25 things to remember on the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew

Aerial of a mobile home community in the Homestead area, destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. [Times (1992)]
Aerial of a mobile home community in the Homestead area, destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. [Times (1992)]
Published Aug. 17, 2017

Twenty-five years ago today, Andrew was born.

At the time, nobody knew the newly named tropical system near the Cape Verde Islands would, a week later, barrel into Florida on Aug. 24, 1992 as a Category 5 hurricane. By the time Hurricane Andrew left South Florida and set its sights on Louisiana, it had already become one of the most destructive and costly storms in American history.

Florida's been largely spared the last decade, with only one hurricane, last summer's Hermine, making landfall in the state since 2005.

But this year, forecasters are predicting a very active season. With that in mind, here are 25 things worth remembering about Hurricane Andrew.

•Death toll

Twenty-six deaths were directly attributed to Andrew: 15 in Florida, eight in Louisiana and three in the Bahamas. Another 39 deaths were indirectly linked to the storm. The loss of life in general was relatively low considering the storm's intensity. "A combination of good hurricane preparedness and evacuation programs likely helped minimize the loss of life," the National Hurricane Center said.

• Strength revisited

Scientists at the time classified Andrew as a Category 4 storm on the Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale, with sustained wind speeds estimated at about 145 mph. But a decade later, during a reevaluation of the storm, scientists upped the maximum estimated sustained wind speed to about 173 mph, reclassifying it a Category 5.

• Breaking the bank

Damage from the storm was estimated at about $26.5 billion, which is equivalent to about $44 billion in 2017 dollars when adjusted for inflation. Almost all of that damage was in South Florida. It was the costliest hurricane in American history at the time, though hurricanes Katrina (2005), Ike (2008) and Sandy (2012) have since surpassed it.

• Location, location, location

Although people often refer to Andrew as having struck Miami, it actually made landfall first over Elliot Key and then at Fender Point, near the city of Homestead, about 20 critical miles southwest of Miami. If an Andrew made landfall on top of modern-day Miami, according to a report published this year by reinsurance company Swiss Re, the damage would be on an order not yet seen — up to $300 billion.

• Rare company

Andrew's reclassification as a Category 5 puts it in rare company. Only two other storms on record have ever made landfall on the U.S. mainland with Category 5 wind speeds: the Labor Day Florida Keys Storm of 1935 and Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi and Louisiana in 1969.

• Evacuation order

More than 1.25 million people in Florida were ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm. Afterward, more than a quarter-million people were temporarily homeless. Around 1.3 million people lost power.

•Packing a punch

Hurricane Andrew was only about 180 miles wide, a relatively small storm, but still managed to be one of the most powerful to hit the continental U.S. Measured by their minimum air pressure, only Camille and the Keys storm were more intense at the time.

• The damage wrought

Andrew destroyed 25,524 homes and damaged 101,241 others, according to the National Hurricane Center. More than 90 percent of the mobile homes were lost in the southern part of what is now called Miami-Dade County, including all but nine of the 1176 in Homestead. The storm caused about $500 million in damage to boats alone.

• The surge

Wind was the more destructive force than storm surge. Though Burger King's international headquarters, then located on the shore of Biscayne Bay between Homestead and downtown Miami, experienced a storm tide height (surge plus high tide) of 16.9 feet. The headquarters were heavily damaged and the company has since relocated to near Miami International Airport.

• Florida spared twisters

There were no confirmed reports of tornadoes over the Bahamas or Florida, though tornadoes were present in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. One tornado, which touched down in LaPlace, La., killed two people and injured 32 more.

• Rainfall totals

Andrew dumped 7.79 inches of rain on Broward County, the most in Florida. Hammond, La. got the most anywhere, with 11.92 inches.

• Wetlands pummeled

Mangrove trees across about 70,000 acres of Biscayne and Everglades national parks were knocked down, and about one fourth of royal palms and one third of pine trees in the Everglades were damaged by the wind. Most of the wildlife in the Everglades was unaffected, though young alligators and nests may have been harmed.

• Rewriting the rules

In the aftermath of Andrew, Floridians rewrote building codes to ensure structures could withstand the next storm like it. That included altering things like construction methods, upping wind tolerances and providing extra training for inspectors. This year, though, lawmakers passed legislation that experts fear could lead to the undoing of some of that work. The storm also reshaped the insurance landscape in Florida, as companies couldn't afford their payouts after offering cheap rates and low deductibles.

