Western Traveler

Hurricane Andrew Deployment, Florida 1992

As of the writing of this Travel Log, this is the only entry that deals (at least in part) with another Travel Log, the one for Big Cypress National Preserve under Natural Areas.  The Big Cypress one goes into great detail on the park, this one more on my experience.

August 24, 1992 will go down as a day in US History that many will never forget.  That was when Category 5 Hurricane Andrew made landfall in southern Florida.  Winds of 165 mph and a storm surge of almost 17 feet made this one of the strongest storms ever recorded.  The devastation that came with it was almost indescribable.

I was working at Mammoth Cave National Park as a Park Ranger at the time and was selected to be part of the Emergency Response Team that would be sent down to Florida to help restore damaged areas in NPS areas that were affected.  Most folks don’t realize that when any natural disaster befalls any National Park Service area that teams are dispatched post-event to help them out.  This was my first deployment for such an event, the second being after Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast and I was deployed to the Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia.

Crews that were dispatched from Mammoth Cave were pulled mostly from the Maintenance Division because of their expertise with chainsaws, chippers and heavy equipment.  My deployment was different however because of my extensive radio background.  The maintenance crews drove down but I was flown into Fort Myers where I got a rental car and would drive over to the Big Cypress National Preserve where I worked out of the Oasis Visitor Center as the Overnight Dispatcher.

I worked a 14-hour shift from 6 pm to 8 am.  My main task was to work with the Law Enforcement Rangers on stops they’d make and to run license plates through the nearest municipal dispatch office.  After midnight when the Rangers went off-duty my primary job was to patrol the complex throughout the night keeping an eye on the huge amounts of materials that were staged there to be used in the recovery work going on in the area.  It was pretty uneventful except for one night when I had a surprise run-in with an alligator.  The folks at Big Cypress forgot to mention to me that they’d had a problem with a large alligator and to be on the lookout for him.  After the first encounter, no problem.  I was very much on the lookout for him.

My other Wild Kingdom experience came when I was inside the Dispatch office sleeping on the floor (was allowed after the Rangers left so long as I did my foot patrols now and then).  The AC was off at night so it got really hot inside, and I woke up thinking I was covered in sweat.  Not so, it turned out to be Pygmy Rattlers, tiny little deadly snakes that if they’d bitten me would have killed me, period.  I didn’t know what they were until the next day when one of the Rangers took me upstairs into the Visitor Center to see if I could identify what I’d dealt with in one of their wildlife exhibits.  I immediately recognized the snakes and when I pointed to it the Ranger turned white in the face.  Apparently Andrew had hit with such force that it had cracked the foundation of the building giving access to the small reptiles.  I was told that their venom was much stronger than that of the rattlesnakes I had in Kentucky and to avoid them at all costs.  No problem.  That was the only night I tried to sleep on the floor.  I sat in my office chair with my feet propped up on the desk the whole night, made for a very long three weeks.

The deployment was 21-straight workdays, no breaks.  But, because I had a car available I’d usually drive in to town to a local mall and get some good coffee and a snack.  This allowed me to do some sightseeing as well.  As I’d never been to south Florida, this was a great time for me.  I got to see structures and flora that I’d never seen before.  There were a few small boardwalk trails between Everglades City and the Oasis Visitor Center, all of which I hiked while there.  At the end of my 21 days they gave us one day off to rest up and pack, so I availed myself of a ride on a tour boat called the Manatee.  It took us out into the Gulf of Mexico and I got a whole different look at the area.

This part of the country was radically different from anywhere I’d ever been before.  Without exception it rained every afternoon as I drove from my motel to the park.  Scenery-wise, it was swamp as far as you could see in all directions, sawgrass and Cypress trees were everywhere.

My only disappointment with this experience was that I didn’t get to ride on an airboat.  The staff there said they’d take me out if they could find the time, but it never happened.  I can’t blame them as they had a lot going on.


Last modified on: September 7th 2023.
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