Hurricanes are among some of the most powerful forces in nature. They are a beautiful sight to behold from satellite imagery, or the Space Shuttle, but up close, they can be a monster with a raging fury that can alter our lives, and the way we live them forever. Hurricane Andrew was not an exception.
Andrew was the most powerful hurricane to hit South Florida in almost 30 years, and it ended up being the most costliest disaster in United States History. Andrew changed the landscape of South Florida completely, and forever from the actual storm damage to the social repercussions in the wake of the storm, to the way in which Floridians prepare.
As previously mentioned, Hurricane Andrew was the most powerful hurricane to hit South Florida in almost 30 years. The last major hurricane (a hurricane with winds of 115 miles per hour or greater) to hit that region was Hurricane Betsy in 1965 when it was a Category Three Hurricane. Andrew was much more powerful than Betsy was too although it was a small storm in terms of its size as it only carved a path of destruction some 40 miles wide in diameter.
Prior to making landfall in South Florida, Andrew had sustained winds of 145 mph in its eyewall, and wind gusts of approximately 175 miles per hour, which made it a Category Four Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Andrew's central pressure, the pressure measured in the eye of the storm, was the third lowest of any hurricane to make landfall in the United States with 922 mb, or 27.22 inches of Hg.
Only the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and Hurricane Camille, both Category Five Hurricanes on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, had lower barometric pressures at landfall. The combination of the high winds and extremely low pressure created a storm surge of approximately 17 ft. along the coast near Biscayne Bay.
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The devastation caused by Andrew was over a very narrow region of South Florida due to the compact size of the storm. However, that narrow path of devastation carved by Andrew was tremendous and deadly. There was a total of 65 deaths attributed to the storm while around 150,000 to 250,000 people in South Florida were left homeless. There was a total of approximately 600,000 homes and businesses that were destroyed or severely impaired by the winds, waves, and rain from Andrew.
In Homestead, Florida, the ground zero of Andrew's landfall on August 24, 1992, almost all the mobile homes were destroyed. Meanwhile, approximately a half billion dollars in damage was caused to many of the boats in the affected area of South Florida. Much of South Florida's communications and transportation infrastructures were significantly impaired while there was tremendous loss of power and utilities, water, and other essentials while sewage treatment plants were terribly crippled.
There were a total of about 1.4 million customers that were left without power after the storm. Residents were without power for up to six months after the storm rolled through. Andrew also caused a great deal of damage to offshore oil facilities as it approached a second landfall in Louisiana, where it caused another $1 billion dollars in damage. In total, the damage caused by Andrew in both South Florida and Louisiana totaled $26 billion dollars, the most costly natural disaster in United States history.
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The social impacts on South Florida were tremendous. You have to take into consideration that before Hurricane Andrew, there was about a generation of South Florida residents who had not experienced a hurricane. In addition, there was even more residents that had just relocated to the area, and had never experienced any kind of tropical storm or hurricane.That coupled with the death and destruction caused by the storm was a very traumatic experience for these residents. Many decided to move away to a safer region of the country while others decided to stay and try to rebuild their homes and businesses. This process took years to complete.
One positive thing that emerged out of this was the fact that Andrew raised tremendous awareness about hurricanes, and forced many Floridians to take precautions well before a storm made a bid for the coast. Not to say that Florida's preparedness wasn't good. As a matter of fact, if it wasn't for the combined efforts of emergency management personnel as well as good hurricane preparedness and evacuation programs, there might have been an even greater loss of life.
South Florida continues to improve their preparedness standards by revised building codes that were a glaring problem in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. The building code standards in South Florida are now the toughest in the nation.
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