A Child’s View of Hurricane Andrew
The scene at Summit Towers
"That action somehow caused her window to burst and led to much screaming, a new loud whistle from the wind, and more panic from the same floor. She wanted to find refuge in the stairwell because she was convinced she was going to get sucked out.."
I was 6 years old when hurricane Andrew struck Miami. My mother tells me stories of how my father did not believe they were in any danger. He still gives me a hard time when I call him about severe weather headed his way. After watching the news the evening before Andrew hit Florida, he realized he needed to prepare for the coming storm. He went to the grocery store and found the shelves empty of canned food and bottled water. He was too late for last minute preparations. As he was driving he noticed people leaving the home improvement stores with plywood. He was able to buy some to protect our windows.
We went with my dad as he nailed plywood to the outside of our church building, sealing our missionaries in, as that was the safest building for them to bunker down in for the coming storm. As evening descended, my 8 year old and 1 month old sisters and I were put to bed for the night. My parents stayed up to watch the news and wait for the oncoming storm. Some time past midnight, our parents took all of us from our beds into the bathroom to wait out the storm. We knew there was a storm coming and had been warned we might be woken up, so we weren’t too grumpy. Actually we were excited. We heard talk about the strong winds and things that could fly around in the air and we wanted to see it in action. We pleaded to look out the window and my older sister was given that chance. I was very upset, but I later learned that the plywood was nailed to the outside of the windows and nothing could be seen anyway. My dad says the eye of the storm never crossed over us to give us respite, but we were on the north side of the eye getting pummeled for hours. My dad recalls having to brace himself on our front door to keep it closed. Though our apartment building had interior doors we were located on the first floor just to the left past the lobby. The lobby doors were made of glass and broke in the ferocity of the wind. In the middle of the storm’s chaos, a lady up on the 4th or 5th floor of our building panicked and opened her hallway door. That action somehow caused her window to burst and led to much screaming, a new loud whistle from the wind, and more panic from the same floor. She wanted to find refuge in the stairwell because she was convinced she was going to get sucked out her window. Her neighbors opened their doors to check on her, which led to more broken windows and a path for the high winds to cross through. Luckily, there were only mild injuries in our building.
After the winds died down, the sun was already up and we emerged to see what kind of damage we were in for. There was a canopy in front of our apartment building before the storm, but after it was just a bunch of mangled metal bars. We spent about five minutes outside looking at the wreckage when we were assaulted by painful hail. I remember wondering why I felt like nails were hitting me. It was my first experience being hit by hail. We had to wait a little while longer before starting our cleanup. When the hail stopped, we found a big mess and all the cars pushed together. We had a tree 2 to 3 inches in diameter in our car through the back left window!
As children, we were given simple jobs. We were in charge of picking up small limbs and piling them up out of the way in the parking lot. We also would fill buckets of water that were being pulled up by rope to the top floors of our building so they could still flush their toilets. Unfortunately, there were jobs that even most adults could not accomplish. In the entranceway to the parking lot was a large downed tree that was blocking our only way out. It took two days for someone to come with machinery to pull the tree out of the way. Finally, everyone could use their cars to travel again, if they were in drivable condition.
My dad comes from a family who like to camp, so we owned two Coleman stoves. One was taken by my dad, on bike, to our church building where he had to go with a hammer and pry bar to release the missionaries from the building. The other stove was with my mother, stationed outside the entrance of our apartment building, and people started lining up to be able to cook themselves some food. Our stove was the only other means of cooking anyone had in the apartments. My mom kept order with the line of hungry people, and made sure our stove wasn’t stolen. The other option people chose were to start fires and cook on rocks. The absence of air-conditioning wasn’t too big of a deal for us kids, but the rain everyday made it hard to clean up.
After a couple of days we joined our dad who had spent most of his time organizing and helping out with relief efforts at our church building. I remember seeing a tent with a hose going through the top which served as a shower. There was a Red Cross truck parked in the lot and medical people were stationed in many of the classrooms in the church. There were piles of clothes in half the cultural hall (gym area) and many sleeping bags and personal affects in the other. My mom recalls that some eighty or so missionaries were asked to come and stay at the church to help in recovery efforts. They were the ones sleeping in the cultural hall every night for weeks. There always seemed to be multiple helicopters in the sky. I questioned my mom about that and she says within the first few days the military flew in and took over the city. I remember lots of canned food, which was sorted and delivered to those with the most need. We even had to eat uncooked, canned food at the church because we were there most of the day. It was the first time I ever ate canned peaches, and even to this day I love the taste. I remember accidently stepping on an upturned nail, and though the wound wasn’t deep or wide enough for stitches, I had to get a tetanus shot. My mom wasn’t too upset because we were 30 seconds from medical professionals armed and ready with the vaccine I needed.
I think our apartment building was very lucky because, as I found out from reading my mom’s journal, it only took 6 days for our electricity to be restored. Our stove clock turned on and as soon as my mom noticed it she started jumping and yelling very excitedly. I remember being sent to the old neighbor lady across the hall to tell her the good news. We were all excited to receive a big step toward normalcy.
As I read the passages in my mother’s journal about the incident I realized, though this was a trying and hard experience, there were some wonderful consequences as well. She recounted a story about a business man, always in a nice suit, who never spoke to any of his neighbors, and always carried an air of importance. After hurricane Andrew we were all humbled and had to work together to survive. The pool shower still had a trickle of water and people lined up to clean themselves. She passed this business man waiting to shower and he was in pajamas and started talking to people, including my mother. Our building became a much closer community. We actually knew our neighbors and we became more than just people you pass by every day. In fact, everywhere we went we seemed to see people giving their time, effort, and love to those around who were in need. I want to thank my parents who still love each other and give everything they can when they find people who need help.