Hurricane Andrew hit southern Florida 20 years ago this year, on Aug. 24, 1992.
Because it will soon be 2012 hurricane season, I wanted to tell the story of our family’s brush with Andrew and its aftermath. My husband, Mike, and I lived in Newburgh, N.Y., at that time. Mike’s brother Bobby Aquilino and his wife, Sissy, and their kids have lived in southwest Miami, for many years.
In August, Bobby and Mike kidded each other about the hurricane activity in the Atlantic. Florida had had their share of hurricanes but this one named Andrew was a powerful storm and was headed in Miami’s direction.
As the days went by and the storm was getting closer and stronger, the plywood began going up on the windows of homes in Kendall, Miami and all the coastal areas.
We kept our communication with Bobby, Sissy and their daughter, Nilda. They would not be leaving the house as they had a dog and would not be allowed to bring him to a shelter. They live about 10 miles from the east coast of Florida and as the storm came closer they did not have a mandatory evacuation.
Sunday evening, the 23rd of August, the weathermen were predicting Andrew’s path to make a direct hit on the Miami area. They relayed to us later what happened on the morning of the storm.
Early Monday morning, they parked their two cars and their daughter’s car on the south side of the house, under the porch, just outside the slider doors. Nilda brought their pet rabbits in the house in a cardboard box. Then they huddled on a mattress in the hallway of the house, with another mattress on top of them.
As the wind and storm sounds began to increase, Bobby and Sissy held each other and said their “I love you’s” and said they were happy to have been with each other for the many years of their marriage.
After an hour or so, Bobby, Sissy and Nilda heard the wind diminish and went outside to see the eye of the storm pass over. They went back inside to huddle as the more powerful northeast quadrant passed over their home.
As the storm moved farther west, they realized the severe damage to their home and the area. Their roof was missing in parts, the triple slider back door had blown out and damaged both cars, trees were uprooted, fence panels were all just gone. But Bobby, Sissy and Nilda – and the rabbits – had survived Andrew.
The following are excerpts from a thank you letter written to those who helped Sakal help her family, beginning with a journey in a motorhome bound for Florida. The details demonstrate what it takes to survive the aftermath of such a storm.
“Fifteen miles from the Georgia border, the motorhome just lost power and we had to pull over on the side of I 95. … Tommy the tow truck driver told us he would take us to his station … They finally decided that it … it was not something they could do.
“We were [towed] to Savannah, Ga., about 25 miles away. It was now Friday morning and on the way we heard from Nilda via a friend that we should not come unless we brought the RV because the rest of the ceilings collapsed the night before due to the rain.
“We spoke to the service manager … who understood our plight and promised to help us but because it was Friday he could not get parts or work on it until Monday.
“Priscilla sat by the front reception area with the phone and her credit card number and called all the RV dealers in the area. Nothing was available. Everything had already been sent to Dade Co. Fla. … Then she remembered to try an uncle who turned out to be our savior. … We reached them and told them our problem and asked if they knew anyone who had a motor home. They said they would call back. He called with the news that his friend had one we could have. …
“We arrived in Broward County about 7 a.m. and met Nilda there. She would escort us to the house. … We began to see the destruction that Hurricane Andrew had made. All the highway exit signs were gone, as well as the lamps and the arms on the lampposts. The overhead sign stanchions had been flung on the sides of the road. Traffic was horrendous because all the traffic signals had been ripped off the polls and only some intersections had someone directing traffic. …
“Some of the houses had a whole side flung away making it look like a life size dollhouse. Huge cables from the power lines lay in rubble on the side of the roads. … We rounded the corner and cried when we saw their home. …
“We packed up the contents of the house … and loaded all the boxes and the appliances into a truck. … They repaired the two holes in the roof. … Finally the birds came back flying crazy circles around the yard trying to figure out all the changes in their environment. Of course the mosquitoes found their way back immediately and viciously attacked us all in the evenings.
“We are so glad to have been able to have helped bring a little relief.”