After Andrew, Florida Changed Its Approach to Hurricanes

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Many residents in South Florida began to evacuate Wednesday ahead of Hurricane Irma, which is expected by the weekend.

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Al Diaz/Miami Herald, via Associated Press

MIAMI — Survivors of Hurricane Andrew — a Category 5 storm that decimated cities south of Miami — talk of pre-Andrew and post-Andrew as a kind of biblical milestone.

But out of the ruin of the 1992 storm came changes that helped remake the way South Florida, the state and the rest of the country confront hurricanes.

“Andrew kicked our butts and we learned from it — basically in South Florida, people were running around like crazy, mostly in circles,” said Richard Olson, the director of the international hurricane research center at Florida International University. “It was a marker event in the history of South Florida and for Florida in general. Nothing was ever the same in terms of mitigation and preparedness.”

As Hurricane Irma trounced several Caribbean islands and headed for Puerto Rico on Wednesday, South Florida prepared for the possible landfall this weekend of a Category 5 storm with 185 mile-an-hour winds. State officials rolled out carefully detailed protocols for evacuations, storm surges, emergency response and power losses.

Gov. Rick Scott did not mince words: “This is a devastating hurricane,” adding that “the storm is bigger, stronger, faster than Hurricane Andrew.”

Andrew, which blew in 25 years ago, was the last Category 5 storm to hit the United States, and it clobbered south Miami-Dade County, flattening houses and buildings.

After the storm, South Florida approved a building code intended to make structures better withstand high winds. The state came to be seen as an international leader in storm preparation.

Laws were passed that required supermarkets, gas stations and hospitals to be equipped with generators so they could reopen quickly after a storm. Residents took outfitting their homes much more seriously. In addition to hurricane-impact windows, which are now common, many South Floridians bought hurricane shutters. Some have installed hurricane resistant roofs.

The storm also gave rise to the modern-day federal, state and local emergency response system.

Counties invested in rescue boats and vehicles, and began training teams of emergency workers in how to deal with big storms. Miami-Dade’s swift-response teams are part of a small,…

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