Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Hurricane Irma reminds South Florida of the horrors of Andrew

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MIAMI — Yvette Sedeno remembers that the storm sounded to her like machine gun fire.

Rap-rap-rap. Pebbles from her neighbor's roof shot into the side of her house, propelled by Hurricane Andrew's relentless winds.

LIVE BLOG: The latest on Hurricane Irma

Rap-rap-rap. Then the howl — not like a dog — something more deep and resonant. More powerful.

She's tried to forget it. But now Hurricane Irma is whirling toward Florida, wider than Andrew, its exact path tottering even as the hours tick down before an increasingly inevitable arrival.

"I'm scared as hell," said Sedeno, 62. "I'm really terrified. I really am. I'm scared of losing everything."

Irma threatens to collide head-on with the burgeoning communities around Miami — the bright, diverse, throbbing heart of a region that has not just rebuilt but grown even bigger and louder since the decimation brought on by Andrew in 1992.

FRIDAY'S DEVELOPMENTS: Hurricane Irma: Portions of Tampa Bay under hurricane watch as Category 4 Irma targets Florida

COMPLETE COVERAGE:Find all our coverage about Hurricane Irma here

Sedeno plans to hunker down in her home a bit inland. They've hung the metal shutters, said prayers for the metal roof installed just a couple of years ago. When the worst of the storm blows through, she and her husband will huddle in the same hallway they sat in during Andrew.

Back then, they only had plywood. She remembers how he had to push shut their bedroom door when the winds broke through, keeping it closed off from the rest of the house.

"It felt like the hurricane was in that room," Sedeno said. When they stepped outside, all of their oak trees had fallen, but the house stood. Her neighbors weren't so lucky.

Now they have apartment buildings to fret over, several units in southwest Miami and more in Little Havana. Most of their tenants are staying. They do not have shutters to board up the buildings. Sedeno prays "to whoever is out there."

"That's our only way of income," she said. "If we lose that we have nothing."

Miami, which seems to only grow, is temporarily retracting.

People are fleeing, clogging the interstate, shuffling through the airport onto emergency flights.

They're opening shelters, running buses north. Evacuees are coming out of the Florida Keys, listening to the forecasters predict storm surges as high as 10-feet, winds gusts up to 150 mph.

The Miami-Dade County Mayor's Office reported Friday afternoon that 10,265 residents had already sought refuge.

Shelters are filling up quickly, said Red Cross spokesperson Roberto Baltodano. People need to bring their own hurricane kits, he said, and bedding, too. The shelters are just big open spaces, but they're open to everyone. At the door, Baltodano said, volunteers ask only for a name and about how they can help.

"Anyone who may be undocumented can rest assured they can find shelter," he said. "We're a 150-year-old humanitarian organization. Our job is to help anyone who needs help."

But the whole state is evacuating, and some have nowhere to go. Hurricane Irma could bring major winds to almost the entire peninsula, and even into Georgia.

South of Miami, Homestead is worried about repeating history.

The small city is known by many as the place Hurricane Andrew hit the hardest. The storm all but wiped it off the map.

Andrew wrecked Jeff Porter's home. Porter was born in Homestead. So was his mom. So was his wife. So he stayed. Now he's the mayor.

Residents have been preparing for days, he said, but they still don't know just how severely Irma will hit.

"It's playing a heavy load on everybody," Porter said. "Nobody wants to do it once, much less do it twice."

Twenty five years since Hurricane Andrew, he thought his city had moved on, at least as much as it could.

"But I think this is kind of bringing some of it back," the mayor said. "Andrew was the worst thing I'd seen in my entire life, and most of the people you talked to would say the same thing."

Porter said he is focused now on preparing his own home, tying down any potential debris, protecting his family.

"I can't be scared," he said. "I don't have time to be scared."

Times staff photographer Douglas R. Clifford and staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report. Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @zacksampson.

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