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Blustery talk about Andrew is all hot air

October 18, 1992

Don't buy the breathless hype that Hurricane Andrew was "The Big One." It wasn't, not by a long shot.

The Big One won't strike the most thinly populated stretch of South Florida, the way Andrew did. The Big One scores a dead hit on downtown Miami, Hialeah or Fort Lauderdale.

Unlike Andrew, the Big One won't blow through in a few frantic hours. It parks on top of us for two or three horrifying days, dumping enough rain to flood most neighborhoods to ruin.

And the Big One won't be a tightly packed storm, the way Andrew was. It'll be huge and rambling, like Camille, and its path of total destruction will breach three counties.

Not that Andrew was a pussy cat; it was a swift, powerful hurricane. Those who've had their lives shattered cannot imagine anything worse, and there isn't.

But to propagate the melodramatic notion that Andrew was a once-in-a-century catastrophe is not only scientifically wrong, it's morally reckless.

Understand that certain folkspoliticians, developers and the building lobbyhave a vested interest in promoting the myth of the Big One.

They want you to believe that Andrew was a freak storm with satanic powers, and that nothing could have prevented the mass destruction.

Rubbish. The only freakish thing about Andrew was that it hit us, for a change. It did what all Category Four storms dotore the hell out of everything in its way. Another one equally fierce could hit next week, next month or next year.

The other day, the Latin Builders Association took out a full-page ad to whine about all the bad press that the construction industry is getting. The LBA implied that shoddy workmanship wasn't widespread, that Andrew's supernatural gusts were humanly unstoppable.

Especially if your contractor didn't bother to fasten your roof to your house.

Lennar, Arvida and other developers also are pitching the myth of the Big One: Hey, we sell sturdy homes. Nothing could have survived Andrew. (Except the low-cost houses built by Habitat for Humanity.)

While the companies try to cover their butts, homeowners are filing richly deserved lawsuits. A grand jury is convening (yes, again). Even the State Attorney's Office is on the prowl for indictments. More shocking revelations are sure to come.

Andrew exposed, at a terrible human cost, what happens when a system meant to protect citizens is poisoned by greed, politics, corruption and ineptitude.

Failure occurred at every step. The vaunted South Florida Building Code deliberately was weakened to allow faster, cheaper work. Staples instead of nails? Great idea! Wafer board instead of plywood? Hey, give it a try. What nextLego blocks?

What were these idiots thinking? Clearly no onefrom the builders to the inspectors to the buyershad ever experienced a major hurricane. Responsible tradesmen warned of disaster, but nobody listened. Politicians such as Mayor Steve Clark sat zombielike while the regulations were neutered. Why bite the hand that bankrolls your re-election?

County Manager Joaquin Avino was in charge of building and zoning when some of the crummiest developments were approved. When an NBC reporter recently asked about those projects, Avino experienced a bout of prime-time amnesia. It was truly pathetic.

Andrew revealed the system for the incestuous charade that it is, and now the guilty parties are scrambling for cover. It's not our fault, they cry, it's Nature! Two hundred mile-per-hour winds! The Big One!

The Big Lie is what it is. So much preventable damage, so much unnecessary miseryit's not the storm of the century, it's the crime of the century.

Now, perhaps, well develop with more care August 27, 1992 | Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen | Happy ending slow to come at country walk May 6, 1993