Storm Survivors Didn't Learn From Andrew

ByABC News

Aug. 22, 2002 -- Ten years after Hurricane Andrew slammed into southern Florida, Louisiana and the Bahamas, killing 52 people and causing $30 billion in damage, the storm is far from forgotten — but that doesn't mean people have learned to protect themselves.

More than anything else, Angela McCue of Country Walk, Fla.,says she distinctly remembers the noise of Hurricane Andrew.

"I really thought we were going to die," McCue remembered. "We just sort of held hands, and we prayed, to tell you the truth. I just kept asking the Lord to take care of my kids."

Before Andrew hit, the McCue family had not thought to evacuate their home. They hid in a closet while their roof collapsed around them.

McCue says she learned her lesson: "Mother Nature is a very powerful source."

But 10 years after the costliest storm in American history, scientists say she's in the minority.

Refusal to Evacuate

Jay Baker, a professor at Florida State University, was commissioned by the Army Corps of Engineers to survey people's attitudes along the Atlantic Coast and found that despite repeated hurricanes, people feel safer today than they did in the years after Andrew.

"A lot of people think they've been through the worst of a hurricane when they were actually on the edges of it," said Baker, "and that probably contributes to their thinking that the hurricanes aren't as dangerous as they really are."

As Andrew approached Florida, 30 percent of the people in its path stayed put when ordered to evacuate. Seven years later, as Hurricane Floyd approached, 50 percent stayed.

"They need to understand if they live on a barrier island or right along the shoreline," explained Baker, "for example, how deep the water would be in their own home, whether or not there would be waves bashing against the side of their home."

Forecasters are now armed with better satellites and computer models that are more powerful than ever. But they warn that their ability to plot a storm's path only improves by 1 percent to 2 percent a year.

"So we really need to communicate the forecast and the uncertainty of that forecast every time we have a chance to," said Max Mayfield, director of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.

Ten years after Andrew, McCue has rebuilt her home. The coastal population has grown tremendously, as 5 million people crowd the shore from Texas to Maine. And scientists worry that they'll keep forgetting just how destructive a hurricane can be.

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