CAPE CORAL, Fla — Thirty years ago, Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami-Dade County. The category 5 storm made landfall near Homestead, crossing the state and exiting Florida between Florida Bay and Everglades City, here in southwest Florida. Collier County saw nearly 30 million dollars in damage and nearly 5,000 properties with significant damage.
That’s when then 13-year-old Michael Harloff was living in the Clewiston area in Hendry County. His family evacuated to Manatee County ahead of Hurricane Andrew.
“Here we are living in a mobile home in the middle of nowhere.,” said Harloff. “My dad was a farmer out there in Devil’s Garden and here comes this big storm rolling in. And we were going to be in the outer bands, and we lived in a mobile home, so we said let's get out of here, let's evacuate.”
Harloff remembers coming back home to find his family's home spared. Something many Floridians couldn’t say.
“There was not much clean-up around the Clewiston area,” said Harloff. “But being in Clewiston, I had a lot of friends that were from Miami. A lot of classmates that had family down there and they had some devastation. They experienced the devastation.”
Harloff, who is now in real-estate, says Hurricane Andrew changed the building codes in the state.
“What came out of it, you know stronger wind codes and building standards,” said Harloff. “Just like any other devastation, we learned from it and like anything else.”
Learning is exactly what happened in Florida after Andrew.
“Things changed dramatically when it came to emergency management, safety, preparedness, but the building codes are the biggest thing,” said Erik Salna at Florida International University's Wall of Wind. “To where today where we have the strongest building codes in the country.”
Those improved building codes were seen firsthand by National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Robert Molleda during the landfall of category 4 Hurricane Irma in 2017.
“Really outside of some small pockets of here and there a lot of that area, Marco Island and Naples, faired quite well from a structural perspective,” said Molleda. “And I think that is a testament to those strong building codes.”
While building codes have improved, Salna says there is still room for improvement.
“Every one dollar we send in mitigation, saves 7 to 8 dollars in damage or clean up,” said Salna. “So, yes Andrew changed so many things, but today we are doing much better than where we were 30 years ago today.”
And as we look back on Hurricane Andrew, it was August 24th when the ‘A’ named storm made landfall in 1992, an overall quiet hurricane season but it brought one storm with some of the worst impacts our state has seen.
With 2022 seeing the slowest start since 1982, it is important to remember that it only takes one storm to make it a devastating season, especially as we approach the climatological peak of hurricane season on Sept. 10.