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Hurricane Andrew: Florida's Unwelcome Visitor


As Tropical Storm Isaac barrels toward the Gulf of Mexico, many residents of South Florida are remembering the devastating arrival 20 years ago of Hurricane Andrew. At the time, it was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. It killed 65 people. Almost a quarter of a million residents in Miami and Dade County were left homeless. Entire neighborhoods were demolished. Member station WLRN recorded hours of survivor accounts, dug through troves of archival news footage and 911 calls from Hurricane Andrew for a radio documentary. Here's an excerpt.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Tell me when we're back on the air, John.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh, we understand we are back.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Get your radio tuned now to Y100 because in spite of the fact we lost power at Channel 4 here very temporarily, we were on the air on Y100 through that whole event.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: County police and fire. Do you have an emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We were receiving hundreds of calls at one time.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Sure. Well, 120 West Waba(ph) Street.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Unintelligible) Zoo off of 152nd Avenue.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: 123 Seven Oaks South off of 192 Terrace.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I was the chief for emergency medical services for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and the calls that night were shocking.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: I have a seven-month-old pregnant lady here (unintelligible) in flames from the tree, when we hit the tree and wrapped around.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: My father can't breathe. He needs the power.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: People calling in, were in the bathroom with mattresses covering their heads to protect themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: County Police and Fire. Do you have an emergency?


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: What is your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: We were frustrated because there was nothing we could do about it.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: This store is out.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: What does that mean?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: No lights, no generator, no nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: People decided that they weren't going to evacuate, then at the last minute saying, oh my God. I made a mistake. Somebody come get me.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: A police officer is not going to take you home. They're not going out in this storm any more than you're going out in this storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: People don't get it that when our guys get there, they would have to get off the truck and get in the house and they can't do that. When the wind's blowing, 40, 50 or 130 miles an hour, it's extremely dangerous for our people and we weren't going to send them out there.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: But you are a lot of help. You know that?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: Um-hum. Good night, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: We were in the hallways with mattresses over our heads.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: You know, I went and got a mattress off the bed. We were, you know, the three of us, me and my wife and my dog were in the bathroom with that...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #8: Five of us. We all got into a regular-size closet.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #9: I'm a six-seven guy, and my wife happens to be six-foot-three-inches tall. My back was right up against the commode. Her back was right up against the...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #8: And I started to freak out 'cause I'm claustrophobic. I was like I can't breathe, I can't breathe, I can't breathe. And my dad was a really strong man and he just looked at me and he's like, hey, control yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #10: I can't even open the door. The pressure is so great that this door is about to pop. It is buckling. And I think I'm about to get out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #11: You feel the atmosphere inside the house sucking out and then all of the sudden your ears popped. It was like unbelievable. Your ears popped as if you were going down a mountain or up a huge elevator.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: County Police and Fire. Do you have an emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #9: OK, ma'am, may I ask you a question?



UNIDENTIFIED MAN #12: There was a long-time belief...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #9: There's more of us in (unintelligible). Can we open windows?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #12: ...if we just open the window, we could release that pressure inside the house and that would be a safer thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: I can't answer that, ma'am. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #9: All right. Thank you very much, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: You're welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #12: In actual fact, air inside your body is still high pressure. It's low pressure on the outside of your ear. See, your eardrums are bulging out. So, opening the windows doesn't help. It actually even makes it worse, if anything.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #13: You hear your heart beating.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #10: Feel the walls breathing. Just like...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #13: And we would hear this (makes wooo sound)...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #14: Just sort of this (makes sound).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #11: I remember hearing my screen door smacking around in the rain.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #13: And then all of the sudden, boom. And this bright light comes in the room and I realize the piece of plywood blew off the door.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #11: And then all of the sudden I didn't hear it anymore. So, I thought, oh good, the wind is slowing down. And then I realized the whole screen blew away.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #15: This glass has many cracks in it. It is about to blow. You can see the wind starting to come through.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #16: People's satellite dishes were hitting your house. Boats were flying by. You know, we had very large trees that headed across the plains like tumbleweeds.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #17: The sliding doors in each room were bowing in and out, going (makes sound). I never thought glass could bend that way. Inside my head I'm going, this is real.



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #12: It's all right.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #12: It's all right. We're going to (unintelligible).


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #18: The roof just came off.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #19: Cara? OK. Still (unintelligible)...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #12: Yes, it is, honey.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #19: It's gonna be fine.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #13: I understand we have another woman on the phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #20: OK. Standby in south Miami here. We have someone else on the phone who is in dire straits.



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #13: Where are you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #14: At 137 and 111 Street.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #13: And what happened?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #14: And half the roof went in. I want to know if we should open a window and let the...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #20: No, no. Don't worry about opening windows here. Where are you in the house compared to the part where the roof caved in?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #14: In the middle.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #20: I want you to say exactly where you are. Nobody should go out. You are not out of the storm yet. The storm is going to be with you for some time yet.


SIMON: Voices of South Florida residents during Hurricane Andrew 20 years ago this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenny Malone
Kenny Malone is a correspondent for NPR's Planet Money podcast. Before that, he was a reporter for WNYC's Only Human podcast. Before that, he was a reporter for Miami's WLRN. And before that, he was a reporter for his friend T.C.'s homemade newspaper, Neighborhood News.