One bathtub, 4 people, 2 cats and an iguana: How a New Orleans woman survived Hurricane Andrew

Florida's Country Walk subdivision after Hurricane Andrew, in a photo album published by the Miami Herald

METAIRIE, La. —  Hurricane Andrew swept across the Gulf, tearing through south Louisiana 25 years ago, on August 26, 1992.

But two days before it struck Louisiana, the hurricane sliced across the southern tip of Florida with such fury that entire neighborhoods were flattened.

The hurricane was a Category 3 when it came ashore near Morgan City.  But it was a Category 5– with winds of 145 miles per hour– when it hit Homestead, Florida on August 24.

New Orleans native Mary Shean remembers Andrew better than she’d like to.

Shean was living in Miami Beach, and as the hurricane approached the coast she tried to evacuate but a traffic accident blocked the only highway heading north.

Mary Shean holds a photo album published by the Miami Herald

Instead, Shean drove to a friend’s condo, south and inland- a nearly fatal decision. Shean and three  friends wound up in one of the hardest hit areas, the Country Walk subdivision, where the Miami Herald reported that 90% of the homes were destroyed.

Country Walk subdivision, in a photo album published by the Miami Herald

Here’s part of  Mary Shean’s story:

“Myself, and three other adults, two cats, and an iguana stayed in the condo (in Country Walk) until we heard ripping and saw cracks in the ceiling.  We moved into the inside bathroom, and another 5 minutes later the roof came off.  We had all the adults and animals in this tiny bathroom, and with the storm surge, water was gushing in from underneath the door.  We stuffed towels under the door to keep water from getting in.  I thought how ironic that I was a state champion and nationally ranked swimmer, and here I was going to drown in a bathtub. The howling wind sounded like screaming banshees, and our ears popped from the pressure changes”

And that was just the beginning.

As soon as the eye of the hurricane began to pass overhead and the sky cleared temporarily, Shean and her friends decided to leave the nearly obliterated condo.

“The edge of the eye passed over us..(and) we actually left the bathroom and got into my SUV which was now buried/wedged under two trees.  We spent the second half of the storm relatively dry in my car. (It) took two days for the Florida National guard to dig us out.”

In some ways, the damage inflicted by Hurricane Andrew in Florida ushered in better protection for all coastal states in future storms.

Stricter building codes have led to stronger houses and businesses, and technological advances in meteorology give forecasters today a clearer picture of a hurricane’s expected path and intensity.

New Orleans native Mary Shean survived Hurricane Andrew in Florida

Mary Shean lives in San Francisco now, where the existential threat is the potential for earthquakes, not hurricanes. Yet even 25 years after Hurricane Andrew, the memories remain.

She and her friends survived two days in her SUV, with almost nothing to eat.

“(We) lived on water and fig newtons. To this day I cannot eat a fig newton.”

And later, a common complaint among all hurricane survivors: 

“So much price-gouging for water, generators, electric saws. That being said, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Home Depot.. they just opened up their S. Florida  stores and gave everything away for free.”