Andrew series Part V: In the wake of destruction south Florida rebuilds and transforms

Editors Note: This is Part V of a series on Hurricane Andrew 

Parts I, II, III and IV of the series can be found here. 

When comprehensive histories of southeast Florida are written or made into PBS documentaries like those of Chicago, New York and other great American metropolis’, Andrew will be one of the pivotal events – like the Great Chicago Fire or the destruction of ethnic neighborhoods to build the Cross Bronx Expressway. The storm transformed the region in ways that perhaps would have played out anyway, but were accelerated thanks to Andrew. The Miami/Fort Lauderdale area is now the 4th largest urban area in the country, meaning a documentary of this sort might be made in the near future.

The years after the storm changed the face and landscape of South Florida, perhaps for the better. It also created a sense of community where quite frankly none had really existed previously. For example those in North Broward had little or no interaction with those in South Dade and vise versa. But Andrew brought everyone together as South Floridians felt an obligation to one another to help. Meanwhile Armed Forces vehicles raced down I-75 and I-95 for two weeks with military personnel racing towards South Dade to aid with the rescue and relief efforts. Once the bureaucratic snafus and political gamesmanship of the post-Andrew period ended, the relief effort was well-funded and intense.

Unlike what we are watching currently with Hurricane Harvey (outside the Victoria and Port Lavacka areas where wind damage was substantial) and future Florida storms like Irene, the vast majority of damage from Andrew in populated areas was done by wind. The storm moved through the area quickly though that rapid forward speed also contributed to the power of the Hurricane and made matters worse for those few hours that residents were trapped. While Dade County at the time had a more stringent building code than the rest of the state, exceptions were always made to code and enforcement as we noted in an earlier part of the series was questionable.

Most of South Dade got massive impacts from the storm, which had a tight center of circulation and really centered its wrath of destruction on a radius from about SW 56th Street (Miller Drive) to Key Largo. Included in that area of worst impacts were Kenall, West Kendall, Cutler Ridge, Country Walk, Perrine (which ironically and surprisingly would be the locale which got the most rainfall in country from Hurricane Katrina), Goulds, the Redlands and of course points south.

No place had been hit harder by Hurricane Andrew than the Homestead and Florida City area. Homestead had been largely destroyed before as a result of the 1945 Homestead Hurricane – a category 3 storm that took a path similar to what Donna would do 15 years later. This time around the city was devastated. The Cleveland Indians were about to shift Spring Training to Homestead but abandoned plans after the facility was destroyed by Andrew. Homestead Air Force Base in operation since World War II and that 1945 storm was basically destroyed as well. Given that the end of the Cold War and budget shortfalls led to base closings around the country, Homestead AFB became a victim, though it reopened in 1995 as an Air Reserve Base. Downtown Homestead was ripped to shreds as was the nearby town of Florida City.

Since Andrew, Homestead has rebuilt and grown. On the tenth anniversary of the storm’s landfall in 2002, the town held a festival called “The Big Wind.” I attended and saw how a community had overcome incredible adversity to rebuild in a bigger and better way. Areas that were previously undeveloped were beginning to fill up with homes and businesses that met a new more stringent building code. Harris Park had become a local destination for baseball and soccer games, and the downtown area was filling up with restaurants. Meanwhile down the road in Florida City, recovery had taken place and the town at the terminus of the Florida Turnpike and the entrance to both Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park was enjoying a boom and boasted a new outlet mall. All of this had happened in the ten years since Andrew had leveled the area.

Now in 2017, the area looks vibrant. Homestead has more than twice as many people as it did when Andrew struck and the area has taken the scars from the storm and built itself into a place that has the strength and character of a survivor.

Country Walk pot Andrew By Bob Epstein, FEMA News

Further north, most of Country Walk (pictured to the right) was leveled and other areas were so cleared out that new developments were planned in their place. Amazingly Miami’s MetroZoo which was right near the center of the storm (and Country Walk) lost only five animals (excluding birds) from the storm despite leaving the most of the creatures outside. Part of this was due to the incredible planning and preparation of the team at the zoo including Ron Magill. Parrot Jungle was almost completely destroyed but miraculously was rebuilt and reopened before moving to Jungle Island near PortMiami in the early 2000’s. The ability for attractions to rebuild and reopen gave a sense of pride and normalcy to the an ailing community and also served as an important economic stimulus. In 1964, Storyland a popular attraction in Pompano Beach was destroyed by Hurricane Cleo. It never reopened, and in the period following Cleo, South Florida grew quickly but very few amusement parks or tourist attractions opened in the period. One exception was the Six Flags Atlantis water park in Hollywood which was also badly damaged by Andrew and eventually closed. The former site of the water park is now the Oakwood Shopping Center.

The newer very South Florida feel, suburban communities of Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest were created in Andrew’s aftermath as intense rebuilding took place. These new communities had a different beat than their predecessors and marked an achievement of a region’s triumph over the adversity of Andrew.

In Miami, a skyscraper boom took place in the early 2000’s. These building were more durable and built to a stronger code, as have the newer high rises in the stretch from Sunny Isles Beach to Hollywood. These buildings suffered very little damage from the storms of 2004 and 2005. Not so fortune were many buildings in Downtown Fort Lauderdale that were built in the 1980’s period of complacency that suffered substantial damage in 2005’s Hurricane Wilma. Fort Lauderdale now has built up its downtown to the newer code and should fare better in the next storm.

The destruction of Andrew also led to significant migrations of populations. Many people moved north to Broward and Palm Beach counties. Southwest Broward in particular grew quickly and took on a very Hispanic flavor. Ethnic markers like Sedano’s Supermarkets began popping up in while other merchants began carrying more specific international items. At the time of Andrew in 1992, you could only get a handful of international flights from Fort Lauderdale’s airport, now in 2017 it is one of the ten busiest airports in the nation for international flights (which with a few exceptions are almost entirely to Latin America and the Caribbean). The post-Andrew migrations helped make all of South Florida more linked and more cosmopolitan. Regional planning with an emphasis on evacuation routes out of the area became a place where counties and municipalities began cooperating.

In total, Dade County suffered net loss of about 36,000 people in 1992. By 2001 according to Census Bureau data, 230,710 people moved from Miami-Dade County to Broward County, while 29,125 Miami-Dade County residents moved to Palm Beach County. However, as Broward County became more crowded, 100,871 people relocated from Broward County to Palm Beach County. But in the later part of the 1990’s Dade’s population began growing rapidly again.

 

Still to come in the series:

  • An Interview with Bryan Norcross
  • A Review of Bryan Norcross’ new book
  • Andrew and the Everglades
  • How Andrew impacted preparation for the 2004 and 2005 storms

 

 

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