As the hurricane season of 1992 approached, a massive tropical storm formed in the Atlantic Ocean in mid-August, and began slowly trekking toward the Florida coastline. The most destructive United States hurricane of record started modestly as a tropical wave that emerged from the west coast of Africa on August 14. The wave spawned a tropical depression on August 16, which became Tropical Storm Andrew the next day. Further development was slow, as the west-northwestward moving Andrew encountered an unfavorable upper-level trough. Indeed, the storm almost dissipated on August 20 due to vertical wind shear. By August 21, Andrew was midway between Bermuda and Puerto Rico and turning westward into a more favorable environment. Rapid strengthening occurred, with Andrew reaching hurricane strength on the 22nd and Category 4 status on the 23rd.
Prior to Hurricane Andrew, comprehensive hurricane evacuation studies had been completed for the lower southeast Florida coast (Monroe, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties). These studies and their associated work products were jointly funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Florida Department of Community Affairs, and the National Weather Service. The Jacksonville District of the Corps of Engineers served as project manager for both the 1983 base study and the 1991 study update for lower southeast Florida.
Dade and Broward counties relied on buses and their drivers to move many elderly and special needs groups to shelter. Although some drivers did not show up for duty, those drivers who did assist Miami Beach residents were considered to be real heroes by local officials. Where appropriate, drawbridges were locked down to facilitate the evacuation.
Although most individuals and officials felt that the evacuation went well and that traffic moved as expected, there were complaints of traffic tie-ups on the Florida Turnpike at toll plazas that were still operating until 1:00 p.m. Sunday. Construction sites on 1-95 and the Turnpike created some congestion as well. A few individuals in Monroe County wrote complaints about traffic stopping on U.S. 1 throughout the Keys. This may have related to congestion caused by three stalled vehicles and road construction sites near Tavernier. Despite the expected levels of congestion it appears that traffic control officers did an exceptionally good job during the Andrew evacuation. It is also apparent that local emergency management officials took seriously the clearance time data that had been provided in study products.
After briefly weakening over the Bahamas, Andrew regained Category 4 status as it blasted its way across south Florida. Hurricane Andrew made landfall on 24 August 1992, just south of Miami Beach, and created a path of destruction across Dade County.
The hurricane continued westward into the Gulf of Mexico where it gradually turned northward. This motion brought Andrew to the central Louisiana coast on August 26 as a Category 3 hurricane. Andrew then turned northeastward, eventually merging with a frontal system over the Mid-Atlantic states on August 28.
Andrew produced a 17 ft storm surge near the landfall point in Florida, while storm tides of at least 8 ft inundated portions of the Louisiana coast. Andrew also produced a killer tornado in southeastern Louisiana. Reports from private barometers helped establish that Andrew's central pressure at landfall in Homestead, Florida was 27.23 inches, which makes it the third most intense hurricane of record to hit the United States. Andrew's peak winds in south Florida were not directly measured due to destruction of the measuring instruments.
An automated station at Fowey Rocks reported 142 mph sustained winds with gusts to 169 mph (measured 144 ft above the ground), and higher values may have occurred after the station was damaged and stopped reporting. The National Hurricane Center had a peak gust of 164 mph (measured 130 ft above the ground), while a 177 mph gust was measured at a private home. Additionally, Berwick, LA reported 96 mph sustained winds with gusts to 120 mph.
The Category 4 storm, packing winds upwards of 175 miles per hour, it virtually flattened the communities of Homestead and Florida City. Andrew would ultimately become the most expensive natural disaster in American history. More than 60 people were killed and scores more injured, 117,000 homes were destroyed or suffered major damage, some two million residents had to be temporarily evacuated. Flooding and high winds destroyed thousands of acres of crops. And overall estimates placed the storm's cost at more than $20 billion.
Nearly 10,000 active duty soldiers (from Forts Bragg, Lee, Drum, and elsewhere) joined approximately 7,000 Florida National Guard soldiers on the scene in Florida. On August 27, 1992, major units throughout the XVIII Airborne Corps began their deployment to Dade County, Florida, to assist in disaster relief operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. At peak strength, the Corps had 16,000 soldiers deployed to South Florida.
The mission of the Corps was to provide immediate emergency relief including food, water, shelter and medical aid. During subsequent phases, the Corps conducted debris removal operations, repaired schools, established relief supply distribution centers and assisted the local government in establishing sustained recovery operations. All disaster relief functions were eventually turned over to civilian contractors, and Corps units returned to Fort Bragg by October 21. As in past natural disasters, the cry for aid brought on by Andrew's massive devastation saw Quartermasters join in the vanguard of relief workers -- setting up tents for the dispossessed, warehouse areas and supply distribution points, field feeding centers, and laundry and bath facilities. Supporting Victory on the home front.
Homestead AFB operated until 1992, when Hurricane Andrew rendered inoperable 97 percent of installation facilities. In 1993, Homestead AFB was designated for base closure, primarily because the cost to close the base was low when measured against the high cost of reconstruction. In its aftermath, the hurricane left new environmental concerns and areas of potential contamination that must be addressed before the installation property can be transferred to the community.
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