Our Experience with Hurricane Andrew 1992

My name is Hermes, I live in Miami, and hurricanes never meant anything to me in the past. To me they were just storms. I learned my lesson on August 24, 1992 when all of my past thoughts were put to rest and my greatest fear was put before me for me to challenge.  

            The day before had been the final day of our well deserved vacation on Miami Beach. We were staying at a friend's cottage, which was a stone's throw from the water. It was Sunday morning and after hearing the news of the storm approaching, it was decided that we needed supplies from the supermarket. By this time, everyone else in Miami Beach had the same idea, so all the stores were very busy, and already lacking some essential supplies, like water, batteries and bread.

            We decided to leave for our home in Cutler Ridge, where our cat Kitty and our dog Teddy were waiting for us. Before we left the beach, I could not help to take a last look towards the east where according to the news bulletins; Hurricane Andrew was heading towards us. The water was calm, it was a beautiful morning. My son Jaime was with me and he asked me if the storm was going to hit us. Since I wanted everyone to stay calm, and I did not know for sure myself, I told my son that we were veterans of storms in Florida, and that most of them just kept on going up the eastern coast, without hitting land. Little did I know that I was going to eat those words the next morning? We left for our home, and in the way we could hear the news bulletins indicating that all residents of the coastal areas had to evacuate to the mainland.

            Our in-laws Alfonso and Margarita Padilla were with us, and Margarita my wife's mother left for New Jersey in an afternoon flight, but our good grandfather Padilla stayed with us. We thank the Lord for this, since his experience and strong support kept us alive through the months ahead. The first order of business were food supplies and covering for the windows. My wife left to get food and Padilla the children Jaime Margie and myself left for our trusted Home Depot to get wood for the windows.

            The lumber yard was a mad house, everyone was carrying something. There was no more plywood for the windows, so we got some finished Formica plywood and some leftovers from fences, and after spending the rest of the afternoon making a line to pay for the wood, we left for the house It was already early evening. By the time Padilla and I finished covering the windows it was almost 10pm, and we were exhausted from all the work. That evening we could see large dark clouds already towards the east, and according to the news reports the storm was still heading straight to Miami and strengthening in force.

            All of us went to sleep, tired from all the day's work. At about 02:30 in the morning the phone woke us up, and it was our relatives from New Jersey, they were concerned about our safety, since all the news reports were indicating that the storm was going straight towards the Metropolitan of Miami and surrounding communities.

            By this time the wind had pick up considerably, and the lighting storms had started all around us. Not long after this the windows on our bedroom, which faces the east, broke even with the Bermuda shutters which we found out later offered no protection during the storm. The wind started to pick up immediately the garage doors started to vibrate even after we reinforced them. The window by the kitchen broke and high speed stones hit us all around. (When I was blocking the windows, I decided to leave a small portion of the kitchen window without covering. At the time I thought it was a great idea to have a small window to look at the storm. Needless to say, this was a big mistake.) Padilla and I were able to cover the window from inside using a battery drill. By this time there was no electricity.

            The noise outside our home was indescribable. It sounded like 100 locomotive engines right outside our back yard. All of us went to take shelter at our son's room, which faced west We started to hold the door of the room, and praying that we will survive this tragedy. What probably saved us and many families in the area is that the storm was going fast, about 20 miles per hour, so the bad part of the storm went by us quickly. The noise was so great that we did not hear when the living room roof ripped off.

At about 06:00 am we herd our small battery radio that the eye of the storm was to the west of us in the Everglades, and we were able to rest a little. There was about 6 inches of water all over the house. I went to the bathroom and as soon as I went out of the room I noticed a strange light in the house. The light was coming from the 20'' by 12'' hole right over our dinning room table. I looked at the hole and went back to the room. I did not tell the others; since they were so tired they needed some rest. “Is everything all right dad"? " Of course", They found out later on that it was not and that I was just not telling them for their own good.

