After the storm: Hurricane Andrew ten years later

St. Petersburg Times

August 18: The storm
Hurricane Andrew touched the lives of thousands of people in South Florida. A tiny cul-de-sac is a microcosm of the storm's impact.

The biggest natural disaster in U.S. history touched every homeowner in Florida when insurance companies scrambled to cover losses. Ten 10 years later, the effects can still be felt.

August 19: Building
Andrew did more than devastate South Florida: It exposed dangerous shortcomings in construction and inspection. It took 10 years, but a new statewide building code is finally in place. Some builders, however, say they already have put Andrew's lessons to work.

Protecting your home
What to do to make your house safer during a hurricane.

Interactive look at Florida's building code
(For a non-Flash version of the graphic, click here)

August 20: Whatever happened to...
Kate Hale
, who with 10 words -- "Where in the hell is the cavalry on this one?'' -- became an instant folk hero and prompted a complete revamping of the federal government's emergency management agency. Find out what Hale has been up to since then.

And how about the others? The TV weatherman who reassured shaky South Florida? And the shotgun-toting homeowner seen around the country? And Homestead Air Force Base?

August 24: The 1921 Storm
Tampa Bay
hasn't been hit by a hurricane for 81 years. The 1921 unnamed hurricane caused millions of dollars of damage, but what would happen today if a similar storm hit the bay area?

Hurricane Animation

Related Links
2002 Official Hurricane Guide

Marjorie Barber camped at Goldcoaster Mobile Home RV park, taking turns guarding what was left of her family's property with a shotgun.

[Times photo:
Jack Rowland (1992)]

[Times photo: Jack Rowland]
Images of Barber and her gun appeared in a host of publications, including several Florida newspapers and National Geographic. Her new mobile home is one street from where the old one stood.
Listen to audio of Marjorie Barber:
The aftermath of the storm
Dealing with looters
Living through the storm
You will need the free QuickTime Player from Apple to play these audio clips.


Gun-toting camper still loyal to mobile home park

By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 20, 2002

Hurricane Andrew wrecked virtually every mobile home in the Homestead area. Marjorie Barber's was no exception.

"Everything was just splintered and flattened," she recalls.

After the storm, a determined Barber returned to the Goldcoaster Mobile Home RV Park and pitched a tent atop the wreckage.

For two weeks she camped there, taking turns with her brother guarding what was left of their family's possessions with a shotgun.

The image of the gun-toting camper amid the rubble appeared in a host of publications, including several Florida newspapers and National Geographic.

One night she nearly killed a looter.

"I had no problem with that," she recalled recently. "But I'm glad I didn't."

Her capacity for violence surprised her.

"It gets to the point," she said, "when you've had everything taken away from you already, and then somebody comes in . . . and they want to take what little you have left, it brings out an instinct in you that you don't even know is there."

Barber still has a scrapbook of photos from her 15 minutes of post-Andrew fame. She took it with her six years ago when she moved into a new mobile home in the Goldcoaster.

For four years after the storm she lived in Kendall, about 15 miles north of the Goldcoaster. But she returned because she missed Homestead. It's peaceful there.

She thinks the city is on an upswing again, thanks to a motorsports complex and new stores, such as Wal-Mart in nearby Florida City.

"Actually I guess the storm did us a lot of good," she said, though she never wants to see another one.

These days the Goldcoaster is about as full as it was 10 years ago, she said. Her new mobile home is one street over from where her old one stood. That lot, she said, "has been vacant ever since."

As bad as it was, Andrew taught her an important lesson.

"We lived through it," she said. "We have our lives and our health. The rest you can buy or rebuild."



Weatherman catapulted into spotlight

By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 20, 2002

On Aug. 23, 1992, Bryan Norcross was just another TV weatherman. A day later he was the most trusted voice in South Florida.

When Hurricane Andrew ripped through the region, Norcross' calming presence helped storm victims hold it together. The WTVJ-Ch. 6 meteorologist stayed on the air 23 hours straight, even while he and the crew crowded into a small area called "The Bunker" with a handheld camera.

He won a national Peabody Award. Officials in three cities declared a "Bryan Norcross Day." There was even a TV movie, with his role played by actor Ted Wass (best known as the dad on Blossom).

