Don’t Bet on Being Lucky

Our intrepid columnist recalls his own experience with Hurricane Andrew.

Steve Haefele illustration
"Andrew’s impact became clear the next morning as we entered Biscayne Bay. It’s usually clear turquoise waters were a milky mess cluttered with debris."Steve Haefele

I knew things had soured in the Sunshine State when I read the bit in our local paper. The Grim Reaper of foul forecasts—the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore—was spotted in town doing a live feed. “Twenty-four hours ago, this was ground zero,” Cantore said. Not good.

I’d already begun preparations for the blow, but I had no idea that Hurricane Dorian would mark such a horrible milestone in hurricane history. I’d run from—and suffered the aftermath of—lesser storms, however, having seen the devastation of a Category 5 storm firsthand had changed me. I will never forget Hurricane Andrew.

Our home rests on a 9-foot mound of marl alongside the St. Lucie River, just 2 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. So when we found ourselves in Andrew’s cone of confusion, we took action. My wife, Nelia, loaded the kids and dogs into the car and headed for higher ground. I boarded up the house, loaded the boat and headed north.

I should have hauled the boat and joined my family, but my favorite excuse for investing in a larger boat was that it could serve as a Federal Emergency Management Agency shelter. By the time I left our dock, a tangle of computer models suggested a curve north. But when? It would have been wise to cross the state to give Andrew time to make up its mind, but singlehanding the locks from the flybridge was not a desirable option.

I figured if Andrew chased me up the East Coast, I’d duck into the St. Johns River in Jacksonville and ride it out. The perfect addendum to a dumb plan. I ran out of steam in Titusville, noshed on canned tuna and cold beer, and hoped for the best. By morning, I realized I had lucked out. Southern Dade County, not so much.

I was headed home when Yachting hailed me and asked if I would continue south to provide an account from the water for the readers. I made a brief stop to collect supplies, and I shanghaied a crew with the promise of cheap rum. The lights were out when we arrived in Fort Lauderdale at night.

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Andrew’s impact became clear the next morning as we entered Biscayne Bay. Its usually clear turquoise waters were a milky mess cluttered with debris. Marinas were tangled webs of broken docks and boats. Daymarkers were missing as we threaded our way south to North Key Largo. I’ll never forget the sheer power and randomness of Andrew. I saw a carefully secured motoryacht resting on the bottom, alongside one still afloat that had been left for dead. It was dumb luck.

Only black-and-white images of the 1935 Labor Day hurricane that tore through the Florida Keys compared to my faded Kodachrome images following Andrew. Until Dorian.

Hurricane Dorian dwarfed Andrew in strength and tenacity. Our neighbors in the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama need our help. If you are able and have not yet offered your support, please do so—and please be generous. Another 80 miles, and it would have been us. Dumb luck.