Twenty-five years ago this week, I lowered the volume on the Joy Division squall to hear the other squall outside. My calm scowling dad ordered me to join the rest of the family in the kitchen, the only room with no access to windows. The power went out. For more than two hours the wind roared, at times competing with the noise of fervent and precise praying from my mother and great grandmother. During the worst of it my mom jumped at every bang and crash and exclaimed, “What was that? The garage flew away? Did you hear that?” My demented great grandmother recited the Our Father in a dull voice.
When it ended minutes before 7 a.m., we opened the door to a mess: tree limbs, directional signs, toys, millions of shards of glass; but the neighborhood had survived. We lost a quarter of the roof’s tar paper, although my enterprising grandmother had not waited for the storm to end to call her friend the contractor; he was at the house by eight-thirty, at the start of what became a grueling month. A week from starting college, I wouldn’t step foot on campus for another three weeks. I had friends who got power restored in twenty-four hours, others in twenty-four days. A couple of acquaintances in Country Walk, one of Andrew’s epicenters, watched as the storm turned their homes into broken match sticks.
Andrew introduced many of us South Floridians to the ferocity of hurricanes — an experience sober and unique enough to be forgotten, as is our wont. We’d get refreshers during the 2004 and especially 2005 hurricane seasons. The rest of the country would learn from Charlie, Ivan, Katrina, Wilma, Sandy, and Matthew. Now Florida looks like it might forget the lessons of Andrew, as a result of which my state passed the country’s toughest building codes, the envy of the world, in fact.
The Miami Herald reprints its first post-storm front page story. Even today the details chill me:
Power outages were everywhere. About 1.3 million of 2 million homes in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County were without power by 8 a.m., said Ray Golden, a spokesman for FPL. In Dade, about 76 percent of people had no power and in Broward the number was even higher, Golden said.
Conditions in Cutler Ridge “couldn’t be worse, ” said police officer Earl Steinmetz. “The roads are just about impassable with downed lines, downed trees. We’re picking our way through the rubble.”
“It’s impossible to know even where you are because nothing looks the same. It’s devastating, ” Steinmetz said.
“I’m sitting in the police station, which is half gone. The Government Center roof is all gone. The library is gone. Just getting in here was almost impossible.”
No officers were injured when part of the Station 5 roof collapsed, he said.
Steinmetz also said the roof of his home, a mile away, “is gone.”
Watch the excerpt above if you’ve got a few minutes. Bryan Norcross, the meteorologist who became a legend after being on the air eighty hours straight, is at his uncanny best in this clip.
The legislature this season sought to freeze the code or slow down the level at which updates happen. “Florida’s building codes would still be updated every three years, but they would no longer adopt the ICC codes,” The USA Today revealed. “Instead, Florida would keep its current code and pick and choose which parts of the ICC code to adopt.” Contractors will insist the code remains robust; untold experiments in deregulation have shown that this is how it starts.