Hurricane Andrew struck the United States on August 24, 1992, and when it had finished ravaging the South Florida coast, more than a quarter million were homeless and damaged approached $30 billion. Initially categorized as a Category 4 storm, recent re-analysis of the damage data has led to a tenth anniversary upgrading of the storm to Category 5, only the third to strike the US mainland since accurate weather data have become available. From a psychological and social point of view, Andrew was unprecedented in its impact in modern times.
For In the Eye of Hurricane Andrew, Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr and Asterie Baker Provenzo have gathered personal accounts to give us an inside view of the impacts that Andrew inflicted on the people and communities of South Florida. Of the volume's seven chapters, one looks at the pre-storm period, one covers the storm itself, and six take us through the post-storm recovery period.
As the authors point out, the "book is not intended to be a definitive history of Hurricane Andrew. It is a book about a selected group of South Floridians, about survivors and rescuers and heroes and villains." The authors are not only chroniclers of the storm, but are also survivors who can bare witness to Andrew's fury. "Living through the storm was the most frightening and exhausting thing either of us has ever experienced," they wrote.
While the book relates the history of the storm and its consequences gathered from a wide range of published sources such as newspaper and documentary accounts, its prime focus is on the personal level. Nearly 100 people representing diverse backgrounds share their experiences with us through this volume: from a mother who weathered the storm in a tiny bathroom shared with another adult, four children, and a dog, to Bryan Norcross, the TV weathercaster whose voice guided many step by step through the storm. Their testimonies create a real sense of how Andrew impacted each human being the decision to evacuate or not, pre-storm preparations, what happened during the storm, the clean-up, looting, price gouging, rebuilding, and living in the aftermath.
At first, I was somewhat disappointed that more was not said on the experiences during the storm of those interviewed. But as I read on, I realized that the aftermath the first hours and through the following decade was perhaps the more important story.
Several years ago, I reviewed Hurricanes: Their Nature and Impacts on Society by Roger A. Pielke, Jr and Roger A. Pielke, Sr. That book looked at disaster management from a more academic viewpoint, in which, they discussed some of the impacts of Hurricane Andrew. In In the Eye of Hurricane Andrew, the Provenzos have produced the perfect companion volume, highlighting many of the Pielkes' concerns through the testimony of those who faced the winds as well as the clean-up and rebuilding.
In showing us how inadequately the residents and governments in Florida had prepared for the storm and its immediate aftermath, the book raises the question: "What have we learned?" The author's last paragraph asks that question of Floridians:
"Have South Floridians forgotten the lessons of Andrew? Weren't they supposed to last a lifetime? Aren't the lessons relevant to all Americans? By listening to the voices of the people in this book..., we hope that all of us will be reminded of lessons we should never forget."
I would ask the same questions of all of us. For was/is South Florida so different? Are we really prepared to cope with and respond to the next big natural disaster? Or even the smaller, slower ones such as posed by climate changes?
If you live along some coastal area where a hurricane may strike, I strongly recommend this well-written book and hope you will learn the "lessons of Andrew." And to those not in hurricane country, I recommend it for the lessons which we can learn and apply to tornado, earthquake or flood country. The next Big One may be just around the corner.
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD
THE WEATHER DOCTOR
November 1, 2002