Hurricane Andrew... a Look Back From Miami Beach
As Tropical Storm Isaac spins down in the Caribbean, still trying to get his act together, I'm putting up a few personal, pictures of Hurricane Andrew and the damage he caused in Miami Beach. The above image is my hurricane map that I used to track Hurricane Andrew on, day by day, advisory by advisory in real time. I added in the last part after he hit Miami several days later. And old map gotten at Publix that I put little hurricane symbols on as he moved slowly towards Miami, a very disorganized storm for days until he pulled his act together and turned sharply west and caused a lot of damage in my backyard just south of 41street also known as Arthur Godfrey Road.
And, he did cause a lot of damage in Miami Beach although it was not shown in the media much, and the City of Miami Beach jumped in extremely fast to start digging out the sand on Collins Avenue and picking up the large AC units that fell from Condos onto the ground below. One major AC unit fell on Byron and blocked the road around 71st street. Signage was down all over the beach... bits and pieces of signs from 41st Street littered surrounding streets for several blocks. Bits and pieces of the Dry Cleaners Sign was near 34th Street blocks away, a large piece of it on 37th Street. Awnings which had become very popular in the year or two before the storm were ripped into shreds, a sort of retro bubble art deco like awning that all the stores on 41st Street began to install one after the other in a monkey see, monkey do procedure. Very cute awnings, most ripped to shreds. Sand from the beach thinly covered Collins, piling in some areas. Trees were down everywhere and the trees that remained were pretty shredded. That's what strong hurricanes do, they shred everything in their path as the storm blows in pulses and blasts, but it blows constantly and it begins to pick up everything in it's path. Once the Deli sign goes, those pieces go with the wind and slice into other signs and awnings....it's an aerial ballet of sorts but one that is usually (for some reason no one knows) usually happens at dark and it is only illuminated and punctuated by transformers popping turning the sky quickly an electric violet color before going black again. The damage is seen in the morning during clean up.
The traffic lights were ripped from the wires, tossed all over the ground. I don't think we had a traffic light on 40th Street until October or November, just little stop signs with blinking warnings. Some houses had window damage, some houses had roof damage. The older houses with the old barrel, tile rooftops had the least damage....they were built with good, old, real barrel tiles brought over from Cuba, weathered and tough and installed with real craftsmanship. The newer ones didn't fare as perfectly. The modern roof tops peeled in a few places depending on the design of the home, most were fixed faster than those in South Dade. A rooftop from a very modern house that had big modern wings at odd angles took flight and landed in the backyard of a pool of a house on Pine Tree Drive. A block or two away the old Mary Pickford Estate suffered tremendous tree damage, big, old trees that ripped apart one of the main junctions for other electric lines and it took weeks... closer to a month to resolve that problem.
No telephone for the most part.
No traffic lights working.
No water for a few days until they could ascertain that the line was safe from contamination.
No air moving, very hot and dry after the storm passed and we all literally baked for days.
We did have the ocean, where many people went for an afternoon swim to cool off and we did have afternoon rain storms where we stood outside waiting to cool off and clean up. Nothing feels as good as rain on your face, your head... as a rainstorm in late August when the electric is out.
Some of the two story homes on Alton Road facing the golf course had window damage, mostly homes that did not board up or that had large picture windows. On Pine Tree Drive, some of the big pine trees came down and landed on houses... the one above was my friend's house around the block from where I lived. This looked a lot worse in person, luckily it was a part of the tree... and it just sort of tapped the front porch... looked scarier than it was but you get the general idea...........
For the most part the old art deco cottages of the Mid Beach were fine.. but it was a big clean up.
The trees would come up from the ground, huge ficus trees and rip the entire sidewalk up complete with all the water lines and take out light poles with it. Transformers were down, big ones... there was a really big one down in the Nautilus section that FPL was very good about getting up and off the road very fast.
How do I know all of this?
I stayed with my family on Miami Beach on 34th and Sheridan and was witness to what Miami Beach looked like while all of the attention was on South Dade. As the crow flies, we were just north of the eye wall that rampaged Key Biscayne to our South. Miami Beach got lucky and I mean lucky by a matter of miles, ten.. twenty? Check out the distance on a map (not a Google driving map) from say 17th and Alton Road to Key Biscayne ...not that far.. but far enough for us to suffer a milder storm.
