Hurricane Andrew survivor remembers devastating storm; why he chose to rebuild

Posted at 5:20 PM, Aug 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-24 17:47:15-04

The trip down memory lane is a very short walk for Tom Elfers.  "It seems like yesterday," he told me. "It's not that long ago we were digging shingles out of flower beds."

Twenty-five years ago Thursday, just before sun-up, Tom and his wife held on for dear life inside their home on the very street in Kendall where he relived for us those dark hours.

"My job was to hold a mattress up across the entrance to the living room so when the roof started coming apart and debris came inside it would hit the mattress and not us," he said.

They emerged to a world suddenly, brutally disconnected from modern life.

Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane, carved a path of devastation from Kendall through Homestead.  

"The Allstate contractor said you can't repair this house it has been twisted out of alignment," Tom remembered.

Tom's pictures of that awful time, of a home turned inside out, have faded a bit. The memories never will.

As the rubble slowly cleared across a battered landscape,  evidence surfaced of slipshod construction in many places like Tom's Country Walk neighborhood.

The revelations forced building code changes statewide. And Tom decided to rebuild. He stood in his driveway and told me, "What you see looks like the original house but it is not. Underneath all that is cement block and the hurricane shutters you see are not ornaments they are for real."

Thousands of people left South Miami-Dade for good. The hurt and the loss ran too deep.  I wondered why Tom decided to stay. "We like it here," he said simply, "and didn't want to be driven away by a little bit of wind. And I hope not to do it again."