• "Where the hell is the cavalry on this one?"

Those were the famous words from then-Dade County emergency manager Kate Hale, begging the federal government for a faster response in the wake of Andrew. The president at the time was George H.W. Bush. Almost exactly 13 years later, his son, then-President George W. Bush, faced similar criticism following the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

• Andrew babies

Nine months after the storm, stories emerged of hospital nurseries filled with Andrew babies. But the numbers don't quite hold up. The birth rate — or number of births for every thousand people — for Dade County in 1993 was 16.5, only a very slight blip from the year before and the year after. The statewide birth rate in 1993 was 13.9, slightly less than in 1992. It's possible some hospitals experienced spikes in May, but it had no measurable effect on annual numbers for the county and the state.

• Down, but never out

Andrew wasn't the first storm to blow right through the air field in Homestead. Commissioned in 1942 as Homestead Army Air Field, the base was destroyed almost exactly three years later by a Category 4 storm. Ten years later, in 1955, the field was rededicated as and operated under the name Homestead Air Force Base until Andrew roared through, destroying most of it again. Since 1995, Homestead Air Reserve Base has thrived, complete with a coffee shop and hair salon.

• "Utter destruction"

More than 23,000 troops deployed to Homestead, then the largest peacetime domestic military operation in U.S. history. "I had never seen a place completely leveled in all directions," said Maj. Gen. Richard B. Griffits, who led the troops. "There was a smell to it. A smell of utter destruction."

• Demographic shift

During the evacuation and after the storm, more than 100,000 residents of Dade County moved away from the area, which had an effect on its demographics, according to a Florida International University study. Most white evacuees "found they liked where they moved better, so they sold their houses for cheap," said Lilia Cunningham, a Florida International University researcher, in 2002. Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to rebuild or move into areas the whites had left, FIU found.

• More money, more problems

In Andrew's wake, domestic violence complaints in Dade County shot up 50 percent, divorce rates by 30 percent. FIU researchers found that many of the couples who split after the storm did so because of money — not too little, but too much. "These marriages already were in trouble and all of a sudden they had $60,000 or $80,000," said Cunningham, the FIU researcher. "It was easier to split the money in half than to fix the marriage."

• Invasive species

There's a theory that Florida's burgeoning wild Burmese python population originated, or was at least bolstered by, a facility that housed the exotic snakes and was destroyed during Andrew. There seems to be a fair amount of skepticism surrounding that theory, but the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission lends credence to the idea on its Burmese python webpage.

• Election stealer

It's possible that Hurricane Andrew played a role in Democrat Al Gore losing the 2000 presidential election. After the storm, some officials had planned to convert part of the base to a commercial airfield. Gore didn't take a stance on the matter, potentially driving some environmental voters to Green Party candidate Ralph Nadar. Nadar got almost 98,000 votes in the Sunshine State, and Gore lost it, and the election, by 537.

• Only takes one

Except for Andrew, the 1992 hurricane season was very quiet. The A in Andrew is a reminder that it was the first storm of the season and hadn't arrived until late August. In a season of only six named storms, Andrew was the only one labeled a major hurricane (Category 3 or stronger).

• Two-time monster

Andrew made landfall twice as a major hurricane — first in Florida as a Category 5, and then in Louisiana as a Category 3. To have two landfalls is already a rarity, said Phil Klozbach, a hurricane researcher with Colorado State University. To make them both as a major storm is not very common.

• Sleeper pick

Andrew first started as a weak storm system off the west coast of Africa and nobody paid much attention to it, Klotzbach said. Struggling to overcome wind sheer, it meandered through the Atlantic, not picking up much steam. Until it hit the Bahamas. There, the water is warm both near the surface and deep down. So even a slow moving storm won't churn up hurricane-killing cold water from the depth with its own turbulence. That's where it developed strength, Klotzbach said, earning it the label "Bahama Buster."

• More people, more risk

Andrew was the first major hurricane to hit South Florida since Betsy, which ravaged the Keys in 1965. Those 27 years between Betsy and Andrew saw rapid growth in Florida's population. According to the 1970 U.S. Census, there were fewer than 7 million people in Florida in 1970. By 1990, the state's population had ballooned to just short of 13 million. It's now estimated at more than 20 million.

Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or Follow @josh_solomon15.