EOC director reflects on Hurricane Andrew - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

EOC director reflects on Hurricane Andrew

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.-- Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center Director Bill Johnson makes sure Palm Beach County is ready for the next big storm.

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he said.

And he's learned that, from his own experience with Hurricane Andrew.

Thursday marks an unforgettable anniversary for Johnson and millions of others.

Twenty-five years ago, Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Florida. The catastrophic storm, with 175 mile per hour winds, was one of only three Category 5 hurricanes to ever hit the United States at the time when it came ashore in 1992.

Around 25,000 homes were destroyed, displacing countless families.

Palm Beach County's Emergency Management department is our first line of defense against devastating storms like Hurricane Andrew.

But did you know the man in charge of that department is himself, an Andrew survivor?

He's taking the lessons he learned to help protect you from the next big one. He shared his experience and the mistakes he hopes others can learn from.

"You make mistakes, and it's just because you don't understand what a hurricane is," he said.

Just a month before Andrew hit in 1992, Johnson's family moved into their new home in Country Walk, considered the storm's ground zero.

"In fact, we made our first mortgage payment the Saturday before Andrew," he said.

As newly-transplanted midwesterners, Johnson says he didn't know what to do.

When the storm hit, they huddled in their bathroom for shelter.

"The noise was indescribable," he said. "Winds coming in at 150 mph 160 mph through the bay window, basically peeled the paint."

Miraculously, his house was one of few left standing.

"There was so much debris in our neighborhood, that you couldn't drive for the first few days," he said.

But everything they owned was sucked out by the winds.

"I don't have a picture or anything of my family before 1992. All of my belongings were destroyed," he said.

Johnson says the biggest mistake he made was not preparing a hurricane kit.

"My kit was basically, we've got food in the pantry, food in the refrigerator, we're good," he said. "I didn't plan for the fact that the water would be out, I filled the bathtub up with water but the window went out so there was glass and shingles in the bathtub."

Now as the EOC director, his purpose has come full circle.

"The reason I'm so passionate about being prepared is because of my experience with Andrew, I would not want to wish anyone that," he said.

Johnson says he is now more prepared than ever. He has window protection in his home, a generator and a fully stocked hurricane kit with food, medicine, and water to last days.

You can learn more about what you need to do to prepare for a hurricane and how to prepare a hurricane kit by clicking here.


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