[I was asked by several people for my memories of Hurricane Andrew's assault on South Florida. I don't have anything to add to this post from August 2011.]
I was living with my wife in a Plantation apartment when Hurricane Andrew struck. I believe it was Marie’s first hurricane, and while I had been through several tropical storms during my twenty-two years in South Florida, it might as well have been my first, too.
This comes to mind because I recently discovered a small group of torn-loose steno pages in a dusty manila folder. The day prior to projected landfall I had started scribbling down some notes for some reason. Since this was years before the founding of Hidden City, I can only assume it was for possible use in my ‘zine of the time, Ambergris From Leviathan, but in truth I have no idea. Maybe I was writing myself past the fear. I do that.
It’s a bit premature, I know, but for your possible amusement I’ve transcribed the notes as is. Again, these are from August 23 and 24, 1992.
I guess I should start this before things get too weird.
I first heard about the hurricane on Friday, I guess, on national news (NPR). I didn’t pay much attention to it, because it had been a hellish week at work, and I was too brain-dead to notice much. On Saturday Tucker made a joke about it, and Tanya took Marie “hurricane shopping” with her.
When I got up this morning, there was news on the TV about it heading dead for us, with no chance of petering out. I went to the office to shut down the computers and phones. On the way to the ATM to get cash, I gave a ride to an elderly man I saw walking along.
His name was Sam, and he was heading to church. He had lived through several hurricanes himself, but seemed cautiously confident.
We decided to go to my parents’ house, and dismantled our apartment. I took all our photos and financial records and put them in boxes, along with all my diskettes and copies of AFL. We called the insurance company, and we are covered for $20,700. Marie said she had the REM song “It’s the End of the World, as We Know it” playing in her head.
Custer [our cat] has not taken well to the new quarters. My mother has three cats here (all bullies), plus she has taken in two neighborhood cats. As soon as Custer got out of the carrier, she rqan under a cabinet, and refuses to come out. I am very worried about her.
I have been (predictably) thinking about my mortality today. I have done a lot of evil things in my life, which I won’t ever atone for. The last few years I have tried to be a better person, as much as I can be. But maybe this is the end? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.
The scariest thing about this hurricane is that for all the preparations my father and I have made, we could still be killed by the roof coming off the house. Nothing we can do about it, and it isn’t likely. There are also some windows int he house — facing a well-protected entranceway — which do not have shutters. We could lose one of those window, and get some very scary results. But it should be okay.
I have also had a lot of thoughts for friends in dangerous areas. Millie and Al live in the first evacuation area, but when I called at 10am, I got their machine. I hope they are okay. Also my friend Otto, and Bebbie and Ronnie, who just moved to Kendall.
The saving grace of having to watch all the TV coverage has been Brian Norcross, Channel 4 weatherman. He has taken a no-bullshit attitude, calling people who won’t evacuate “plain stupid.”
It is strange being in my parents’ house. I took a shower in my old bathroom, and we’ll be sleeping in my old room. No hurricane party here, though. We have things to drink, and I brought a bottle of Courvoisier from the apartment (for medicinal purposes, of course), and ‘Rie brought Wild Turkey.
5:00 AM: Woke up when A/C went off. Still just like a real bad thunderstorm. We have finally gotten Custer to come out — okay, she came out on her own, and we left her alone until she had calmed down some — and into my old bedroom. Marie & I slept for a while, but once it really kicked in, I wanted to get up and write this. Bryan Norcross and Channel 4 miraculously stayed on the air, radio and TV both. The National Hurricane Center was hit by a gust of wind at 164 mph, and their radar unit was wiped out completely.
6:40 AM: We should be getting the worst of it in the next couple of hours. Custer is terrified, mewing and panting. (It is starting to get hot and stuffy.) The odd thin is that we discovered that she is afraid of the dark. While the light is on she is scared but okay. When I turn it off, though, she immediately starts to cry.
I made an error earlier. I convinced Custer to come into the bedroom with us, which would have been okay save for one thing: the room faces the entranceway, and has a wall of unprotected windows. I don’t want to risk her staying in that room and sitting on the wondowsill, so I took out her litter box, bowl, and water, and put them in the hall right outside the door. She seems to be doing better now, though.
6:55 AM: The sun is theoretically coming up. It is getting a little lighter outside, and has the gray-violet look of a severe storm. The winds come and go.
Brian is still going. The reports are interesting — rumors of disasters, reporters trapped in cars, talking on cellular phones. Now they say we might get off relatively easy. We shall see.
7:18 AM: Went outside with my father. His carambola tree was wiped out by the neighbors’ black olive, which was overgrown and lost its top. On this street there are a few dead trees strewn about, but it doesn’t look too bad. Then again, it isn’t over yet.
The notes abruptly end. Of course the storm turned south, leaving Plantation and Fort Lauderdale relatively unharmed while devastating southern Dade County. Our apartment suffered a bit of water damage due to a leaky roof, but was otherwise unscathed. I can’t say the same for many other friends.
This is probably why I never continued. In my life I observe the events around me, both to keep myself fully in the moment and then to lock down details in case it should prove a good topic for an essay. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work out that way, because it just wasn’t that interesting, or I can’t find a handle on the story, or, sometimes, because my observations seem so small, so petty, in the enormity of the total event.
Nineteen years later I remember the building fear all too well. But I also remember the relief when we were spared the brunt of the storm, and the tremendous guilt I felt over that relief when the extent of the impact became known. Since Andrew I have taken storms seriously, very seriously. Right now my pantry has a good stock of canned tuna and saltines, and I know my evacuation plans and routes by heart.
I also spent a lot of time with my ex-employer’s emergency operations center, working on business continuity plans and disaster preparedness. Sure, a lot of that focus was on helping the company survive a disaster, but even when management’s focus was elsewhere, I devoted my energy to doing what I could to provide systems and services to help the afflicted employees and their families, when a storm struck. It was the right thing to do, of course, but it also helped me atone in a small way for my relief at avoiding Andrew’s wrath.