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Hurricane Andrew, 20 years later: Images captured chaos before and after the 1992 hurricane

Posted at 6:22 AM, Aug 24, 2012
and last updated 2016-03-18 15:06:52-04

Hurricane Andrew left a devastating trail of destroyed communities and displaced families, forever shifting the course of countless lives in South Florida.

Twenty years later, many vividly recall the poignant images capturing the sense of loss, frustration, anger and chaos before and after the Category 5 storm.

Photographs showed anxious business owners shoring up their shops. Bleary-eyed National Guard members doling out bottled water. Dazed families rummaging through the ruins of their homes. Workers unleashing vessels aground in people's backyards.

Looking back on these memorable pictures, some South Floridians share how Andrew reshaped life for them and their loved ones.

A second chance

Tamra Giffen's first look at her mobile home community post-Andrew left her dazed and distraught.

The 1992 hurricane chewed up her community and destroyed her trailer. Her address became a huge pile of rubble surrounded by naked trees. Dressers, tables and bedding scattered amid the wreckage. Tiny shards of fiber glass from the lining of the trailer caked her clothing, making them unwearable.

"We lost everything except what we had on, and I think I had a pair of blue shorts and a white T-shirt,'' says Giffen, who was photographed comforting her daughter Caitlin, 3, the day after Andrew.

The photo shot by then-Sun Sentinel photographer Jim Virga showed them sitting on the concrete slab that was their three-bedroom trailer at Dadeland Mobile Home Park in south Miami-Dade County.

"It was devastating. The toilet was on the other block. We never found the [bird] cage. We stood there and looked at our pile. Never in your wildest dreams you'd imagined you were driving into hell."

Giffen was fortunate that she, her parents and her three children, which also included Joshua, 6, and Michael, 5, survived the storm at her uncle's Kendall house. But she had no home to return to the next day.

"I lost all the sentimental things you can't replace," she says. "My grandmother's jewelry. My children's birth certificates and footprints."

With financial and clothing donations from the Church of Christ on Quail Roost Drive, Giffen and her children temporarily relocated to another trailer park in Tavernier.

Giffen continued her job as a school bus driver in the Redland community. But instead of ferrying kids to school, she transported military personnel to devastated areas to deliver water and build tents. She remembers having her kids in the back seat of the bus during the daily trips.

Giffen lived in the Tavernier trailer park for about eight months then bought a hurricane-damaged home in Cutler Ridge.

"At least we were together. We started to try to live a normal life,'' Giffen recalls. It wasn't easy. Andrew left emotional scars for her children. They had nightmares. For a time, when they heard howling wind, they cried and crawled into her bed at night.

"I would have to reassure them that everything was fine,'' Giffen says. "They were very clingy."

Since then, Giffen's former address, off Southwest 152nd Street, has been rebuilt as a residential development called CrestView, near Zoo Miami.

Home now for Giffen, 49, is a Hallandale Beach duplex, where she lives with two young sons, Elijah Harp, 9, and Major Harp, 10. Joshua Harp, now 26, lives in Hollywood, and Michael Giffen, 25, resides in Fort Lauderdale. Daughter Caitlin Giffen is now 23 and a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Unemployed for about a year, Tamra Giffen recently started a new job as director of operations for travel accessory company Travel Blue. She also has other news to celebrate: Her daughter received her staff sergeant papers last week and she plans to apply for the police academy to one day work in Broward.

So many years after Andrew disrupted her family, Tamra Giffen is at peace with the tragedy.

"If somebody were to say to me, 'What did you get out of Hurricane Andrew?' [I'd say] what I got out of it was that things happen for a reason, and I don't know where I would be now if I wasn't devastated," she says. "I got a second chance ... Andrew really did devastate us, but tragedies bring people together."

Man's best friend

Cutler Ridge hurricane survivor Steve Saal was headed to a shelter, when he learned his cat, Dragon, wasn't allowed to join him.

Clutching the kitty in his lap, he bent over and sobbed. Sun Sentinel photographer Robert Duyos caught the moment.

"There was no way I was going to leave Dragon behind,'' Saal, who died in 2010, told the Sun Sentinel a few years ago.

