The wind and rain came with tremendous force and Mayor Otis Wallace knew Florida City was facing a major crisis.
Thirty years ago, Hurricane Andrew hit South Dade hard.
For Wallace it was one of the worst days of his life and one he will never forget.
“It was the worst day I have ever spent as Mayor of Florida City. When Hurricane Andrew hit I was at City Hall as it started to blow apart. It fell apart in stages. The City Hall building was completely destroyed and I mean all the debris had to be hauled away,” he said. “I was captain of the ship and I had to deal with the situation.”
On the morning after the storm hit, Wallace walked out of the destroyed City Hall and saw a level of destruction beyond belief.
A bed and breakfast near City Hall was completely destroyed. Many houses and businesses were also destroyed or severely damaged. Many long-time residents would receive insurance money for their homes and leave the area. The devastation of Florida City was significant.
Wallace and other city leaders had to get to work and rebuild Florida City.
“It took us a full six years to rebuild City Hall. We had to clean up the site and then operate out of modular trailers during that time period. We had to raise money to rebuild. We had to design and then build a completely new building. It was a tough time for us but at least we did not lose many lives.”
In addition to rebuilding City Hall, city, business leaders and the residents who stayed had to clean large amounts of debris and then rebuild much of the city.
“We lost about 60 percent of our tax base. Not only did many people lose their homes but many rental properties were destroyed. After the storm there were few places for people to live. Many people left Florida City, settled into new communities and never came back.”
Eventually new people moved into Florida City.
“I was mayor of a new city because we had so many new residents. At first you cry about the destruction but then you rebuild. After the storm much of the city was gone and we had to rebuild it.”
Wallace can remember when former President Bill Clinton came to Florida City as a candidate. Also, former President George Bush, Sr. came to visit. He spent time with people who had been displaced from their homes and were living in tent cities. Clinton would return to Florida City after he was elected
president to visit with people who had been displaced from their homes.
A significant percentage of Florida City buildings including people’s homes and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged.
Wallace believes Florida City and South Dade has been rebuilt better than before. The building codes require stronger and better buildings and those building are safer and can better withstand storms.
“The code was beefed up. We have more testing for construction materials. We have to make new buildings stronger. We have to put more nails into roof shingles. We learned how to work with new codes. Now we have stronger buildings in the City.”
The people of Florida City who experienced Andrew and stayed to rebuild their homes, businesses and lives proved to be very resilient.