As Floridians keep a close eye on Tropical Storm Isaac, some are looking back to another storm that devastated the state 20 years ago today.
Hurricane Andrew ripped through South Florida on Aug. 24, 1992, damaging about 100,000 homes, killing 15 and causing $25 billion in wreckage.
The Category 5 hurricane that was once regarded as the most expensive natural disaster in the United States history provided the motivation to better prepare for future storms. In the years since Andrew tore through Homestead, Florida City and parts of Miami, hurricane protection on homes and businesses has improved, and social media has made communication more effective and efficient.
But as population in South Florida has grown, so has the number of residents at risk. And predicting hurricane intensity still needs to improve, experts say.
"There are success stories here," said Max Mayfield, who was a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center during Andrew. "One of them is the money donated to hurricane research. It paid off in terms of forecasting. We're finding out now five days ahead, but need help on intensity forecasting."
Mayfield recalls sitting in the towers at the hurricane center watching Andrew, his sleeping bag laid out on the floor. The storm made landfall around 4:30 a.m. with a bang, Mayfield said, and shredded the satellite antennas the hurricane center's staff relied on for tracking.
"The power was out, couldn't contact our families," Mayfield said. "But no matter what was going on we had to stay focused on the storm, stay focused on the job, even if people were dying."
Twenty-six people died in all — the 15 in Florida, in addition to three in the Bahamas and eight in Louisiana.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) responded with more than $290 million in assistance to more than 108,000 people. The agency also contributed $746 million to help rebuild public infrastructure, according to FEMA.
"Now while the quality of the building construction has improved and the building codes have improved significantly since Hurricane Andrew, over 70 percent of the housing in Florida were built before 1994 and are particularly vulnerable," Shahid S. Hamid, a professor in FIU's College of Business Administration told a Miami NBC station.
John Remington owner of Naples-based A. Vernon Allen Builder, said homes are now built "tighter, stronger and more water resistant."
Remington said they use nailing patterns that have more nails, and longer nails. The plywood is being strapped down. And most homes now have a secondary under-layer protecting the home if the tiles or metal blows off, Remington said.
Communication has also improved.
"We learned a lot from Hurricane Andrew and today our team is stronger than ever," said Phil May, a director for FEMA. "We've expanded our relationships with the private sector, our coordination with our state emergency management partners is better, and we communicate more effectively with the public."
Mayfield credits social media — a tool they couldn't fathom in 1992 — with improving communication.
"But it still comes down to personal preparedness," said Mayfield, who now works as a hurricane specialist for a Miami television station. "Doesn't matter how good the forecast is, the plans are, if you can't execute the plan, it's all for nothing."
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Ahmed Mohamed, a 15-year old, will graduate from the Fine Arts Magnet program at Blake High School in Tampa in two weeks. He plans on enrolling in the USF medical program this fall.