The calls kept coming, increasingly anxious. The windows are broken, Bryan, what do I do? The roof is gone, Bryan, where do I go?
Television weatherman Bryan Norcross was in the midst of a now-legendary 23-hour marathon talking a scared South Florida through Andrew. He wracked his brain for one last word of advice, mentally leafing through all the hurricane books hed pored through since moving to Miami a decade earlier.
They were histories most everyone else had forgotten after 27 storm-free years, obscure little books like one by L.F. Reardon, The Florida Hurricane & Disaster 1926, about what was then the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history. Norcross recalled Reardon saying he had scooped up his small children, stuck them in a heavy iron laundry tub and placed a mattress over them. Everyone in the Coral Gables home had survived.
So Norcross told WTVJ viewers and listeners on a simultaneous radio feed to do just that if homes began disintegrating. Grab a mattress or blankets. Barricade yourself in the bathtub, bathroom or closet. He and his crew soon retreated themselves to the bunker, a concrete-lined storage area next to the studio. Scores followed his advice.
The number of people who told me afterwards that when they removed the mattress they saw the sky is still one of the most remarkable things I have ever been part of, said Norcross, now one of The Weather Channels hurricane experts.
Andrew made Norcross famous. As a People magazine profile later noted, he was so revered in South Florida that Herald humorist Dave Barry joked, I hope he doesnt suddenly snap and order everybody to wear our underpants on our heads, because wed have to do it.
Norcross had mixed feelings about celebrity, grateful for the thanks but uncomfortable with constant off-air attention. The high point, he recalls, was an amazing reception he got from 65,000 people at a post-storm rally at Joe Robbie Stadium organized by Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Ever the weather geek, he noted, When that many people scream at you, you actually do feel the energy from all the air being expended in your direction.
Hurricane Andrew 20 years later
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- Stories of comfort
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- The Weatherman