Tears From Andrew’s Eye 25 Years Later

Andrew Was Here

I’ve only ever seen my now 87 year old father cry twice. The first time was on the occasion of his father’s, my grandfather E.H., passing. The second time was early afternoon on August 24th, 1992 a few hours after Hurricane Andrew left our community devastated and it’s a sight and experience that I will never forget.

Growing up in Miami there had, of course, from time to time been the threat of a Hurricane now and again but over the first 29 years of my life most threats of the ‘Big One’ thankfully never amounted to much.

As a young insurance professional the news of a large scale natural disaster always seemed to come in the form of a typhoon or tsunami on the other side of the world that would appear in the pages of insurance periodicals from time to time. That is until 1989 when Hurricane Hugo hit the South Carolina coast and did $3 Billion in damage while mostly hitting forests along that state’s coast. Even that storm, then the largest natural disaster to hit the United States, seemed strangely far away and few in South Florida seemed to pay it much attention.

That is until Andrew arrived on August 24th, 1992 and changed everything.

So on this, the 25th anniversary of that storm hitting South Florida’s shores it serves not as a milestone to celebrate but one to fear and to learn from. Hurricane Andrew annihilated much of South Miami-Dade and all of these years the loss of life and property, some $26.5 Billion at the time that easily surpassed Hugo’s total from a few years earlier as the largest natural disaster in American history, teaches us important lessons that every single resident of any coastal state on the Atlantic or Gulf should (must) learn.

And the first lesson is that it could have been much worse. Places like Homestead and Florida City looked as if a large bomb had exploded. Essentially those entire cities disappeared due to Andrew’s winds. Cutler Ridge (now Cutler Bay), Goulds, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest and a large part of unincorporated western Miami-Dade (aka Kendall) looked as if they were part of a disaster movie scene, or a war zone, after bearing Andrew’s ferocious winds for the three hours it visited our region that morning. And yet, had that storm’s center, its ‘eye’ made landfall on Miami Beach before heading into downtown and central Miami as might have happened rather than it landing in Homestead, the damage total would have easily been $50 Billion to $75 Billion.

The second lesson from Andrew is that if that exact same storm were to hit the exact same places today, in 2017, then the damage total would be $80 Billion to $100 Billion. These figures come from a new report from global reinsurance giant Swiss Re which created a computer model to estimate the outcome of Andrew’s exact track taking place in 2017 and it found that the damage total could reach $100 Billion. And it also found that of that total only $50 to $60 Billion of the total economic damage would be covered by insurance.

The third lesson is that if Andrew arrived today but made landfall 20 miles north of its 1992 track, in other words if it hit Miami Beach and the City of Miami before traveling inland, the damage would be a staggering $100 Billion to $300 Billion. The same Swiss Re study derived these figures based on the values at risk in 2017, current construction costs, the hypothetical track through Miami Beach and central Miami and other data.  And it, too, found that only about 50% of the damage would be covered by insurance, a number many have called ‘shocking’ given how the uninsured damages’ costs would impact our local, state and national governments.

The fourth lesson is that the risks we all face, each of us and our society as a whole, have grown exponentially since Andrew ravaged our community and state. Florida now is the third most populated state in the United States. Seemingly endless construction that fuels much of the risk we face from trillions upon trillions in property values noted above is everywhere. The market for homeowner’s insurance, and the insurers offering such coverage, are in many cases newer and untested as is a generation of insurance and reinsurance underwriters (and as I write this one of those newer firms, Sawgrass Mutual, just today announced it would cease operations and go into Voluntary Administrative Service with the Department of Insurance).  And a term that few had heard of circa 1992 is now part of our daily conversation, sea level rise, and it could, by itself, place South Florida’s very future at risk even without the impact of a hurricane but promises to possibly make the destruction from a hurricane today worse than Floridians have ever known.

The fifth and final lesson I’ll offer on this ‘anniversary’ is that it is only a matter of time, there will be another monster storm to hit South Florida and because of that it pays to not be complacent in your preparations or insurance protection. Just as I spent my youth ‘hearing’ about the damage hurricanes could cause the fact that it’s been nearly 12 years since a major (Category 3 or larger) storm hit the US when Wilma landed in 2005 does not mean it will not happen again. In fact, I have no doubt that it will happen again, it’s only a matter of when and where and how much destruction and misery people and their property will be subjected to the next time it happens. There will be a next time. There always is.

Hurricane Andrew significantly destroyed our former office on SW 158 Street. We lost our roof and every window and door. Virtually everything inside was sucked out and blew gosh only knows where, the Land of Oz perhaps. And when my father, brother and I arrived at that office near 2 PM that afternoon, hours after the storm had left South Miami-Dade in ruins we arrived to find dead fish plastered all over the walls from the one or more tornados that must have caused the damage that laid before our eyes.

And that brings me back to when I saw my father cry for the second time in my life.

Upon arrival at our office around 2 PM that afternoon we decided to board up what was still standing and get it ready, at least as ready as could be the case, to help our clients and employees. With that in mind my brother and I ventured off to find wood and whatever else we could to temporarily cover the gaping holes where dozens of French doors had been the day before.

Upon my return I found my father sitting on the floor in what was left of our office’s lobby, holding what was left of an advertisement flyer his father, my deceased grandfather, had created to announce the opening of his business, our insurance agency, in 1950. It had hung proudly in our lobby and was now in dad’s hands as tears ran down is face.

When I asked him why he was crying he looked up at me with a face still filled with the fear from the sounds and sights we’d witnessed just before dawn earlier that day as the storm howled all around us and said I was asking your grandfather what we had done to deserve this, why did Miami have to be destroyed?”.

In a business that is now 67 years and three generations old I am deeply proud to say that every single member of team Morris & Reynolds showed up bright and early the very next morning to begin helping our clients with claims. Some brought food. Some water. But all of them brought a positive spirit that somehow overcame the darkness that had passed over all of us, over all of South Florida, just 24 hours earlier.

And looking back 25 years ago, at a time when  we did not have electrical power for exactly 30 days, when Marshall Law ruled the day and especially the night and when military helicopters seemed to be in constant motion above us, I am also proud of how the professional people at Morris & Reynolds found ways to help, console and comfort literally thousands of clients deal with their loss and fears.

As we do each year, attached please find our annual Hurricane Season newsletter. In it you will find some comments about what experts predict will happen during the 2017 storm season as well as precautions to take before, during and after a storm. You will also find some helpful suggestions related to insurance and, as has been the case since 1950, our professional Underwriters and Agents are here to help answer any questions that you might have about any of these topics including your own coverage, windstorm mitigation discounts and all else.  As we say here at Morris & Reynolds, ‘When You Need Us The Most, We Will Always Be Here’ so for the honor of being ‘here’ for you, as always, thank you.

Miami Herald

Photo: Masud Quraishy / Miami Herald

 

Robert D. Reynolds, CIC, CPIA, AAM, AIS, AU
President & CEO of Morris & Reynolds Insurance
E. bob@morrisandreynolds.com | T. 305.238.1000 EXT. 116

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