It took several weeks for the floodwaters to subside, making attempts to recover from the devastation nearly impossible. Burials proved to be just as problematic with many of the deceased buried in mass graves. Because nearly 75% of the dead were migrant farm workers, identification of the dead and missing was slowed and the final number has been subject to debate. The estimated tally provided by the Red Cross was originally at 1,836, which was the official count for many years. In 2003, however, the count was revised to at least 2,500, which makes the Okeechobee Hurricane the United State's second-deadliest natural disaster.
1947 - Fort Lauderdale Hurricane - Hurricane George
On September 17, 1947, Hurricane George, so named by the U.S. Weather Bureau Office in Miami, struck metropolitan Miami as a Category 4. It is the 4th strongest hurricane to strike the United States with rainfall measuring up to 10.12 inches. This produced significant flooding which drowned many heads of cattle in the Everglades and nearly caused Lake Okeechobee to overflow.
By the time of Hurricane George's arrival, South Florida had already been well-saturated by spring rains - so much so that the Everglades Drainage District held a number of emergency sessions in July to address flooding issues, a mere two months before the September storm, because the area was already partially flooded. Between Hurricane George and the arrival of Hurricane King on its heels in October, the flooding in South Florida was of historic proportions. This led to the implementation of the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District and plans for new levees and canals to help control flooding.
Hurricane George affected many counties throughout Florida, ranging from the South Florida region to the Panhandle. Along the coast, beaches were eroded and beachfront properties were greatly damaged by heavy surf. Coastal highways were washed out and piles of sand drifts formed on nearby grounds. Overall, in excess of 40,000 people moved into Red Cross shelters. Despite the magnitude of the storm and the resulting devastation, only 17 people lost their lives. Estimated damages reached $31.6 million dollars.
1992 - Hurricane Andrew
Hurricane Andrew roared ashore as a Category 5 hurricane on August 24, 1992, bringing with it high winds, rain, and catastrophic devastation. With $25.5 billion dollars in damage, Andrew ranks as the most expensive disaster in Florida's history, causing more property damage than hurricanes Betsy, Agnes, and Hugo combined.
Prior to its landfall in Homestead on the 24th, hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings were issued from Central Florida down to the Keys. Evacuation orders were put into effect for 9 counties as far north as Martin and Sarasota and southward to Monroe. Nearly 1.2 million people followed these evacuation orders, including the approximately 20,000-30,000 tourists in the Florida Keys. Some went to shelters that had been opened in their local areas while others took refuge at rest stops along I-75. It was reported that all 15,739 rooms at Walt Disney World Resort in the Orlando area were reserved. More than 200 miles of both I-95 and the Florida Turnpike experienced significant traffic jams as residents and tourists alike sought refuge from the impending storm. This mass exodus was most likely responsible for the relatively low fatality rate.
Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Sarasota
Rainfall from Andrew was light in comparison to other storms, so widespread flooding turned out not to be significant. Localized areas in South Florida, however, suffered street flooding and storm surges which reached heights of 16.9 feet in the Biscayne Bay area when tides rose between 4 to 6 feet above normal. In western Miami-Dade County, storm surges brought more than $500 million in damages to boats and businesses on the coast. The Everglades saw 70,000 acres of trees downed and the demise of nearly 182 million fish. On the west coast, the region saw widespread storm surges peaking at 6 feet. At Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, which happened to be directly in Andrew's path, a fossil-fuel unit suffered damage to a water tank and smokestack, though, thankfully, none of the nuclear containment buildings were breached.
By the time Andrew passed, 1.4 million people had lost electricity, some for up to 6 months, and 150,000 their telephones. Nearly 63,000 homes were decimated, and 175,000 people found themselves homeless. 82,000 businesses, 32,900 acres of farmland, 31 public schools, 59 health facilities and hospitals, 9,500 traffic signals, 3,300 miles of power lines, and 3,000 water mains were destroyed or damaged. A total of 44 people died.
Deaths by County
Cost of Damages by County
Broward: $100 million
Collier: $30 million
Miami-Dade: $25 billion
Monroe: $131 million
Broward, Collier, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties were declared disaster areas by then President George H. W. Bush. Recovery efforts began immediately after the storm with the establishment of a relief center at the South Florida Fairgrounds near West Palm Beach. During its operation, 5,500 tons of supplies were distributed to storm victims by more than 1,200 trucks. These efforts were conducted by more than 20,000 volunteers.
Military personnel constructed tent cities in Homestead and Florida City, the two hardest hit areas, which were capable of housing 3,800 people. Initially, they housed only 150 families, but filled up quickly once shelters located at area schools were closed in preparation for the start of the school year. Due to the influx of people, a sixth tent city was opened at the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. Mobile kitchens began making the rounds and more help arrived from the military's 82nd Airborne and the 10th Mountain divisions. Crime rates, which had seen a 50% increase because of looting following the storm, dropped upon their arrival.
