20 years later, Hurricane Andrew memories remain fresh
By JEAN L. KAESS
Until Hurricane Katrina, many people here defined their lives as Before Andrew and After Andrew. The Category 3 hurricane struck Morgan City at 3:30 a.m. Aug. 26, 1992, and changed the landscape — and lives — of the city and St. Mary Parish.
The statistics from the National Hurricane Center describe the storm in cold, hard facts:
A peak gust of 164 mph measured 130 feet above the ground was recorded in Florida, while a 177 mph gust was measured at a private home. Additionally, Berwick reported 96 mph sustained winds with gusts to 120 mph. The Daily Review reported at the time that winds were 150 mph.
Andrew produced a 17-foot storm surge near the landfall point in Florida, while storm tides of at least 8 feet inundated portions of the Louisiana coast. Andrew also produced a killer tornado in southeastern Louisiana.
Andrew is responsible for 23 deaths in the United States and three more in the Bahamas. The hurricane caused $26.5 billion in damage in the United States, of which $1 billion occurred in Louisiana and the rest in south Florida. The vast majority of the damage in Florida was due to the winds. Damage in the Bahamas was estimated at $250 million.
The storm first struck Homestead, Fla., as a Category 5 storm. Homestead is remembered by the national media as being the epicenter of destruction for Andrew.
Louisiana was the second landfall point, but remains foremost in the minds of those who lived through the storm.
RaeAnne Connor Lenderman said, “I was 10 years old. I will never forget driving back into town and seeing people walking around just lost. Everything seemed to be in slow motion, and we watched families dig through piles of debris trying to salvage anything they could. We lived across the railroad tracks in Berwick, and when we topped the tracks, we saw our roof gone. My daddy just started bawling. That was the first time I remember my dad crying — something I will never forget.”
Cedric LaFleur was Morgan City’s mayor during Andrew.
LaFleur said literally every home in Morgan City sustained some degree of damage, and news reports of the day indicate Berwick and Patterson were hit especially hard.
School was closed for a week in the parish and electricity took at least that long, or longer in some areas, to return.
Morgan City Fire Chief Morris Price, at that time a captain with the department, said it took two days for firefighters to clear a one-lane path from the diesel plant on Front Street to the Joseph J. Cefalu Sr. Municipal Steam Plant on Myrtle Street so that work could begin on electricity repair.
Residents’ memories of being in the area at the time vary.
“My son will be 20 this month,” Antoinette Brown said. “He was born smack in the middle of Andrew, 2.6 pounds and 12 weeks early. So, yeah, I remember that one.”
Terri Sons said, “It was hard driving back to town knowing we didn’t have a home to come back to. It was hit by a tornado. I was in high school at the time. It was a huge reality check. Your life changes in a split second! I will never forget Andrew!”
Millie Martin Angeron was living in the Bahamas in 1992.
“My husband sent me, along with our three small children, to be here with his family because of the threat to the islands. In the days to follow our arrival, my feelings of security turned to anxiety watching Andrew plow through south Florida as he set his sights on south Louisiana.
“My father-in-law and brother-in-law worked for Oil and Gas at the time. We were told that we would be allowed to take shelter on one of their larger vessels, which had taken safe harbor in the Bayou Boeuf. Of course, I thought that was a fabulous idea! I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I only knew that as we were driving east on Highway 90 toward Amelia there was traffic backed up for miles heading west. My 6-year-old nephew asked the obvious question. ‘Why are we the only ones driving this way?’”
Ney Toups took away a bit of valuable knowledge from her Andrew experience.
“I remember that hurricane. It was very nasty. Me and a few of my family lost some things, but we still had each other and that’s what mattered the most. So, now, when they say ‘hurricane,’ me and my family say ‘highway.’”