Sanderson resident Anne Moshier fled Homestead, FL as a young girl to escape the wrath of Hurricane Andrew, which devastated the city and much of South Florida 20 years ago.
Last week on August 24, the anniversary of the hurricane’s landfill, Ms. Moshier updated her Facebook status to say, “Hurricane Andrew changed my life forever ...”
That day would have been her first day of 5th grade at South Dade Baptist Church and School. But the day before, she recalled this week, her parents, Terry and Howard Moshier, were in a frenzy.
Hurricane Andrew had reached Category 5 intensity and would become the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, that is until Hurricane Katrina hit some 15 years later in 2005.
But in the days leading up to impact, the hurricane was forecasted to make landfall further south, so the Moshiers, who lived in a sturdy home on the Homestead Air Force Base where her father was stationed, had not prepared.
“All the TVs in the house were on,” recalled Ms. Moshier, a Macclenny photographer. “The military police were on their loud speakers ordering everyone out. It was very surreal, like a bad dream. We started packing the truck with important papers, our pets and so forth. My dad was concerned about his Harley, so we brought it into the kitchen. I thought it was the funniest thing, but then again, I was a child and Daddy’s bike was never allowed inside.”
Ms. Moshier, 10 years old at the time, and her mother evacuated while her father stayed behind as ordered. Their destination: the home of her aunt, Wilda Heppner, in Sanderson. They slept in a spare room with her cousin’s toys.
“The traffic was insane in both directions, north and south. Truckers on the CB were talking about hurricane parties and I didn’t have a clue what that was at the time,” she said. “The rest areas and fast food chains were slammed with people evacuating and pulling over for a quick break before hitting the turnpike and highways again. It seemed to take forever to reach Sanderson, but I remember pulling in her driveway. From that point on, we stuck to the TV like glue.”
Meanwhile, her father, who now resides in Ohio, rode out the storm on the base with his colleagues. The building they were inside lost its roof and they moved to another location in the middle of the hurricane.
Ms. Moshier’s childhood home was one of the few structures to survive the hurricane. It had only partial damage to the roof. Her dad and other men stayed in the house for several days after Andrew hit with limited food and water and no power. She’s remembers seeing a video they shot of the aftermath.
“It looked like a train wreck; it reminded me of a third world country,” said Ms. Moshier. “Everything was water-soaked, leaves and junk were scattered throughout the house. It looked horrible and I couldn’t imagine how that was the best home to stay in. I finally had a tree house though, as a playhouse had ended up in a tree in our backyard.”
Since leaving Homestead for Baker County two decades ago, Ms. Moshier has never been back.
There was nothing to go back to, she said.
Her school was gone. The base, as they knew it, was lost. Her father was re-stationed to Virginia. Her best friend and her family ended up in South Carolina.
“A couple of years ago, I took a trip to the Keys. As we approached South Florida, I saw the exit signs for places I remembered, as well as signs for the base which is now used for veteran’s affairs. I held my breath as we drove by ...” Ms. Moshier said. “Maybe one day, I’ll go back.”
Though she was just a girl when the hurricane wreaked havoc across South Florida and forever changed her life and those of many others, Ms. Moshier has vivid memories of that time, including her first day at Keller Intermediate School where she would return years later as a substitute teacher.
“I don’t have fond memories of that school year. I can still remember the smell, the classrooms, the gym; everything. For years, those memories would make me nauseous. They were directly linked to Andrew and all that entailed,” she said.
With another hurricane, Isaac, heading toward the Gulf Coast and bringing with it the ghosts of Hurricane Katrina, Ms. Moshier said her best advice for hurricane preparedness is knowing when to evacuate.
“When the big one hits, you can’t stay. You just can’t,” she said.
Northeast Florida and Baker County in particular have been largely spared by the worst impacts from hurricanes. But that’s no reason to become complacent, according to Ms. Moshier.
“We get lots of rain, which causes horrible flooding, but we seem to skirt the worst ones, and thankfully so,” she said. “I’m not sugar coating anything though. We have as much possibility of welcoming an Andrew or Katrina as anyone else on the Atlantic or Gulf. We have been lucky.”
Keeping supplies of bottled water, flash lights and batteries should be standard operating procedure for all Floridians, she added.
“Don’t leave too early, don’t leave too late, but always be ready and willing to go. Your home, my home; no home or property is worth risking your life and no home is ‘hurricane code.’ That’s a joke — both Andrew and Katrina will testify to that,” said Ms. Moshier.
One more tip: always grab your photos before evacuating.
“That is one thing that brings me to tears whenever I see the aftermath of storms, fires, etc. on the news; when someone is sifting through what is left and finds a family photograph,” she said. “I don’t know why but that’s the saddest thing to me.”