HOMESTEAD, Fla. – It was an all-out attack for many in south Dade County, Florida, on this date 30 years ago, as one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in U.S. history made landfall.
For Bill and Sandy Zinn, along with their two children at the time, the family hunkered under a king-size mattress in their home as Hurricane Andrew ripped their world to shreds.
It wasn't just the Zinns, however. The powerful Category 5 storm's maximum sustained wind speeds, estimated today at 165 mph, changed the lives of everyone who endured Andrew's wrath.
The Zinns prepared for the worse the day before the hurricane took aim at the southern part of Dade County. They boarded their windows and put tie-downs on their boat in the hope of keeping it from flying away.
"I think we thought we were hurricane ready because we had been through other small ones," Sandy Zinn recalled.
Calm before the storm
The family went to bed thinking the storm would wake them. Secretly, their son, Ian Justus, had also decided to document the storm with a pocket-sized tape recorder as events unfolded over the next 24 hours.
By 9:40 p.m. on Aug. 23, 1992, all was quiet outside the Zinns' home, and the stars were out.
"I just woke up," Ian Justus said on his recording. "Not exactly sure what time it is, but it is storming outside."
It sounded like a freight train was coming through their neighborhood. The sound was non-stop.
"It sounded terrible," Bill Zinn remembered. "I mean, it really sounded bad."
FOX Weather hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross did a 23-hour marathon broadcast as Hurricane Andrew slammed into the Florida coast. His broadcast was the only one to stay on the air and many people's only link to the outside world during the worst of the storm.
According to the National Hurricane Center, 65 people died along the path of the entire storm. Fifteen of them were killed by the impact of the storm that night. Norcross is credited with saving countless lives due to his advice during Andrew.
'Friends, here's what I want you to do'
At 2:12 a.m., the radar clearly showed that Andrew was strengthening, Norcross said. Andrew was getting close.
The winds started picking up at 4 a.m. on Aug. 24, 1992, as the storm's center approached a line of islands offshore of Biscayne Bay. The doughnut of winds was already moving over the land.
"It's just really loud outside. Unbelievable. Just saw a little bit of lightning," Ian Justus said on his recording. "The eye is close. This is it."
Moments later, the walls began to shake. The Zinns searched for some 2x4s to help brace the walls. But that didn't help.
"I was just racking my brain to think what people could do in their homes beyond just being prepared that I hadn't thought of," Norcross said. "And the idea mattress came to me. I said, 'Friends, here's what I want you to do.'"
Norcross told people to get a mattress off the bed, and when the storm starts, get their family under there and ride the storm out.
And that's exactly what the Zinns did.
"Sandy had gone down the hall and got the mattress off our king-size bed and put it in the hallway, and we just rode it out underneath the mattress," Bill Zinn said.
Keeping his family calm, Bill Zinn directed everyone to hold tight as their roof began to peel away and soon rip off. The sounds of screaming echo on Ian Justus' voice recording, followed by the soothing sound of a mother's love.
"It's alright, we're underneath the mattress. We're fine," Sandy Zinn said on her son's recording.
Their daughter, Kara Justus, begins to breathe heavily before beginning to cry.
"Kara?" her father said on the recorder. "It's OK. It's going to be fine."
The real heroes from Hurricane Andrew
Norcoss said he hadn't imagined a storm this extreme in all his thinking and planning for a major hurricane.
"It was that scary radar that forced me to dig deeper for a solution," he said. "I dredged up an idea of using a mattress for protection from a book called 'The Florida Hurricane Disaster' by L.F. Reardon."
After the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane, Reardon wrote down his family's story – how they rode out the epic hurricane in their home in Coral Gables, including using a mattress for protection.
"I got a lot of credit, but L.F. Reardon had the mattress idea first," Norcross said.
The extreme intensity of Andrew and lax enforcement of building codes in the area left over 25,000 homes destroyed and more than 160,000 residents homeless, according to NOAA.
In Homestead alone, NOAA said the storm obliterated nearly 99% of all mobile homes, leaving the area unrecognizable.
"The worst of the storm only lasted about three hours, but for three hours, Mother Nature was at war with South Dade," Norcross said.
Yes, Mother Nature won the physical war that day, but the Zinns and others of South Dade who climbed the mountain of recovery were the real winners -- the real heroes of the Great Hurricane of 1992.
Three decades ago, renowned hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross did a 23-hour marathon broadcast as Hurricane Andrew slammed into the Florida coast. His broadcast was the only one to stay on the air and many people’s only link to the outside world during the worst of the storm. He is credited with saving countless lives due to his life-saving advice. Now, 30 years later, Bryan will re-live the storm that devastated South Florida and look at the infrastructure changes that resulted. Watch the full episode of The Wrath of Hurricane Andrew: Tragedy and Triumph on FOX Weather, available now on YouTube.