20 years ago, Cat 5 Andrew brought "noise of death" - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

20 years ago, Cat 5 Hurricane Andrew brought a "noise of death"

On Sept. 4, 1992, an aerial picture was taken with a fish-eye lens to show the devastation left by Hurricane Andrew in Florida City, FL (AP Photo) On Sept. 4, 1992, an aerial picture was taken with a fish-eye lens to show the devastation left by Hurricane Andrew in Florida City, FL (AP Photo)

Homestead, Fla. -- Those who rode out Hurricane Andrew in Homestead, Florida 20 years ago this week say the pictures, as devastating as they are, fail to capture what it really was like.

"I came out of my house, I didn't know which was north or south," recalled Alexander Rolle, the Homestead police chief, who was a major on the department at the time.

"It was whistling and blowing and made a funny noise," Rolle said.  "It was a noise of death."

Until Hurricane Katrina, Andrew ranked as the costliest storm in U.S. history, with $28 billion in damage and 28,000 homes destroyed.

Homestead Emergency Management Coordinator Ed Bowe owned one of those homes.  But Bowe, his wife and children rode out the storm at a friend's house.

"He said, 'come on over, stay with us. We'll have a hurricane party.'  I didn't know any different. I said, sure, sounds good," Bowe said.

By the time it was over, Bowe said six adults, four children and two dogs "all ended up huddled in the bathroom on the first floor" with water up to their ankles.

20 years later, few signs of the storm remain.

The population, 60,000 today, more than doubles the pre-Andrew number.

John Burgess, Homestead's vice-mayor, explains the boom was partly the result of greater Miami running out of places to put people as its population boomed.

"There's nowhere to go. You run out of space because we're at the end of the peninsula down here," Burgess said.

Because Homestead enjoyed so much of the Florida real estate boom until 2008, the housing market suffers more than most today. 

Elected leaders brag that the tougher building codes passed in the wake of the storm make homes and businesses more resistant to the next big wind.

"When we heard windows started breaking, all I was thinking about we're gonna die," Chief Rolle said.

While Andrew claimed 15 lives in south Florida, Rolle believes even five minutes more of the Category 5 winds would have have drastically driven up the death toll.

Everybody, he says, seemed to have the same story of the entire family piled into one last room of their house.  Had the winds continued, Rolle believes "thousands and thousands of people would've been killed in this city."

A number of years after the storm, the National Hurricane Center reclassified Andrew as a Category 5, one of only three to strike the continental U.S. in recorded history.

The top winds in the storm were never measured because the wind measuring instruments were destroyed.

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