The first major storm of the hurricane season boiled in from the Atlantic with merciless ferocity early last week, slamming through southern Florida before veering across the Gulf of Mexico and tearing into Louisiana with accompanying tornadoes. By midweek, as it diminished to a drenching tropical storm, Hurricane Andrew had earned a spot in the record books as the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Its toll: at least 24 dead, 250,000 people homeless, thousands injured and a staggering $35 billion in property damage. But although its power was greatly diminished, the remnants of the storm continued northward, reaching Ontario and southwestern Quebec, where it dumped record rainfalls in some areas, especially around Toronto.
During the storm’s nightmarish sweep across the Florida peninsula, winds gusting to 168 m.p.h. destroyed an estimated 63,000 houses, trashed power lines, flattened whole towns and scores of trailer parks and sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing to hastily organized shelters. In the flood-menaced coasts of Louisiana, 1.6 million people fled to higher ground. High winds in the city of Lafayette, west of New Orleans, blew the roof off a hotel crammed with hundreds of evacuees. In nearby Laplace, Andrew blew vehicles into the air and wrecked houses.
In Dade County, the area including Miami that was worst hit by the hurricane, local emergency officials criticized Washington for delays in deliv-
ering federal aid. Bureaucrats squabbled as thousands of Floridians went without basic services—clean water, electricity or a roof over their heads. Demanded Kate Hale, the director of the county’s emergency management office: “Where the hell is the cavalry on this one?” Declared President George Bush, who visited southern Florida just after the hurricane passed: “I am not going to participate in the blame game. We are just trying to help people.”
By Friday, four days after Andrew struck, 8,000 troops had arrived in Dade County and surrounding areas. Cargo planes flew in tents, food, water, portable toilets, emergency generators, earth-moving equipment and medical supplies. Among other things, the troops set up mobile kitchens serving the army’s ready-to-eat meals. And Bush cancelled a scheduled weekend trip to his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Me., to monitor relief efforts from the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md. Athough Miamiarea officials said that they were heartened by the arrival of the troops, they continued to criticize the government for failing to respond sooner. Said Hale: “It never under any circumstances should have taken this long.”
It will take months, if not years, to restore the devastated areas. And with almost every fruit tree in southern Florida stripped of its foliage, uprooted or broken, the impact of Hurricane Andrew on an agriculturally rich area could last well into the next century. □
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