Aside from the costly destruction and loss of life, one of the biggest problems that became apparent after Hurricane Andrew involved insurance. Nearly $16 billion in damages concerned insured losses. Because of the extent of damage, more than 600,000 claims were filed which resulted in 11 bankrupted companies and the loss of up to 20 percent or more of surplus by 30 others. In the end, nearly 930,000 policyholders were left holding the bag and some of the larger insurance companies opted to limit the coverage they offered Florida residents.
This brought about widespread reforms by Florida policymakers that included the creation of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (CAT Fund) and what was to eventually become Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. Both of these entities were designed to provide insurance coverage to residents who were unable to obtain private-market coverage, and to serve as a back-up for insurance companies that offer coverage in Florida.
Construction standards also saw a massive re-vamping after Hurricane Andrew when shoddy construction and "drive-by inspections" were discovered. John Gonzales, then Deputy Director of Public Works for the city of Port St. Lucie, and his team examined the damage in Miami where some of the lax standards were evident in Cutler Ridge. Most of the homes bore barrel tile roofs which weren't nailed down like they were supposed to have been. Even worse, they weren't secured in any way which allowed them to become projectiles when swept off roofs during Hurricane Andrew's winds which reached up to 177 mph.
In 2002, Florida adopted its first statewide code - the Florida Building Code - which required more stringent building standards including the ability of new structures to withstand hurricane force winds and the installation of shutters or impact-resistant glass to protect doors and windows. The results of these new standards became apparent when back-to-back hurricanes, Frances and Jeanne, struck the Treasure Coast in 2004.
Further strengthening of 2002's Florida Building Code has included an increase in the wind speeds that new buildings must be able to withstand.
Emergency Management Response
Emergency response was also overhauled after many people arrived to help during recovery efforts after Andrew, but those efforts were hampered because there was little authority designating who was responsible for what.
A reciprocal aid agreement has been established between Florida and vendors charged with providing emergency supplies to ensure a rapid distribution. Likewise, the Orlando area now has a large staging ground for stocked supplies. A bonus to this overhaul is that supplies en route to disaster areas can now be tracked allowing for a better time estimate as to when the supplies will be available to affected residents.
Evacuation protocols have also been set up to ensure that any evacuations run smoothly and that coordination between the different evacuation route counties is not hampered. This includes the distribution of gasoline to gas stations along the route to ensure they are able to receive their maximum amount of gas supplies.
While they haven't yet been used, plans to incorporate reverse-flow traffic patterns as needed on major highways during evacuations are in place to help avoid the gridlock that can, and has occurred in the past. Training operations are done yearly to ensure that if they are used, they are used effectively.
August 2012 - Tropical Storm Isaac
While certainly not reaching the magnitude of devastation seen by hurricanes, August 2012 saw Palm Beach County inundated with flood waters from Tropical Storm Isaac. 15 inches of rain fell in central and western Palm Beach County causing an estimated $80 million in damages to homes, public buildings, and businesses, and an estimated $1.4 billion to local agriculture. In excess of 69 homes experienced flood damage.
Additional Problems Caused by Florida Floods
Aside from the severe property devastation and loss of life that floods in Florida can bring, there are a number of resulting problems that can occur, ranging from the annoying to the significant.
Colonies of fire ants can drift in clusters on floodwaters, wreaking havoc on anyone who might come in contact with them. Their bites carry a toxin that can result in itching, stinging, and painful swelling of the affected area, however large or small that might be. They have also been known to cause deaths as seen in 2008 when Seminole County resident Bob Cunningham died after encountering a colony of fire ants floating on floodwaters from Tropical Storm Fay.
Of the 80 different species of mosquitoes known in Florida, 13 of them can pass on disease-causing microorganisms to both animals and people. Due to Florida's many standing bodies of water which provide ample breeding ground, mosquitoes can create problems ranging from bites that bring significant itching to far more substantive and potentially deadly problems like West Nile Virus.
Many Florida residents obtain their water from wells and they, too, can be affected by flood-related events. If there is any question whether well-water has been contaminated or not, the water drawn must be either boiled or decontaminated prior to use or it must be avoided completely until the contamination has been eliminated. This can affect normal, everyday tasks such as teeth-brushing, washing dishes, and showering / bathing.
Because of Florida's high humidity, mold is always a potential problem. Coupled with damage from flooding, it can quickly morph into a problem of major proportions. Any moisture from leaks or flooding can accelerate mold growth. Mold has been proven to cause any number of health problems, including diseases and allergic reactions, and it can exacerbate existing breath problems such as asthma. It can also continue to cause further material damage long after a storm has ended.
As is easy to see, problems caused by flooding in Florida can have long-lasting consequences. Damages can be far-reaching and may go well beyond what one may think of as "normal" flood damage. Please don't get caught unaware. Additional information concerning flood insurance coverage in Florida can be found on our website, and we invite you to peruse and educate yourself. For more information about flood preparation in Florida, please visit the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
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