Hurricane Andrew was a Category 5 hurricane that made landfall on Elliott Key, Florida on August 24, 1992. It was (and still is) the strongest hurricane in decades to strike southern Florida in terms of structural damage. It was also the costliest Florida hurricane until Hurricane Irma struck 25 years later.
Only four Category 5 hurricanes have made landfall in the United States — Andrew being one of them.
Most Atlantic hurricanes begin as a result of a tropical wave, and Hurricane Andrew was no different. The tropical wave that kickstarted Andrew moved off the west coast of Africa and passed south of the Cape Verde Islands.
On August 17, 1992, the wave grew into a tropical storm that uneventfully moved across the Atlantic. A few days later on August 21, significant changes began to occur as a deep, high-pressure center formed over the southeastern portion of the U.S. This created a more favorable environment for the tropical storm to intensify and move westward.
The following day, the tropical storm officially became a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale[NC1] . On August 22, a hurricane watch was issued on Florida’s east coast, from Titusville to Miami and all the Florida Keys. The following day the watch was upgraded to a hurricane warning for all southwest Florida.
The escalation continued until Andrew made landfall on the Florida mainland.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) predicted isolated tornados in central and south Florida, storm surges up to 13 feet on the Florida coast and total rainfall to be around five to eight inches along the storm’s path. Evacuations were ordered in nine counties and almost 1.2 million people evacuated.
Animals of the Palm Beach Zoo and Lion Country Safari were also included in evacuations and moved to weather-proof shelters.
At the time, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 tourists were visiting the Florida Keys. When the hurricane warnings were issued, approximately 55,000 tourists and residents fled the Keys to the mainland.
Thousands of Floridians sought refuge in shelters and hospitals while others tried evacuating the area and headed north toward Ocala and Walt Disney World. Bumper-to-bumper traffic was reported for more than 200 miles. The mad dash to safety created possibly the largest traffic jam in Florida’s history.
Despite all preparation and evacuation efforts, Hurricane Andrew would still wreak havoc on South Florida. While the large-scale evacuation minimized the number of fatalities, the powerful storm still claimed the lives of many people who either refused to leave or simply couldn’t make it to safety.
On August 24 at 4:40 in the morning, Andrew’s eye crossed the northern tip of Elliot Key. The storm didn’t technically make landfall until it reached the Florida mainland at Fender Point in Biscayne National Park. Florida City, Homestead, Cutler Ridge and parts of Kendall took the brunt of the storm as it passed over Florida on its way to southern Louisiana.
The vast majority of the damage was centered in Miami-Dade County. The city of Homestead was hit particularly hard. More than 99 percent of Homesteads mobile homes were completely destroyed.
Following Hurricane Andrew, more than 1.4 million people lost electricity while another 150,000 lost telephone service. In addition to the tens of thousands of homes lost, nearly 80,000 businesses, 30 public schools, 40,000 acres of farmland, 60 hospitals and health care facilities and more than 3,000 miles of powerlines were destroyed.
Hurricane Andrew did approximately $27.3 billion of property damage and the economic impact on Florida was estimated to be $25 billion.
The storm displaced roughly 250,000 people. Some found refuge in shelters (if they had the room) or in tent cities set up by the U.S. military. Food, water and ice were expensive and hard to come by in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. Good Samaritans from surrounding areas would sometimes drive down with trunks full of sandwiches, milk and other food items to give to Florida residents in need.
A relief effort was implemented by then-President George H.W. Bush after he declared the region a disaster area. This included the largest disaster relief package in history up to that point ($11.1 billion), which was approved by Congress on September 18 and signed into law a few days later by President Bush.
Hurricane Andrew was a wake-up call for Florida government officials. In July 1996, Florida’s governor established the Florida Building Codes Study Commission. This was to assess building codes and enact improvements. Two years later, the Florida Building Code was established, but it didn’t get put into effect until 2002. It is still used today.
Link to wind scale blog. [NC1]