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Hurricane Andrew In The Eyes Of Teens

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NOAA
An infrared satellite image shows Hurricane Andrew making landfall in South Florida. The storm killed 15 people in the hours that followed.

If a hurricane hit today, Isaias Torres and Leah Richter Torres would be together. They're married and just had a baby girl.

But 25 years ago, they were in completely different places.

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Credit Isaias Torres
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Isaias Torres and his wife Leah Richter Torres

Isaias, then a 13-year-old on his way into eighth grade, lived with his mom. During the storm, his parents, who had recently divorced, came together under one roof in Hialeah.

Leah, then 17, was on her way to study environmental engineering at the University of Florida. Her mom, dad and two little sisters got into the car to drive her to Gainesville the Friday before Andrew.

Her family drove back to Broward County to board up their house. They arrived the day before the storm hit. 

Isaias' Story: Hiding In The Closet To Keep Safe

You know, we were kids so we thought it was fun, eating junk food — cookies, moonpies, Little Debbie snacks. 

The power went out early in the night. It was dark already. We were all in the living room playing board games: Monopoly, Parcheesi, Uno. My parents lit candles. We had a lantern.

My parents grew up in Cuba. They had been through hurricanes. I don’t think they took it as seriously as they should have. We weren’t prepared for an extendeded amount of time. We probably had food to last us maybe a week if we stretched it, but not even. Just a few days worth.

And the tape. The tape on the windows. That was the most fascinating part of it — one window that wasn’t covered with plywood, we had tape on it, so if the windows broke, the shards of glass wouldn’t go flying, which in hindsight seems kind of stupid. 

That sliding glass door that wasn’t covered — just from the pressure and the wind you could see it bowing in and out inches. It was dramatic, almost pulsating. At one point, when it got really bad, my dad got us and took us into the walk-in closet of the bedroom because we thought it [the window] was just going to burst. Of course, that was after we saw trees falling over, getting ripped, uprooted, signs getting ripped off the wall, flying through the air.

My sister was 10 and she was freaking out. She was crying, hysterical from the sound and then the rattling of the windows, no matter how much my mom and my dad tried to calm her down.

"No, estáte tranquilo. Esto es normal. Es cosas que pasan en la naturaleza. Es una lluvia. Es una tormenta normal, un poquito más fuerte. No te preocupes. Todo va estar bien."

She would calm down for a minute and then some crazy noise would happen and she’d just freak right out right after that. 

The worst part of it, I remember it sounded like a train was passing right out on the other side of the wall. And there was like this howling. It became very eerie after a while.

Leah's Story: Where Is My family? 

After the storm, you started hearing all these news reports and I couldn’t reach my family. It was before cell phones. All the phone lines were busy because everyone was trying to reach everyone.

I just remember being in the registration line, trying to get my classes and listening to conversations. And you hear someone say they were from Miami or they were from wherever, Fort Lauderdale. You’d kind of just jump into the conversation, “Hey, have you talked to anybody, where? And do you know, are they OK?” You’d kind of get a sense of relief if you heard good stories. 

A lot of us were in the same boat. We hadn’t heard from anybody and we were just looking at news reports and freaking out. 

One girl I was friends with the whole four years I was there. We met in line and she was from Miami and we talked about Andrew. 

It was really scary — being away at school by myself, not knowing how to get in touch with them and wondering if everything was OK.

They were fine; they only ended up losing a few roof tiles at the end of the day.

Broward County was very lucky.

You can hear all the stories we collected and aired on WLRN for the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew here: 

Katie Lepri Cohen is WLRN's engagement editor. She previously covered city government and corruption, environment and the arts at the Miami Herald. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Florida International University.