Remembering Hurricane Andrew

Special guest blogger today: my wife, Rose!

Fifteen years ago today, Rose and I went through Hurricane Andrew together in Homestead, Florida. We had just recently moved from Massachusetts. I like to tell people we moved to Florida, and Andrew unpacked our bags for us. Rose wrote the following account of our experience for our Christmas letter that year. She is a much better writer than I am, so enjoy the change of pace! Here is our Christmas letter from 1992.

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Christmas 1992

Dear Friends,

August 24, 1992, the day Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead, Florida, will always stand out in our minds as the beginning of a difficult, life-shattering experience. Four months later we are still trying to recover.

We were in an evacuation zone, but we decided to stay. It was a big mistake. We thought we were all warm and cozy and would enjoy listening to heavy rain and wind. Instead, around 2:30 a.m. we lost our electricity, and it got very hot in the apartment. We could hear the wind and rain rapidly getting stronger. We heard things breaking upstairs in our landlord’s home. The next thing we knew, she and her seven-year-old son came downstairs and joined us in our apartment. The wind had already broken into the upstairs, and they no longer felt safe. We sat around in silence and in question about the night.

All of a sudden the windows broke in the next room. We quickly got up, in shock, and flashed a light at the door. We were amazed at all the water coming in through the door. We grabbed a mattress and blocked one of the broken windows. We ran to the garage. The garage door was bowing in and water poured in on all sides. We spent the rest of the night in the hallway between the garage and our apartment.

I sheltered my son Ramón and myself up against the corner behind the door. I kept fearing that my 10-month-old boy (at the time) would fall out of my arms and drown or be blown away by the wind. I will never forget his fearful yet trusting eyes staring right at me as I began to panic. We stood in fear as the water started rising up around our ankles. We couldn’t hear each other unless we shouted. It was so loud and dark outside. If only we could have seen what was going on outside, I think we would have felt better.

We kept hearing things break upstairs. We were cold and wet. We kept waiting for the eye of the storm to arrive. We figured once the eye hit, we could ease up a little and try to see outside. It would also have been a good indicator as to how much longer we would be in the storm. The eye never came. We later found out that we were located at the northern tip of the eye.

It was finally around 8:00 a.m. when the rain and wind calmed down and daylight came. What a mess! Our carpets were soaked. Our ceilings were leaking. Broken glass and leaves were all over the floor. Branches stuck to the walls. Pictures and books were ruined. Clothes were scattered. We didn’t know where to start or what to do.

There was no place to put Ramón down. I mostly held him the whole time. We walked in circles, up and down the stairs. We grabbed buckets, pots, bowls and cans to place underneath the leaks from the ceiling. We had no phone or electricity. We couldn’t call family or friends to see if they were all right.

We looked outside in shock. Everything was torn up. Broken, twisted trees and mangled chain-link fences surrounded the house. Shingles and wooden debris covered the ground. The wind had blown out the rear windows of our car. Huge mounds of fallen trees blocked the driveway. We couldn’t get out. It took us two days to bushwhack our way through. As a result, Ray and I both got a bad case of poison ivy, holly or oak (we don’t know which it was). This made it difficult even to hold each other for comfort. Eventually we both managed to get treatment at a nearby MASH unit. Later I developed an infection and needed to take antibiotics.

After the storm, Ray spent most of his time working on the roof. I tried to get drinking water to my folks across town. We had no running water, but we found an abandoned hand pump to a well out where the woods used to be. We bathed a couple days after the storm with the cold water from the well (not a pleasant experience). It was difficult driving around town with all the fallen debris on the roads. Street signs were down; landmarks and homes were unrecognizable or destroyed. This made it difficult to know where you were going.

Homestead has been a difficult place to live in since the storm. We lived in darkness at night with a strict 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew. Military men roamed the streets protecting against looters. We certainly felt safer with them around, especially at night. We ate at the military soup kitchens when we were desperate for a hot meal. It was two months before we had electricity in our home. We lived off a generator until then. Our phone service was finally restored about three months after the storm.

Four months later, Homestead is still working through Hurricane Andrew’s aftermath. It has been difficult for me to see my hometown so devastated. There is still much damage, but we see some progress as businesses and restaurants (like McDonald’s!) begin to open up again. Well, at least, thanks to Andrew, the homes in Homestead will all eventually have shiny, new roofs!

Not only did Homestead take a beating but so did our marriage. We have been under so much tension and stress. Ramón has been cranky and irritable. Being a new mother under this situation was a terrible strain. I felt helpless and incompetent. I knew Ramón wasn’t getting the best nutrition. I worried about that. Ramón was so off schedule. He had no place to crawl for the longest time. For weeks he woke up screaming in the middle of the night.

