Miami woman has been through many hurricanes, but ‘Andrew was unlike any other’

This story was transcribed from an interview during the opening night of HistoryMiami Museum’s ‘Hurricane Andrew: 25 Years Later’ exhibit. It was recorded in the Miami Stories booth, a partnership between WLRN and the HistoryMiami Museum.

I grew up in Miami so I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes. I remember in high school just watching the storm from my screened-in back porch. It was always a mess to clean up after but it was no big deal. But Andrew was unlike any other hurricane I’ve ever experienced.

I have a lot of glass doors on either side of my living room area and during the storm I literally had to get up and nail my front door shut because it kept blowing open. My living room was full of leaves. It was just amazing to me that so much stuff could come into the house even with the doors closed. It just tells you what the force of those winds were. I was with my then-husband, who was British and had no concept of hurricanes.

I had a lanai outside my bathroom and it was built around a sea grape tree. I realized the storm was going to take the sea grape tree and the lanai with it, so I ran and grabbed the iron bird cage I had out there and brought it inside in the middle of the storm. But you do what you have to do and thank God we were safe and uninjured, although I can’t say the same for our yard.

We had huge ficus trees that were knocked over. I couldn’t even get to my garage for three days. We had to cut a hole through the trees to be able to get the car out of the garage. My whole yard was shaded before Andrew and that all changed after the storm. It was unbelievable.

Of course, we also lost power, and when we lose power we lose water in my house. Back then I was still on well water. We didn’t get power back for several weeks. We had to go out and get a generator so we could pump some water, at least occasionally.

It took us months just to get gas in our car. Nobody had electricity to pump gas and we also needed gas for the chainsaws we used to cut through trees. I had stored just enough to use for the chainsaws and to drive to North Miami to fill up my car.

Sadly, my cat was a casualty of the storm’s aftermath. The kids came home from school one day and found her right by a pile of dirt and debris. It was traumatic for them. She kind of blended in with all the dead leaves and I think she must have gotten hit by a car. All the fish in my pond also died because pine needles fell in. I guess the toxins in that just killed them. I never expected that to happen.

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About a month after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Nanci Mitchell was inside her wide-open home when ‘a squirrel came in to have lunch with me.’

Photo provided to the Miami Herald

I really saw first-hand the effects the storm had on wildlife. One of my ficus trees must’ve had a nest of squirrels in it because all these squirrels would come up to the back door. After the storm, they would come and crawl up my leg looking for peanuts in my pockets.

One day about a month after the storm, I was in my house, which was open since we didn’t have any air conditioning. I was sitting at the table having some lunch and a squirrel came in to have lunch with me.

It actually got up on the table and kept trying to drink some of the Coke I was having with my sandwich. I thought, “Oh the poor thing is thirsty.” So I got a little ramekin, put some water in it and put it down.

I fixed it a plate of some sunflower seeds and pears and other things and it sat there right beside me at the table eating its lunch.

But it still kept trying to get my Coke. So I poured out the water and poured in a little Coke in the ramekin. The squirrel drank it right away. And then it was looking for more. It was so funny. I guess the squirrel liked sugar. Maybe they were just traumatized, too.

I was a member of the Master Chorale and I couldn’t go to my choir rehearsal because people were not allowed to be out at night. We meet in Fort Lauderdale and the members up there didn’t understand why the Miami members couldn’t come up. The storm was nothing to people just literally up the road. That was very strange. They had no idea what the devastation was.

And we were the lucky ones. It was years before a lot of places got rebuilt and some never did. About two years later, I went down to a fishing store off U.S. 1 and about [Southwest] 136th Street. I walked up to it to open the door and realized there was no roof. It was just the front of this whole shopping area. It looked perfectly normal from the street, but there was no roof on the building and nobody inside.

Hurricane Andrew impacted this city so deeply. I can’t believe it’s been 25 years and that so much has been rebuilt. I just hope we’re more prepared in the future. I know I am. I have city water now. No well.