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20 Years Later: The Children Of Hurricane Andrew

MIAMI (CBS4) -- Surviving Hurricane Andrew was traumatic for most of those who lived through it, but especially for the children of Andrew who lost some of their innocence in the storm. In the months and years after the hurricane, some would run for cover in their homes when thunderstorms struck while others would have nightmares of another hurricane threatening South Florida.

Dante Diaz had just turned 9-years old and lived in Cutler Ridge when Hurricane Andrew roared across South Florida on August 24, 1992.

Diaz said it took him many years to desensitize from sudden surges of wind, and bad thunderstorms.

Annie Lofredo was 10-years old and lived in East Kendall near the Falls.

She described her experience with Andrew as powerful. "It also showed me how quickly everything can change."

Grant Stern, who was 15-years-old and lived in Pine Acres, said "It was the first time as a child I'd face mortality."

Christine Armario lived in Kendall and had just turned 10-years-old. "It was very devastating for a young child to go through something like that."

These children of Andrew are now young adults and some even credit the storm for who they are today and the career paths they chose.

Lofredo recalled the pounding in her ears from the pressure of the storm and seeing her mother being almost 'superwoman.'

"She lifted a mattress off the bed to block the door when the windows blew in her bedroom," said Lofredo.

Most of Grant Stern's South Dade home was blown away too.

"There wasn't anything left on any surface except a copy of 'Gone With The Wind' stuck to a desk," recalled Grant.

Armario rode out the storm in a 3-by-5 foot closet sandwiched between four other family members.

"There are sounds that I can still replay in my head 20 years later, the debris crawling through the window, through the roof. It was terrifying," said Armario.

There would be a new normal for Hurricane Andrew.

"In my opinion, the aftermath is much more difficult, much more traumatic than the event itself," said Dante Diaz. "Seeing the damage every day, smelling it, and then having to rebuild your life.

The impact of Hurricane Andrew was psychologically devastating for everyone, especially for the children.

For some, the storm even shaped the adults they are today.

Dante's experience with Hurricane Andrew inspired him to track hurricanes while in high school and later study meteorology at Florida State University. He now works as a Tropical Meteorologist for Impact Weather in Houston, Texas.

"If it weren't for Hurricane Andrew, I probably wouldn't have the same interest in meteorology," said Diaz."I have that experience so I not only understand what the storm is doing, but how it can affect people. Especially if I can give my own take of what happened and how we overcame the difficulties associated with Andrew."

After Hurricane Andrew, Christine Armario was asked to write an essay in school about a life changing event and she wrote about her experience with Andrew. She won an award for that essay which led to a career as a journalist. "This was the defining event and so I wrote an essay about that," said Armario.

Currently, she is a writer for the Associated Press and recently authored her own article on the storm's youngest survivors.

Armario has been to the Hurricane Center for many storms covering the hour to hour developments.

"To me it's more than a radar image. I really imagine what those people are going through and I sympathize with them greatly," said Armario.

University of Miami Psychiatrist Dr. Jon Shaw worked with children during the aftermath of Andrew and wrote the book, "Care of Children Exposed to the Traumatic Effects of Disaster."

"You have a certain vulnerability that will last you the rest of your life depending on the nature and severity of your traumatic exposure," said Dr. Shaw. "If we get exposed at childhood to terrible traumatic experience, which we weren't able to master, there is an inner compelling need to relive it over and over until we master it."

Armario said that Andrew was part of the reason she moved back to Miami after working in New York for many years. "The idea that I could make more sense of that childhood experience if I ever had to cover a storm," said Armario.

CBS4 Meteorologist Lissette Gonzalez can identify with Diaz, Lofredo, Armario and Stern since she is also a child of Andrew. She was a teenager living in Southwest Miami-Dade when Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida.

"It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. I remember the howling winds and holding up a mattress with my family while listening to Meteorologist Bryan Norcross on the radio in complete darkness. I witnessed the devastation and destruction. I watched what it did to family, friends and our community," said Gonzalez.

Twenty years later, Lissette tracks tropical storms and hurricanes.

"My experience with Andrew makes me feel an even greater sense of responsibility as a Meteorologist to inform and prepare viewers across South Florida," said Gonzalez.


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