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25 Years Later: Reflecting on Hurricane Andrew’s Impact

Thursday, August 17, 2017
Article by: Jennifer Nelis, FNGLA’s Director of Communications and Public Relations

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Many in Florida’s nursery and landscape industry define their careers, and some even their lives, by before and after Hurricane Andrew. 

August 23, 1992 is not a date easily forgotten for many. Nursery after nursery-- block after block.  Just devastation. The reported 160 mph winds tangled greenhouse structures, scattered shadehouses and redefined South Florida’s nursery industry.

Surveying the damage - Official images from FNGLA’s archives show the widespread devastation. Officially, 65 people perished as a result of the storm, yet speculation puts the number far higher given the destruction of large swatches of migrant farmer housing. Nursery owners reported never hearing back from many of their employees.  Some feared they had died, others believed many simply moved on. FNGLA PHOTO
When all was said and done, the National Hurricane Center and NOAA’s official tally reported the figure of $25.3 billion in damage in Florida. Ground Zero: Cutler Ridge, Florida City and Homestead. 

In 1992, records showed 842 nursery operations were in Dade County and most of these were located in or near Homestead. 

Mainstream media reported officials saying “Homestead Air Force Base no longer exists.” The same was true for Miami-Dade’s nursery industry.  At least for most of it. People were numb and dazed.  And no one really knew where to begin.

Many nurseries were literally blown off the map. Losses accounted for an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the state’s tropical foliage production and, to add insult to injury, very few nurseries had crop insurance. And of those who did, most had minimal coverage. When acres were tabulated, there were 7,200 nursery acres flattened or nearly flattened.

In a measure of solidarity, almost immediately, and true to the salt-of-the earth character of nursery folks, FNGLA (then FNGA) and the Florida Foliage Association joined forces to establish an emergency relief program. Many in the nursery industry in unaffected areas of the state dropped everything to coordinate, gather and deliver semi-trucks loaded with food, water and life essentials to their South Florida counterparts. Costa Farms’ then new loading dock became “relief central.”

The aftermath - Mangled metal adorns a storm-tattered tree at Bullis Bromeliads in Homestead. Structures were shells of what they had been just the previous day and, across South Florida, rebuilding was a slow and arduous task. FNGLA PHOTO
And once the human needs were satisfied, the industry’s character shone brightly as truckloads of shadecloth, pots -- even chainsaws -- and many of the essentials needed to rebuild nursery structures and get people back in business were sent in droves. This is the still the very nature of Florida’s nursery and landscape industry.

As we remember the impact 25 years later, we acknowledge its devastation and remain in awe of the power of Mother Nature.  Yet, 25 years also brings a certain level of perspective from which we can move forward. 

Andrew was the most destructive hurricane ever to hit Florida and the costliest in the U.S. until Hurricane Katrina nearly drowned New Orleans. 

Yet, we use much more than dollars to measure Andrew’s impact: We tally the struggle -- and the faces of those who fought their way back into business in the industry they loved. Industry peers, and even competitors, became family.

For many, the memories of Hurricane Andrew are still clear as day. For the South Florida nursery community, Hurricane Andrew is one storm which will never be forgotten.

First-Hand Account: FNGLA's Linda Reindl Recalls Andrew's Devastation

Lending a hand - FNGLA’s Linda Reindl, 1992. FNGLA PHOTO

FNGLA’s Linda Reindl was in her first year of working with the industry.  She joined an all-industry relief team at ground zero which included Lee Goode (Agri-Starts, Inc.), Mike Rinck (AG 3), Paul Finora (Grandview Botanicals), Debbie Reason, Vincent Rayez Jr., Rex King and Gary Markle (all from Wekiwa Gardens), and then FFA Executive Director Steve Munnell. More industry members traveled independently and others stayed in Central Florida coordinating relief shipments from all corners of the U.S.

A newbie to the industry in 1992, Linda was struck at how everyone pulled together at the most critical juncture. 

The group made their way through military blockades setting up shop at Costa Farms. The team tirelessly organized the mass outpouring of supplies from the industry-- servicing anyone who showed up.  And when they realized people couldn’t reach the supply center, they mobilized taking supplies directly into the hardest hit areas.  This was before even FEMA could reach the area.

Linda recalls, “We worked and worked because there was just so much to do.  People were literally left with nothing. And they were counting on the supplies we had so we didn’t hardly stop, even to sleep.”

Among her most vivid memories today, Linda recalls, “The landmarks were gone. There were no street signs. Trees in the landscape had no leaves. There were no bugs, no birds.  It was just plain eerie.”

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