On This Day

hurricane andrew

On This Day: Hurricane Andrew Ravages Southern Florida

August 24, 2011 06:00 AM
by James Sullivan
On Aug. 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew stormed across southern Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, leaving an unprecedented trail of devastation.

A Day of Destruction

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On Aug. 14, 10 days before Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Florida, a tropical wave formed off the coast of North Africa. Buffeted by a ridge of high pressure, this atmospheric depression tracked westward across the Atlantic, intensifying into a tropical depression. By Aug. 17 it had become Tropical Storm Andrew.

Conditions of ocean currents and atmospheric pressure caused the storm to take a path southeast of Bermuda. On the morning of Aug. 22 the storm reached hurricane strength and took a trajectory over the Bahamas as a category 4. The storm rapidly intensified as it moved over the Strait of Florida, striking Elliott Key as a category 5 early on the morning of Aug. 24. The storm moved across Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, decelerating due to an approaching cold front, and made its final landfall near Morgan City, La.

On Aug. 24, Hurricane Andrew battered southern Dade County, Fla., with 150 mph winds. One of the most powerful hurricanes of the century, Andrew was catastrophic for its economic impact.

President George H.W. Bush declared a large part of south Florida a disaster area. The New York Times reported that during a visit to survey the damage, the president did his best to offer support to the people affected. “I want to let the people know at this moment, this terrible moment, that all of us are concerned. And I'll say to the people of Florida, the rest of America is here to back you in any way we can.”

Sporadic looting occurred in evacuated areas of Florida, but was prevented from escalating by local law enforcement and the National Guard.

Aftermath

Scenes of the storm’s aftermath were surreal—row upon row of houses looked as if they’d been crushed by giants or leveled by bombs. Entire subdivisions were reduced to seas of broken boards and shattered glass.

Suddenly, the landscape was fantastical: tall palm trees yanked out of the ground with balls of roots and turf still attached, leaving lawns looking like pockmarked green carpets. In places, it was as if a giant, mad wood-chopper had hacked its way through cypresses, pines and palms,” wrote James Barron in the Times. “In other places, roofs had been sheared away like sardine-can lids and sailboats grabbed from the water and dropped randomly on what had been dry land.”

In advance of Hurricane Andrew’s landfall, more than 1 million people were evacuated from their houses. These extensive evacuation procedures can be credited for the storm’s relatively limited human toll. According to statistics provided by the National Hurricane Center, 26 people died as a direct result of the storm, and a further 65 suffered indirect deaths.

Hurricane Andrew’s legacy is the economic toll it took on the state of Florida. Until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Andrew was the costliest natural disaster in United States history, causing an estimated $30 billion worth of damage. Additionally, a quarter of a million people were left homeless in the wake of the storm, either because their houses were destroyed or made inaccessible.

Reverberations

Ten years after the hurricane, the people of Florida were still feeling its effects. The storm not only changed the lives of Florida residents, it also changed insurance policy and construction codes. Of the billions of dollars of damaged caused by the storm, $16 billion worth of losses were insured. Residents filed 600,000 claims, leading to the bankruptcy of 11 insurance companies and the decimation of the surpluses held by 30 others.

With insurers fleeing the area, lawmakers created the Joint Underwriting Association and the Florida Windstorm Underwriting Association to ensure coverage for residents living in “hurricane-prone areas.”

“Another change was the creation of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund,” reported Adrian Sainz for The Associated Press. “It provides reinsurance—insurance for private writers—and is capped at $11 billion. It is intended to make certain insurance companies aren’t overexposed should another hurricane like Andrew strike.”

After the hurricane, homeowners and insurers got into a row with contractors, who they accused of “shoddy building practices and a lack of code enforcement.” As a result, Florida’s already strict building codes were made stricter.

What Is a Hurricane?

Hurricanes are defined as “tropical cyclones with winds greater than 64 knots.” NASA has a feature for kids called “Tropical Twisters,” which has some fascinating videos showing real hurricanes in motion, as well as computer-simulated movies that show exactly what’s going on inside the eye of the storm. The site answers questions like “Why Do Hurricanes Move?” and “How Dangerous Are They?”

Check out findingDulcinea’s article, “Nature Wages War: Tornadoes, Hurricanes and Tsunamis” to find more links to interesting articles and multimedia features exploring what happens when water, wind and extreme temperatures collide.
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