After seven years in South Florida I had yet to see a major storm. The area had not endured a significant hurricane in half a century. Residents became cocky and overconfident. Homes were less than protected; few had shutters, ours did not. Our community experienced feelings of invincibility, if not hubris. Like the residents of New Orleans immediately before Katrina, South Floridians were confident that no major hurricanes would ever come our way and, even if one did, we could certainly withstand it.
Then came Andrew.
The storm hit early on a Monday morning. The week before, I had been vacationing with my wife Patricia and 20-month old twins at Sanibel Island, on the west coast of Florida. I had glanced at the papers periodically, but focused mostly on the sports pages and some headlines. I recall seeing mention of a storm in the Atlantic, but did not pay close attention.
On Saturday morning, we drove back to Miami. The town appeared normal and there was little talk of hurricanes. That night Patricia and I met some friends for dinner on Miami Beach, leaving the kids with a sitter. During the evening, there was some discussion of the storm, and I decided to get up early the next morning to buy some supplies, just in case.
I woke before seven the next day and drove to our local supermarket, where I found lines extending the length of the store. The shelves were empty. People were buying everything in sight, and leaving only those items that no one wanted. The word was out: Andrew was coming.
I grabbed a few things that I would otherwise never have touched and stepped in line with everyone else. I used my super-vision to spot a six-pack of evaporated milk cans on top of a cooler in a corner of the store (the only such cans there) and grabbed them. I suspected that they would come in handy for the kids in the event that we lost power. I was ecstatic with my purchase, and to this day am amazed that I was able to spot the cans.
I returned home to find Patricia frozen in front of the TV. The screen displayed a map of the Caribbean, with a large, red circular symbol for Andrew sitting just off the coast of Florida. Some quotes from the weatherman:
“This is the big one.”
“Secure your loved ones.”
“There will be casualties.”
I heard the announcer say that the storm would hit overnight. I also heard something about clearing out an interior closet in which to hide as a last resort.
Patricia said: “They are evacuating hundreds of thousands of people.” Our home was on the very edge of the evacuation zone. However, because the principal fear was flooding, and our home sits fairly high above sea level (at least when compared with other South Florida homes) we decided to stay, principally because we really did not know where to go. Andrew was predicted to make landfall around the Dade-Broward line, well north of us, and we were concerned that, by driving north, we would be driving into the storm.
So we stayed. I cleared out an interior closet and invited my friend Joe to stay at our home for the night. Joe lived on Miami Beach, which was next to the water and being evacuated.
Patricia and I spent the afternoon moving items from the tops of dressers to the floor. Our principal fear was that strong winds would sneak into the house and knock over some of the items. We felt that everything would be safer on the floor. We also put masking tape on windows and sliding glass doors, having been told that, if these cracked, the tape would hold the glass together.
I struggled with what to do with the exterior of the house. We had a screened-in pool surrounded by a wooden fence. Around the pool we had installed a safety fence, a necessity for South Florida residents with small children. I tried to remove the pool fence but had trouble with one of the posts. No matter how hard I pulled, the post would not budge from the ground. Eventually, I gave up, wrapped the length of pool fence around the post, tied it with rope, and hoped for the best.
That night, after Joe arrived, we put the kids to bed in their room. Patricia, Joe and I then settled in front of the TV in the family room to watch updates on the storm. There was nothing else on. At around midnight, perhaps exhausted from the excitement and activity of the day, I dozed off. I remember hearing the sound of the TV even after I fell asleep. I do not remember dreaming.
Three hours later, Andrew hit.