Hurricane Andrew, 25 Years Later: 'Even The Squirrels Were Traumatized'

Aug 20, 2017

Growing up in Miami, Nanci Mitchell has been through a lot of hurricanes.

“I remember in high school, sitting on the back porch in the middle of one of the hurricanes, just screened in, and it was just neat watching the storm,” she said. “It was no big deal.”

But Hurricane Andrew was a different story.

In a conversation with her sister-in-law, who lived out of state, Mitchell, then 47, confessed that Andrew “was unlike any other.”

“There was nothing like this hurricane,” she said. 

Mitchell shared her memories of the storm with Miami Stories — a partnership between WLRN and HistoryMiami — during opening night of the museum’s exhibit: Hurricane Andrew: 25 years later. The following is an edited excerpt of her conversation with WLRN producer Katie Lepri:

I have a lot of glass doors on either side of my living room area. During the storm, I literally had to get up and nail my front door shut because it kept blowing open. 

My living room was full of leaves. It was just amazing to me that so much stuff could come into the house even with the doors closed. It just tells you what the forces of those winds were. I was with my then-husband, who was British and had no concept of hurricanes.

I had a lanai outside my bathroom and it was built around a sea grape tree. I realized the storm was going to take the sea grape tree and the lanai with it, so I ran and grabbed the iron birdcage I had out there and brought it inside in the middle of the storm. You do what you have to do and thank God we were safe and uninjured, although I can’t say the same for our yard.

We had huge ficus trees that were knocked over. I couldn't even get to my garage for three days. We had to cut a hole through the trees to be able to get the car out of the garage. 

My whole yard was shaded before Andrew and that all changed after the storm.

Of course, we also lost power, and when we lose power, we lose water in my house. Back then, I was still on well water. We didn't get power back for several weeks. We had to go out and get a generator so we could pump some water at least occasionally.

It took us months just to get gas in our car. Nobody had electricity to pump gas and we also needed gas for the chainsaws we used to cut through trees. I had stored just enough to use for the chainsaws and to drive to North Miami to fill up my car.

Sadly, my cat was a casualty of the storm’s aftermath. The kids came home from school one day and found her right by a pile of dirt and debris. It was traumatic for them. She kind of blended in with all the dead leaves. 

All the fish in my pond also died because pine needles fell in. I never expected that to happen.

I really saw first-hand the effects the storm had on wildlife. One of my ficus trees must’ve had a nest of squirrels in it because all these squirrels would come up to the back door. After the storm, they would come and crawl up my leg looking for peanuts in my pockets.

One day, about a month after the storm, I was in my house, which was open since we didn't have any air conditioning. I was sitting at the table having some lunch and a squirrel came in to have lunch with me.

This is the picture that Nanci Mitchell took of the squirrel that sneaked into her house looking for something to eat in the weeks after Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Dade.
Credit Courtesy of Nanci Mitchell

It actually got up on the table and kept trying to drink some of the Coke I was having with my sandwich. I thought, “Oh the poor thing is thirsty.” So I got a little ramekin, put some water in it and put it down.

I fixed it a plate of some sunflower seeds and pears and other things and it sat there right beside me at the table eating its lunch.

But it still kept trying to get my Coke. So, I poured out the water and poured in a little Coke in the ramekin. The squirrel drank it right away. And then it was looking for more. I guess the squirrel liked sugar. Maybe they were just traumatized, too.

Nanci Mitchell says the squirrels from her yard were traumatized after Hurricane Andrew too.
Credit Nanci Mitchell

I was a member of the Master Chorale and I couldn't go to my choir rehearsal because people were not allowed to be out at night. We meet in Fort Lauderdale and the members up there didn’t understand why the Miami members couldn’t come up.

The storm was nothing to people just literally up the road. That was very strange. They had no idea what the devastation was.

And we were the lucky ones. It was years before a lot of places got rebuilt and some never did. About two years later I went down to a fishing store off U.S. 1 and about 136th Street. I walked up to it to open the door and realized there was no roof. It was just the front of this whole shopping area. It looked perfectly normal from the street, but there was no roof on the building and nobody inside.

I can’t believe it’s been 25 years and that so much has been rebuilt. I just hope we’re more prepared in the future. I know I am. I have city water now. No well.

This story, as told by Nanci Mitchell is part of an oral history series called "Miami Stories" - a partnership with HistoryMiami museum. 

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