© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

25 Years Later: Hurricane Andrew's Devastation Lingers


Twenty-five years ago today right before dawn, Hurricane Andrew slammed into Florida's Miami-Dade County, demolishing a large part of it. Andrew was the last storm to hit the U.S. as a Category 5 hurricane. Some people coped with it by listening to one particular voice. Alicia Zuckerman of member station WLRN in Miami has that story.

ALICIA ZUCKERMAN, BYLINE: As Hurricane Andrew made landfall, TV meteorologist Bryan Norcross was on the air.


BRYAN NORCROSS: Get to that interior closet. Get a mattress over your head. Get your family in there, and just wait this thing out. Hunker down.

ZUCKERMAN: He stayed on the air for 23 straight hours. The station was simulcast on the radio during the storm, so once the power went, people could still hear him. Immediately he became the hero of Hurricane Andrew. People were terrified.

NATALEE GEORGE THORNBURGH: The tree outside of my mom's window - she had a sea grape tree - shattered the window in her bedroom.

ZUCKERMAN: Natalee George Thornburgh was 13. She and her family went into the bathroom.

THORNBURGH: It was really hard to keep the door closed.

ZUCKERMAN: Outside, the winds reached 165 miles per hour.

THORNBURGH: Like, my arms bracing the sides of the wall and my back on the door. And my mom says when she would look up at me, my body was shaking so violently.

ZUCKERMAN: The power was out. Water was coming in under the bathroom door. They were listening to Bryan Norcross taking calls on the radio, and somebody else called in about trying to hold their bathroom door closed.


NORCROSS: That's what you need to do. You need to do everything you can to hold that door in, Madeline. And you all get all your might behind that because you need to stay...

ZUCKERMAN: In the morning when Natalee's family opened the door, their house was destroyed. She and her sister moved in with some family friends, and their mom's friend Lisa helped them write new lyrics to an old scout tune. Natalie hadn't heard this recording in 25 years.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) It was a hurricane named Andrew.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Named Andrew.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Thanks, Bryan Norcross.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Thanks, Bryan Norcross.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Y100, too.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Y100, too. It was a hurricane named Andrew...

THORNBURGH: It's so surreal (laughter).


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Thanks, Bryan Norcross and Y100, too.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) South Dade is gone.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) South Dade is gone.

THORNBURGH: I think about it all the time (laughter), but I think Lisa was kind of a genius to have us focus our kind of turmoil that we went through during that storm.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) People are still scared and paranoid.

ZUCKERMAN: They sent the cassette to Bryan Norcross. Lots of people were doing the same thing - writing songs about what they experienced and songs thanking him.

NORCROSS: Boxes of mail showed up. And in those envelopes were thousands of letters, poems, stories and these cassettes.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) Andrew, first of his kind - monster. It blew my mind.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Now, thanks to all the media folks. They sure did help us through. And hats off to Bryan Norcross, who told us what to do.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) It's a true story. This man named Norcross was busy tracking a hurricane on his own.


SWEET ADELINES CHORUS: (Singing) Bryan, Bryan, Bryan...

NANCY BOWERS: Bryan made us feel safe.

ZUCKERMAN: That's what people always say about Bryan Norcross. Nancy Bowers was the new director of the Cyprus Sound's Sweet Adelines Chorus when Hurricane Andrew hit.

BOWERS: We felt that Bryan had become our best friend, our dear friend.


SWEET ADELINES CHORUS: (Singing) Keep shining knowing you can always count on Bryan for sure. That's why...

ZUCKERMAN: Bryan Norcross kept all these cassettes in a closet. He's a senior hurricane specialist at the Weather Channel now.

NORCROSS: I had no plan for them until the HistoryMiami Museum called.

ZUCKERMAN: The museum asked him to curate their exhibition for the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. That's when he took out the box of cassettes. And earlier this month, he heard them for the first time in 25 years.

NORCROSS: It was therapeutic for them to share their emotions in some fashion after the storm. (Laughter) They're all miraculous in their way.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Singing) And when I turned around, I didn't have no home no more.

ZUCKERMAN: Bryan Norcross has a new book out - "My Hurricane Andrew Story." The songs are playing on a loop at the HistoryMiami Museum until mid-January.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Singing) We'll just stay right here and holler.

ZUCKERMAN: For NPR News, I'm Alicia Zuckerman in Miami.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Singing) Everybody was ready. We sure didn't know for what. But when Andrew started blowing, man, I'd have taken less than what I got 'cause I'd never seen... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alicia Zuckerman