30th Anniversary of Hurricane Andrew > Air Force Reserve Command > News Article
HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. —
Built in 1942, the Homestead military airfield was destroyed three years later, on September 15, 1945, by a hurricane with winds of 145 miles per hour.
HAAF was officially dropped three months later. In the three years it was open, the airfield trained hundreds of Air Force pilots who later took part in the Berlin Airlift in 1948.
The base was rebuilt in 1955 and played an important role in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, with bombers and fighter jets placed on high alert and a tent city of 10,000 army troops occupied the base.
Fast forward to 1992 and, coincidentally, another tent city has been erected on Homestead Air Force Base to deal with the destruction of another hurricane.
On August 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated HAFB with unimaginable damage. Andrew has caused enormous human suffering and billions of dollars in damage in the Bahamas, the southern tip of Florida and parts of Louisiana.
The hurricane swept through South Florida with winds of up to 180 mph, carving a path of destruction and leaving a million people without power before crossing Florida’s west coast and into the Gulf of Mexico.
Preparedness and mitigation were just as important then as they are today for grassroots leadership.
Just before Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida, all but two of the base’s F-16 Fighting Falcons found safety at Shaw AFB in South Carolina. By the time base personnel and aircraft were evacuated from HAFB, Hurricane Andrew strengthened into a Category Five storm upon landfall, with maximum sustained winds of 165 mph and gusts up to 180mph.
It was one of only four hurricanes to make landfall in the United States as a Category Five hurricane since 1900. The others being the Florida Keys Labor Day Storm of 1935, Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Col. Stephen B. Plummer, commander of the 31st Fighter Wing, and fourteen other mission-essential personnel weathered Hurricane Andrew in Building 877, the Florida National Guard’s warning center, in this which they thought was a hurricane proof building.
Damage in the Homestead area broke records, with Hurricane Andrew being the costliest hurricane in US history until Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.
On the base, all the buildings for operation and maintenance, the stewardship and the Post Office were destroyed. All of the remaining 200 public buildings lost their roofs. Two hangars were destroyed, along with the two F-16s left inside, worth $14 million each.
The Pentagon said roofs were also blown off of half of base housing and windows were smashed in 90% of homes. In total, more than 1,750 buildings on HAFB were partially or completely destroyed. Damage estimates totaled nearly $780 million.
Miraculously, no injuries were reported. At least 70% of the buildings on the base were unusable. Flying debris shattered most of the windows, causing overpressure inside, which blew the roofs off. Once damaged, the wind just detached.
One million people were evacuated and several people died due to the storm. Fifteen direct deaths and 28 indirect deaths have been attributed to Andrew in South Florida, all but three in Dade County.
After the storm passed and the winds died down, Plummer launched one of the largest cleanup and rescue operations in peacetime Army history.
A 150-person reenactment team returned to base and began initial cleanup and security tasks.
Within 24 hours they were visited by then-President George HW Bush, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, General John Loh, Commander of Air Combat Command, and other dignitaries from high rank. At the end of September 1992, a total of 68 distinguished visitors came to the base.
The two presidential candidates at the time visited the base and left promising to reopen HAFB. President Bush visited heavily damaged areas and signed a federal disaster declaration for Dade, Broward and Monroe counties.
During the cleanup, nearly 25,000 troops worked in the area with tent cities created all around Dade County. The Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, patrolled neighborhoods for looters, served meals, removed wet carpets from homes, and provided medical care to victims.
Although the air traffic control tower was destroyed, a mobile control tower was put in place and the base began to receive relief. An average of 84 relief airlift flights per day flew to the base. During initial relief efforts, 23,000 personnel passed through the base before deploying to locations in the South Dade County area.
The closure of the base was already considered before the hurricane. It was on the Base Closure and Realignment Commission’s initial list of base closures. The community fought the closure. Busloads of community members traveled to Orlando to appear before the BRAC committee to advocate for the reopening of the base.
As a result of this advocacy, the BRAC committee recommended reopening the base as an air reserve station, which was later successful. Regional shutdown hearings were held in Orlando in May 1993. When the final slate was sent to then-President Clinton, HAFB was no longer slated for full shutdown.
In a twist of fate, the formerly tenant reserve fighter wing on HAFB was later designated as the facility’s host wing. The 482nd Fighter Wing had to temporarily move its F-16A and B model aircraft to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, which housed the aircraft and essential personnel until April 1993.
The 482nd then moved to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida for a year. Twenty F-16s from the 93rd Fighter Squadron returned to Homestead Air Station to resume training operations from their temporary home at MacDill in March 1994. On April 1, 1994, the base reopened once more with the 482nd FW becoming the unity install host command.
This year we commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the storm that changed the structure and mission of the base and also look back on its historic splendour.