            Publicly I want to express my thanks to my father in law, Alfonzo Padilla. I strongly believe that without his support, we would have packed up some belongings, and we would have left the area. Padilla's training comes from the Colombian Navy. He is very proud of this fact, and he never tires in telling us all the stories of his youth. He became "El Jefe" The Boss, and immediately started to get the water out of the house, and to clean up the mess.

            The damage to our house was extensive. It amounted to $45,000 to the structure of the house, without counting the water damage inside. We have to give thanks that our insurance was prompt in coming to our aid, and everything was paid for.

            All our windows facing the east and north were broken. The garage door blew in, and the wall between the garage and the kitchen broke off as well as the door. Everything in the garage was soaked. We learned a very hard lesson. The night before the storm, my dear wife had follow all the procedures explained on the news media, the dry matches were on the kitchen table, all the paper products, toilet tissues, paper towels, sanitary napkins; everything was on top of the dining room table. The roof over this table blew off, and what did not get sucked out, was so wet that it was useless.

            Men have a different reaction to a catastrophe than women do. We see holes that have to be patch up, clean up that has to be done. Women see their home destroyed, all their curtains, the pictures, what makes a house a home in a complete mess. This is something we as men have to realize and learn from.

            This first day we took some time to look at our neighbors, and we realized we were very fortunate. Our bedrooms did not leak, so we had a place to stay. There was a house across the street which was on top of my friend's roof. Our friend Bob's house was totaled. He had to bring his family in our house for the first week, to live with us, since their home was completely destroyed.

            There was almost a foot of shingles from all over Miami around our home. All still had the nails attached to them, which made it hazardous to walk outside." Dad", my son told me,” I have a nail stuck in my shoe, help me get it out", this caused me to panic, but it was only a small nail and he was not hurt, what surprised me was his calmness. The high tension electric lines were all over the road, I immediately went outside and with pieces of lumber from the back yard, I covered the hole in the roof and closed the garage door. From the roof every house around, had the roof blown out or the shingles gone. I found out that I had green shingles, instead of gray ones. One layer of shingles in my house just blew off and left me with the old green layer, which worked fine until the roof was replaced.

            We have to be thankful for all the people that helped us during this time of trial. The school where my wife teaches, Miami Christian School, had many of the students come to our house and clean up the back yard, they provided us with luxuries like ice, water and food, since all the stores around our area were damaged . Temporary repairs were made to our roof by the Chatlos and the Greens.

            Many people reacted differently to the storm. We have friends that never came to see us, and we have not seen them since the excuse was they did not want to see the destruction around us. It was as if we had a plague. We have friends like the Samson’s that took our dirty laundry, and took our children to Mc Donald's to eat "real” food as they put it. They were a blessing to us. We did not need food; we just needed some one to pray with, and to be with us for a while. We helped some of our less fortunate neighbors to the south of us, with all the canned food and water we got from all our friends. Those first days after the storm, there were families with small children without food, and until the Army came with their kitchens many people were suffering and went to bed hungry.

            The hardest part of this entire ordeal was the nights. We had no electricity for over a month and a half after the storm. Some people in our area decided to raid the houses that were abandoned, and this made it very dangerous for us with small children. My friend Bob had a shotgun and he was willing to use it if someone got too close to our home. Later on some friends lend us their small generator, and we had some lights during the dark nights.

My dog Teddy became very protective of all of us, and would not allow any one near us if he did not know them. Our Kitty had to endure about a month tied in the garage, since he is an indoor cat, and we had holes all over the house. He has survived pretty well considering.

            One day my dear wife had enough, “Hermes help me I cant believe this" and she broke down crying. The reason was somewhat funny; Teddy had stolen the Spam for dinner, and had spilled the bake beans on the grill. It was late, and we had no electricity and no dinner.

            About a year after the storm, our house was repaired, all the trees were growing again, and here in Miami, we wait for the next hurricane that may strike again any time soon.

As you can see I have learned to never underestimate Mother Nature and all of her power. I never knew what a hurricane could do until it past right over me and taught me a valuable lesson. You have only one life to live and you must live it to the fullest.


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