Well, I know that there has been more to this year than just the storm. It has been difficult to see beyond the aftermath except as we think of the approaching Christmas Day. It makes us stop and ponder again upon the birth of Jesus. And we can’t help but think and remember how our now 14-month-old boy has grown and developed over the year. Ray and I will celebrate our third-year wedding anniversary this December. When we think of these things, we are filled with joy.

We have had many struggles this year. When we first arrived in Florida, we got hit with months of unemployment, an unstable church situation, the loss of old friends, and then Hurricane Andrew. Ray has a job now as a school teacher at a private Christian school. Our church situation is still uneasy, especially since the storm. Our home situation is unstable as our landlord is thinking of selling her house. We appreciate your continued prayers as we work through these difficult times.

God bless and Merry Christmas in Jesus our Lord,

Rose and Ray (and Ramón)

8 Comments

  1. Barrie says:

    Hi Ray,
    I read with much interest Rose’s account of your Hurricane Andrew Experience. I was mentioning to Kathie about her story. Kathie was assigned as a Triage nurse at the MASH unit in Homestead. She worked there for about a week after the storm. She was working thru Southern Baptist Convention and were assigned to the MASH unit located at a middle school on campbell drive, just west of the Florida Turnpike. I was working down there as a volunteer working on roofs and whatever else needed to be done. I remember very vividly the National Guard troops in that area. It was wonderful. I also remember bands of armed persons doing their own security patrols. I visited New Orleans this year and was brought back to the devistation that a storm can bring. Thanks for the memory of that storm. The State of Florida became a leader in Storm Prepardness AFTER that one. It took the National Guard to get things organized down there.

  2. eclexia says:

    Thank you, Rose, for sharing your family’s story and Andrew experience. We were not there at the time, but had family and friends who were. Homestead was never the same, nor were the people who went through it. Even this many years out, my heart aches for what you went through as I read your story.

    Thank you for your honesty in talking about the longterm strain you faced. When we say “God was faithful” sometimes I think we make it sound like His faithfulness makes it “all better”–some sort of spiritual glow where the hard stuff isn’t hard any more. But, in my own life, I have found His faithfulness IN the trenches of life’s uncertainties, not in deliverance from the instability. Thank you again for sharing the pain and struggles you faced as a result of Hurricane Andrew.

  3. Margaret Fowler says:

    We were far from Hurricane Andrew, safely in Massachusetts at the time. As Ray’s parents, we were very concerned about Ray, Rose and Ramon. My mother even phoned us from England to see if they were OK. Later, we saw them featured on the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour, along with Rose’s parents, being interviewed about the storm. We still have a copy of that interview on video.

    Rose, you are an excellent writer and made the storm live again for all of us who read it. Thank you. We thank God with all our hearts that he kept all our beloved family safe.

  4. Ray Fowler says:

    Hi Barrie,

    I can’t remember where we went for treatment. Everything was so confusing then. But who knows? Maybe Kathie triaged us that day in the MASH tent. We were so grateful to people like you and Kathie who came down to help after the storm. One group of about 30 teens came in and cleared our yard of trees and rubble several weeks after the storm. They did in a day what would have taken us weeks and weeks to do. Another friend drove a camper all the way down from Massachusetts for Rose’s folks to live in while their house was being rebuilt. Another friend came down and lived in our broken-down home with us for several months while helping to rebuild Rose’s folks’ home! We saw many examples of God’s incredible kindness to us expressed through his people during a time of great difficulty.

  5. Barrie says:

    Ray,
    I was living in Sunrise at the time of Andrew. Although we were quite a distance away, the winds even that far away were extremely strong. I could not believe the devistation we saw once we got south of Flagler Street. I had a friend of mine who was working at the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant in South Dade. Their wind meter broke at 204 mph. I had a cousin that lost a brand new house by the Metro Zoo. It was amazing that there were only 5o some deaths attributed to that storm in South Florida. When you viewed the carnage, it was impossible to see how someone could have survived.

  6. Bethany says:

    Hi Rose – Wow – What a powerful story. You made me shiver and tremble and shed a few tears all at once. I remember being so worried about you guys, but without TV (and certainly no Internet then!) it was hard to imagine what was going on in Homestead. Your writing made it so real.
    Maybe you should start your own blog! 🙂
    Love,
    Bethany

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  1. Hurricane Ike’s Destructive Path at Ray Fowler .org
  2. Severe Weather Events in My Life at Ray Fowler .org

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