Floridians eye Ike, recall devastation in '92

Ike is still far out in the Atlantic, but it's getting a close look from those who weathered 1992's Andrew, the devastating Category 5 storm against which all other Florida hurricanes are measured.

“There's an obvious comparison. The thing's taking aim at deep South Florida,” said Tad DeMilly, who as mayor of Homestead saw his city devastated in 1992. He was monitoring Ike's progress from his new home in Tennessee.

Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center caution that it's still too early to tell where Ike will hit and how fierce it could be.

Both Andrew and the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 skirted north of Cuba and through the Bahamas before hitting Florida. That's a possibility for Ike, too.

Tricia Hall, 33, remembers family members telling each other goodbye while Andrew destroyed their home in Homestead, about 30 miles south of Miami. Now she's trying to prepare her two young sons for Ike and said she will probably put up storm shutters this weekend.

“I just hope it's not like Andrew,” she said. “That was a long time without power.”

Andrew rapidly grew from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm before it hit. Ike has already done that, quickly going from Category 1 to Category 4 on Wednesday before dropping in strength. But its maximum sustained winds are still 115 mph and forecasters say it could be back to a Category 4 storm by Monday, when forecasts have its eye anywhere from south of Cuba to the Bahamas.

The similarities mostly stop there. When Andrew was where Ike is now, it was a tropical storm and not expected to strengthen.

Andrew was also the first storm of the season, causing $26 billion in damage and killing 26 people in the Bahamas and the U.S. When it hit Florida on Aug. 24, 1992, it was relatively small, with hurricane winds extending about 60 miles across and a tightly focused eye about 20 miles wide. Residents had been lulled by early predictions that it would be a tropical storm and possibly skirt into the Carolinas.

Ike, in contrast, is the fifth hurricane of the season and forecasters are already warning of its potential. Right now, it is more diffuse than Andrew. If it makes landfall as is, the damage and storm surge would be spread out over a larger area than Andrew devastated.

“Even a Category 3 is worse than anyone here has witnessed since 1992,” said Miami-Dade emergency management coordinator Frank Reddish, an engineer who helped assess damage after Andrew. “It looks like we're probably going to be seriously beat up on this one.”

But both he and National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen cautioned that Ike's path could change drastically over the next few days. Dozens and dozens of factors influence where a storm will go, including weather systems several thousand miles away.