25 years ago today: Hurricane Andrew hit Southern Florida

Twenty five years ago today, one of the strongest hurricanes to ever ripple through Southern Florida left damage and destruction in its path – including at the University of Miami.

It was Aug. 22, 1992, a Saturday night, when UM began preparing for Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane, set to make landfall within 36 hours. In preparation for the storm, freshman orientation, scheduled for Aug. 23, was cancelled.

Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely, associate director for residential life and staff development at the time, said she recalls how “quickly” the university put itself into action. In those 36 hours prior to the storm making landfall, residential assistants were briefed on the situation, over 4,000 students and their families were housed in Hecht and Stanford Residential Colleges and they were supplied with food and water.

“This storm came up extremely quickly,” Whitely said.

In the early morning hours of Aug. 25, Hurricane Andrew made landfall. With the storm packing 145 mph winds, the university suffered significant damages. The university sustained 52 damaged roofs, 80 windows and 1,300 trees. The damages hit faculty and staff members hard as well, over 400 lost their homes.

School of Communication Professor and Director of School of Communication Honors Program Mitchell Shapiro was one who saw firsthand the destruction that was left. According to Shapiro, he watched his neighborhood being destroyed live on TV while he was in northern Broward County at his brother’s house. The next morning, after the storm had passed, he drove back to his house.

“It is so hard to describe what we saw,” Shapiro said in an email. “As we got closer to my neighborhood, the damage and devastation grew exponentially. EVERYTHING was flattened. Just rubble. No trees, no identifying landmarks to know where you were.”

Though according to Shapiro, nearly every other house within two blocks from his was “90 to 100 percent destroyed,” his was untouched thanks to a part of a trailer that had blown up against his house.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I went inside and inspected everything. I couldn’t believe it but there was no damage to my home. The trailer segment had actually protected my house, as did several cars the blew into my lawn.”

Back at UM, the start of the fall semester was postponed by over two weeks. The university reopened on Sept. 14.

Despite the millions of dollars worth in damages to the university, everyone who was housed on campus during the hurricane was unharmed. Looking back, Whitely said she recalls her experience with Hurricane Andrew as “profound” and “deeply humbling.”

“I’m proud of our university efforts even before technology was available … that we were able to keep everyone safe,” she said. “Everyone worked as a team.”

Featured photo courtesy Flickr user Florida Sea Grant