Authorities eventually relented and let Saal stay in a covered porch outside a Hialeah shelter for two weeks.

"He loved that cat,'' says Saal's half-brother, Terry Landsberg, who remembered seeing the photograph of Saal with the cat in the Sun Sentinel the day after Andrew.

In fact, Landsberg, 77, of Coconut Creek says the photograph led him to reconnect with Saal, after being estranged for several years.

"He managed most of his adult life by himself, whether that was good or bad,'' Landsberg says. "He was a caring person. He loved animals."

Saal lost everything he owned after Andrew shredded his Cutler Ridge apartment complex. Looters swiped most of his belongings, including a collection of baseball caps. Moved by his story, readers sent him cat food, sheets, dishes and baseball caps.

After moving into a Miami Beach government-subsidized apartment, Saal began to piece his life back together, although it was challenging. He had been disabled with a back injury since the 1980s, and he was also an epileptic and suffered anxiety and panic attacks.

Two years after Andrew, Dragon died.

"The weird part is, I went 10 years back and was reading a story about Dragon, and I started crying — because I miss him terribly," Saal told the paper in 2002.

"He missed the cat once it passed away," Landsberg says. "He never got another cat."

The same year Dragon died, Saal, a widower, married Edith Vega and they eventually moved to another Miami Beach subsidized high-rise. The couple had the photo of Saal and Dragon framed on a wall in the apartment.

Saal died on his 65th birthday, Oct. 26, 2010, from morbid obesity, Hodgkin's disease and myocardial infarction, Landsberg said. Vega had died earlier that same year.

In the years before his death, Saal continued to visit his half-brother and three nieces in Coconut Creek. The family would pick up him and drive him back and forth.

And he continued to collect sports memorabilia, amassing about 100 baseball cards and 50 baseball and football caps.

"He was a Miami sports fan,'' says Landsberg, who has kept his collection. "He adored the Dolphins. He adored the Marlins. He tried to go to the games when he could."

'Hello Andrew'

As Andrew loomed off the coast, Kirk Cottrell readied his business, the Island Water Sports surf shop in Deerfield Beach.

"We were open as long as possible, until the city had to tell us it was time to finally to shut down,'' says Mike Pechonis, a longtime friend who helped Cottrell batten down the store. "Once we got the storm shutters up, Kirk spray-painted, 'Hello Andrew.'"

That welcome greeting, seen in this shot by former Sun Sentinel photographer Eliot J. Schechter, showed Cottrell's can-do, good-natured attitude.

"That was definitely part of his sense of humor. He was a pretty funny guy," says his daughter Karly Cottrell, who was 7 years old at the time and weathered the hurricane with her father, mother and siblings inland away from the shop. "The storm turned at the last minute and instead of hitting Deerfield Beach straight on, it hit Miami. We were spared the brunt of the storm. God definitely protected us in that one."

The day after the storm, Pechonis remembered how he and Kottrell sneaked back into Deerfield Beach — which had been evacuated — to surf.

"We had to paddle across the Intracoastal,'' Pechonis recalled. "We really just wanted to go surfing."

The "Hello Andrew" photograph added to Kottrell's local celebrity

A devout Christian and missionary, Kottrell founded Island Water Sports in 1978 and grew the business into a franchise. The Deerfield Beach location has been a longtime staple along State Road A1A.

When he wasn't selling surfboards, Kottrell surfed or visited his church, Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale.

In 1997, he and his family packed up their belongings and boards, left Florida and moved to Cape Town in South Africa to start a church. While surfing off the coast there in 2001, Kottrell drowned in an ocean park known as The Reserve. He was 45.

"He died doing what he loved,'' said Karly Kottrell, who has been helping run the Deerfield Beach store with her brother, Cheyne, and sister, Linsey. "He always found bigger and better ways to improve the beach. He always had a real love for water and people in general."

If you go

What: Hurricane Andrew Remembrance Day, with guest panelists including The Weather Channel's Bryan Norcross and Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center

When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday (weather permitting)

Where: Miami Science Museum, 3280 S. Miami Ave.

Admission: $14.95 for adults; $10.95 for seniors, students with valid ID and ages 3-12; and free for kids younger than 2

Contact: 305-646-4200, miamisci.org