Oh...did I mention the tornadoes? Probably not. There were swaths across Miami Beach that were most likely attributed to straight line winds or down bursts. Some said tornadoes. One was around 35th Street... where the roof took flight. A large swatch of trees were down and strong home damage up around 56th or 57th that went from Pine Tree across the beach to Alton. Things happen in the middle of the night during the storm that cannot be documented easily, but debris tales can tell the story after the fact.
But, in general we got lucky. We got very lucky. We had no electric, we had no trash pick up for weeks (talking the bulk trash that picks up the trees that were cut down and the furniture that was tossed out that got water logged when windows broke and anything else that someone threw into your trash pile in front of your house that began to look like a barricade of sorts often 4 feet high or higher in front of your house on the curb. I just wanted them at one point to pick up the garbage and make it look normal again. I felt badly mourning the loss of trees when I knew so many people died. Later when we drove down Coral Way and I saw sky where branches used to weave their way above the drivers as they made their way West from Miracle Mile. The trees on Bayshore Drive in Coconut Grove were shredded and torn apart and it took close to five years for it to look "normal" again.
But we got lucky for the most part on Miami Beach. Lucky, but much worse off than the media ever reported as it was all down in Homestead and Cutler Ridge taking the famous pictures of total devastation. Score one for the City of Miami Beach's tourism department. Of course, they cleaned up Collins first and Collins Avenue had underground electric so they were the first to get power back on. But, hey that's the life blood of Miami Beach.. our one big industry: Tourism.
So, most of these pictures were taken on Miami Beach as we rode around driving over still dead wires and walked around carefully checking on friend's houses and getting outside to feel a bit of a breeze. For the most part the Old Roaring 20s house we lived in survived the storm well. We were told by a neighbor that the big problems the house always had came from damage the house suffered from the 1926 Hurricane which hit while the house was being built or had just been finished. We always had a leak between the second hand stairway landing and the living room near the fireplace, supposedly that was from the 1926 storm. And, if I was going to go through a big blow on Miami Beach... Andrew who was blowing out his wrath on South Dade was a better choice than the 1926 Hurricane that took direct aim at Miami Beach and did much more damage.
I could hear the roar of the ocean and the whirling sound that hurricanes make all through the night that was the storm. The house shook many times, an odd, eerie shudder sort of sound probably around the time that our neighbors to the East lost their roof... I was sure there was water downstairs, sure... but there wasn't. We were huddled upstairs in a large hallway/alcove that was secure from wind and high above any possible flooding. We sat in the dark like everyone else, listening in the to wind Bryan Norcross talk on the radio. He was our eyes and light and voice in the dark...a hoarse, hyper voice exhausted from talking all night and excited from relaying important information to everyone at home, huddled somewhere listening to his voice.. I knew we were in trouble when he interviewed Bob Sheets about the storm and he told him they lost their satellite dish which was ripped off the roof and they had no radar at the Hurricane Center at that moment and asked if Bryan could tell them where the storm was... he had a feed out of Melbourne it seems. If they weren't sure, we were in big trouble.
The storm was to the south. It had bobbled south as big storms do ... they wobble and bobble rather than going in a perfect straight line, but as Miami Beach sticks out much further East than most of Miami we were much closer to Andrew when he was still going West than most of Miami was further to the south... and then it wobbled and struck Key Biscayne with all the fury it could have hit 41st Street with or the mouth of the Miami River the way the 1926 Hurricane did..
We got lucky... but luck is a matter of perspective sometimes.
I'll never forget the sound of the wind. I'll never forget the way the house moved; it was wood frame stucco by the way...not a small, 3 bedroom CBS home... old style Miami Beach. I'll never forget the way people looked leaving hotels,walking down 41st Street with all their belongings to buses parked at the old Dolphin Park N Ride lots to take them away to safety... it looked like the Fall of Saigon. I'll never forget standing at the beach, hours before the storm with my best friend Sharon as the wind blew wildly and the ocean had a look I have only really seen one other time... when Floyd was moving North offshore but those waves were not hitting the beach with the same intensity as Andrew's waves piled up against the sand at the end of 41st Street next to the old Crown Hotel where I had my first wedding, just a few blocks south of where I had my prom at the Fontainebleau Hotel ...
I may write more about Hurricane Andrew tomorrow, but I'll be on the road and wanted to make sure that I posted this and the few pics that I could find.. others are buried away somewhere in a box for safe keeping. Maybe I'll post them when I get back, but by then we will be know what happened with Tropical Storm Isaac.
It's worth remembering that when Andrew was 4 days away from landfall he was weak and headed for Carolina.
Ps... Will post on Isaac later this morning.