Columbia freshman went away to college, met Hurricane Andrew

August 26, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer fTC

Freshman Debbie Aaronson didn't know the meaning of her school's nickname,the "Hurricanes," until she arrived at the University of Miami and Hurricane Andrew hit.

The 18-year-old Columbia resident moved into her dorm in Coral Gables the day before the storm rumbled through Miami, killing 10 people, leaving 50,000 others homeless and was estimated to cause up to $20 billion damage.

The storm did no damage to her dorm, but it destroyed the Holiday Inn where her parents had stayed two days earlier, and toppled radar towers off the National Hurricane Center just a mile away.

School officials said the dormitory -- home to 2,000 students, mostly freshmen -- was one of the safest places in Dade County during the storm. It was built to withstand winds up to 235 mph and was equipped with metal shutters to prevent windows from shattering.

"I've never been through a hurricane and never realized how bad the damage could be," Miss Aaronson said by phone. "The campus is gone. The trees are gone. It looks like a ghost town."

"We were absolutely terrified to let her stay there," said Larry Aaronson, her father. "We didn't think it was going to hit Coral Gables."

The brunt of the storm hit in the wee hours of Sunday,after her parents had left to fly back to Maryland. Miss Aaronson -- a 1992 Wilde Lake High School graduate -- and 2,000 others were awakened and ushered into the hallway. Power was cut off, leaving them with neither air conditioning nor running water this week.

Miss Aaronson said hallmates huddled together and became quick friends during the storm.

"Most of the people are freshmen and are far away, but a lot of people have gone home."

School was scheduled to start Tuesday, but has been postponed until next Thursday. School officials are surveying the damage.

The Aaronsons felt they left their daughter in good hands, but they feared the worst as they drove nine hours bumper-to-bumper to Orlando to catch a plane home Sunday afternoon.

"You envision her in this dorm and you hope the building is not going to be destroyed and your daughter is in there," Mr. Aaronson said. The decision to let their daughter stay "was one of those things we didn't want to do," he said. "She wanted to stay, and that was the safest place in Florida."

Students were restricted from leaving the campus until yesterday, when a friend of the family picked Miss Aaronson up yesterday afternoon to drive her to her house so she could shower.

Neither her parents nor Miss Aaronson realized how bad the storm was going to be, they said.

"It's amazing nothing bad happened to us," Miss Aaronson said. "A lot of people are homeless and a lot of faculty lost their homes."

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