His salary shot up, of course. But he turned down opportunities to cash in big -- offers to go to New York and be a corporate spokesman for various products. "Too cheesy," he said.

Instead, the 51-year-old Melbourne native stayed in Miami. He made some changes -- tried anchoring the news, took an 18-month hiatus from daily broadcasting, changed stations -- but 10 years later he's still doing the weather, now for WFOR-Ch. 4.

Lately, he has been busy preparing the station's Hurricane Andrew 10th anniversary special. It renewed his drive to improve South Florida's emergency communication system, which he says remains as woefully inadequate today as it was in 1992.

He's also being interviewed a lot. Originally he told reporters his most vivid memory was a helicopter ride after Andrew, when he realized how many familiar landmarks had been blown away: "I know the South Dade landmarks like the back of my hand and I couldn't figure out where we were."

But in reviewing all the old tapes recently, he realized, "I had forgotten about the depth of the anguish that existed in people in the first three, four, five days. People were truly abandoned by their government. Maybe you forget about that because you don't want to remember it."



Permanent housing one of few blessings

By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 20, 2002

In a way, Andrew did South Florida's migrant workers a favor.

Ten years ago, hundreds of migrants who harvested Homestead's winter vegetables lived in dilapidated trailers at the Everglades Labor Camp near Naranja. The camp was set up in 1974 with 400 mobile homes provided by the U.S. Labor Department.

By 1992, the camp was notorious for its crime and squalor. The mobile homes were falling apart.

"They were unconscionable," said Steven Kirk, executive director of the Everglades Community Association.

Then along came Andrew and blew the place to bits.

"What we had down there was a ghetto!" then-Gov. Lawton Chiles said afterward. "But the good Lord helped us get rid of those. Now we're going to build it better."

At the time that sounded like a politician's promise, easily made and easily broken. But it wasn't.

Kirk's nonprofit association has spent the past 10 years using more than $40-million in local, state and federal grants and loans to build permanent houses for the migrants, creating a community called Everglades Villages.

So far they have built 448 homes. Thirteen families are living temporarily in mobile homes in Naranja until their houses are finished, Kirk said.

The work should be done by next spring, Kirk said. Then, the mobile home complex used for temporary housing will be converted to a park.

Besides the homes, Everglades Villages features child care centers, a health care facility and even a soccer field. As a result, migrants who 10 years ago stayed in South Florida only during the harvest season are now putting down roots. They are finding construction jobs and other seasonal employment so they can stay year-round.

"Today we probably have the finest farmworker housing in the U.S.," Kirk said. "It's one of the few blessings that came out of the storm."



Mainstay of the economy wiped out

By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 20, 2002

In size and economic impact, it was Hurricane Andrew's biggest victim.

The 1,632-acre Homestead Air Force Base was flattened, wiping out 7,500 jobs and a $400-million-a-year mainstay of the Miami-Dade economy.

Then-President George Bush vowed to rebuild it, but Congress balked. So when President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he promised to replace the lost jobs by converting the base into a commercial airport.

Administration officials boasted that the transfer to local officials would become a model for redeveloping other closed military bases around the country, a promise that turned into a bitter joke.

County commissioners leased the base to a company with no experience in the airport business. Run by members of Miami's politically powerful Latin Builders Association, the company proposed an airport that would see more than 200,000 planes a year by 2014, more than double the number of Air Force flights.

Initially that was fine with the Air Force, which in 1994 said the project would have a negligible environmental impact on nearby Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park.

But environmental groups, with financial backing from wealthy Key Largo landowners worried about their property values, contended that noise and pollution would ruin the two parks. In 1997, they persuaded the military to take another look.

The second review, completed in Clinton's last days, found that other options could provide greater environmental protection than an airport. By then, Congress and the Florida Legislature had approved the first stage of an $8-billion plan to restore the Everglades. That helped tip the balance.

So the Air Force agreed to hand over more than 700 acres of the base to the county -- but not the runway. That will continue to be used by the Air Force Reserve and other federal agencies.

The County Commission and airport developers sued, but the commission dropped the suit in December, agreeing to the Air Force's terms.

In a recent newsletter to constituents, Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who represents Homestead, wrote that she expects the county to finally take possession of the property this fall "and shortly thereafter there will be a developer's conference to solicit ideas. . . . Ultimately it is my goal to have the project put out for competitive bidding."


