, and I felt we had betrayed that trust.
Patricia looked at me and silently mouthed the words: “I’m really scared.” I was too. And as the hours passed, and the storm intensified, I wondered whether we would ever safely emerge from the closet.