There was little calm before this storm.
South Florida residents scrambled frantically to find safe havens on Sunday as Hurricane Andrew, wielding winds of 150 mph and pushing a wall of water 14 feet high, bore down on a peninsula that has not felt a major storm in more than 20 years.
Shoppers stripped the shelves bare at area grocery stores, took all of the cash from automatic teller machines and clogged gas stations and hardware stores. And then a handful of them headed for emergency shelters.
All the while, Andrew surged stronger, growing to what could be the most intense storm to hit Florida since 1935 when a Labor Day storm leveled portions of the Keys, killing 400 people. The halo of hurricane-force winds whirling around Andrews tightly focused eye raged at more than 150 mph, stronger than the winds Hurricane Hugo threw at the Carolinas in 1989.
Were going to see something down here that I hoped Id never experience, said Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables.
As of Sunday evening, the hurricane center was predicting that Andrew would plow ashore in Broward or Dade county, surge across the Florida peninsula somewhere south of Fort Myers, then move into the Gulf of Mexico.
Tropical storm force winds were expected by midnight, hurricane forecast winds will come with dawn and the eye should arrive between 6 and 8 a.m. tomorrow, forecasters said.
The eye is definitely going to hit somewhere in South Florida, hurricane specialist Lixion Avila said. Wherever the eye hits will be leveled. This is going to be the worst.
There is no chance that this would not hit us. Avila said. It would have to take a miracle.
It is very close to our worst-case scenario, said Paul Hebert, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service Office in Miami.
Sheets said he hopes the advance warning and evacuation of coastal South Florida will keep Andrews death toll down to near the 25 people who died when Hugo smashed into the Carolinas in 1989.
But depending on exactly where in South Florida the eye hit, Andrew could cause about $10 billion in damages and easily exceed Hugos $7 billion damage toll, Sheets said.
This will be the first Category 4 storm to hit South Florida since 1926, meteorologist Jack Beven said. That storm killed 243 people.
But the storm everyone thought about as Andrew neared the coastline was Hugo. The hope was that Andrew would not be nearly as savage, that the lessons learned in the Carolinas would prepare South Florida to weather the storm.
Thousands of residents obeyed the mandatory evacuation orders handed down shortly after 7 a.m. on Sunday. By early afternoon, highways north, especially Floridas Turnpike, were packed.
At one point, turnpike traffic was backed up from Lantana to Sunrise Boulevard, but early Sunday afternoon, Gov. Lawton Chiles ordered the Turnpike Authority to stop collecting tolls. Still, northbound traffic on both the turnpike and Interstate 95 was backing up in Palm Beach County on Sunday evening.
Some of those who chose to remain in South Florida began settling in at shelters, lugging bedding, snacks and games with them to pass the time. But there were far fewer than Broward officials wanted. The evacuation order affected almost a half million people, but as of Sunday evening, only 3,200 had gone to the shelters.
We dont have a very large turnout at the shelters, County Administrator Jack Osterholt said. People for whatever reason arent taking this seriously enough.
Sue Kleinman, who lives on the 18th floor of a Pompano Beach condominium, moved into the Pompano Beach Middle School at the urging of condo security guards.
I dont really think [the storm] will come, but maybe its my optimistic nature, she said.
A neighbor, Herman Silverman, said he worried most about being bored after a couple of days in the shelter.
My belief is whatever will happen will happen whether I worry or not, he said.
Police officers went from condominium to condominium, ordering people from their homes. But some refused to leave.
We take their names, where they were last seen and the names of their next of kin, Broward sheriffs Sgt. Mel Lange said. We tell them to go or else theyre going to die.
Lillian and Steve Gilgoff planned to ride out the storm in their condominium in Hallandale, even though security officers told them they would be shutting off utilities and electricity at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Weve lived through three hurricanes, she said. We have enough candles and water to last for a couple of days. Im not scared. I believe in God.
Others made preparations of a different kind.
Kirk Cottrell, 36, boarded the windows at Island Water Sports, his Deerfield Beach surf shop, but said he would stay open as long as possible to serve the surfers who might challenge Andrews first waves.
And horse owners from across Broward were rushing their steeds to stables at Pompano Park race track to weather the storm.
Their barns may blow down, but our stables are very sturdy, security guard Burt Kruger said. By Sunday afternoon, more than 100 visiting horses were in stables at the track.
Sgt. Bill Tracy, security guard at Calder Race Course, said workers have secured more than 1,900 horses at the Dade County track.
Weve got extra security on the ground and people sleeping at the track to make sure everythings all right, Tracy said.
As people settled in to await Andrews arrival, emergency officials were wondering whether they had done everything they could. Chiles was hoping for the best.
Ready or not, I guess. Chiles said. I hope were as ready as we can be. I feel like weve got everything going that our plans call for, and weve been working on our plans for a long time.
But do I feel comfortable? No.
Staff writers Seth Borenstein, Alan Cherry, Berta Delgado, Kurt Greenbaum, Diane Hirth, Linda Kleindlenst, Sandra Jacobs, Sallie James, Lyda Longa, Kim Margolis, Jeffrey Rubin and Luisa Yanez contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times