Stadium sees rebirth as movie set

By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 20, 2002

Like a lot of Florida cities, Homestead officials pinned their hopes for a brighter economic future on baseball.

They spent $22-million on a 6,700-seat spring training stadium to lure the Cleveland Indians from Tucson, Ariz. The team signed a 22-year contract and planned to start playing in the salmon-colored stadium in early 1993.

But the Indians never got a chance to use it: Andrew rendered the new ballpark unusable.

Because Homestead officials believed it was so important to the city's economic recovery, they rebuilt the ballpark before many other public facilities.

They even had crews working overtime to get the stadium ready for a 1993 exhibition game between the Indians and the Florida Marlins.

Cleveland's response: No thanks.

"The Indians reneged on the contract," said city marketing director Charles LaPradd.

The Marlins and the Baltimore Orioles had an exhibition game there in 1994, and there was some college spring training, but that was it. Meanwhile, the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on upkeep.

Finally, Hollywood came calling. In 1999, director Oliver Stone used the stadium as a football training facility for his movie Any Given Sunday.

And this year, a New York-based television production company leased the stadium for a year for more than $200,000 to shoot 13 episodes of a new HBO drama series, Baseball Wives. The show is set around the fictional Miami Kings baseball team.

One reason producers liked the Homestead stadium: it has no tenant and no scheduled games to work around.


Change of scenery for many

By JIM ROSS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 20, 2002

Norb Bush enjoyed living in South Florida. There were plenty of clubs where the rock drummer could jam, his friends lived nearby, and he loved the Dolphins and the University of Miami Hurricanes.

But Bush left it all behind in September 1992 and headed north to Citrus County, best known for its retirees and manatees. The nightlife is limited, and football fans prefer the Bucs and the Gators.

But it has one distinct advantage: It's a long way from where Hurricane Andrew blew through his life.

Ten years later, Bush has mixed feelings about the move.

"I like the area and the people are nice and everything," said Bush, who lives in Floral City, a small town in southeast Citrus. "For me, musically, there's really not a lot."

Andrew spawned an exodus from south Miami-Dade. Some people didn't wander far: Broward County's population boomed 29.3 percent during the 1990s, partly because it absorbed so many of its southern neighbors after Andrew.

Others moved out of state, while some -- it's unclear how many -- made their way to Citrus.

Those who left were soon replaced by people with no memories of the devastation.

The house Bush was renting in Homestead was severely damaged and he didn't have insurance. Bush couldn't afford the high rents landlords charged after Andrew. But he did get a $1,500 federal relocation grant.

Bush visited friends in Citrus, who told him of the affordable housing options. He was caring for his father, who had Parkinson's disease, and needed to move someplace quickly.

"I do miss playing (drums) all the time, but I don't miss the crime that comes with living in or near a big city," Bush said.

Others who made the move have deeper regrets.

"I really liked living there," Betty Hamley, 73, said of the Homestead mobile home park where she and her husband, John, lived. After their mobile home was destroyed, they had insurance money and felt a need to get away.

She and her husband chose Inverness because their son, Michael, lived there. "I wanted to move away from the coastline," Mrs. Hamley said.

She got her wish, but in most other respects her new life is not as pleasant. "I had a lot of friends in Homestead, because in the park everyone knew everyone," she said. "I find here it's very hard to make friends."

Things couldn't have turned out any differently for Jane Boone, 45. "It's definitely been a good move," said Boone, 45, who moved to Inverness.

When Andrew hit, Boone was a single mother raising four sons, ages 2 to 14. Her divorce was pending. Her father, who lived nearby, was dying. She had just lost her teaching job and undergone surgery to repair damaged vocal cords when Andrew damaged her southwest Miami home.

It wasn't so much the damage that prompted her to leave. "I really remember thinking of that storm as God's last message to me to shake me up and say, "You need to kind of change direction.' "

Her mother and some other relatives already lived in Inverness. Boone took her youngest son, Paul Rodriguez, while the other boys chose to stay in South Florida.

"Several people said, "You are going to have a culture shock,' " said Boone, a licensed massage therapist. "I think what Inverness did was bring out the country girl in me.

"I moved here to find peace of mind, to rebalance my life and just to feed my spirt," said Boone. "And boy, it did that."

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