NEW ORLEANS (WGNO)— Thirty years ago, Hurricane Andrew swept across the Gulf, tearing through Florida on August 24, 1992, and Louisiana two days later.

The Category 5 storm reached up to 145 mph winds, slicing across the southern tip of Florida with such fury that entire neighborhoods were flattened — something New Orleans native Mary Shean remembers better than she’d like to.

Two years ago, in an interview with WGNO’s Susan Roesgen, Shean, who was then living in Miami Beach recounted her memory of the storm. As the hurricane approached the coast she tried to evacuate but a traffic accident blocked the only highway heading north.

Instead, Shean drove to a friend’s condo, south and inland—a nearly fatal decision. Shean and three friends wound up in one of the hardest hit areas, the Country Walk subdivision, where the Miami Herald reported that 90% of the homes were destroyed.

Here’s part of Mary Shean’s story:

“Myself, and three other adults, two cats, and an iguana stayed in the condo (in Country Walk) until we heard ripping and saw cracks in the ceiling.  We moved into the inside bathroom, and another 5 minutes later the roof came off.  We had all the adults and animals in this tiny bathroom, and with the storm surge, water was gushing in from underneath the door.  We stuffed towels under the door to keep water from getting in.  I thought how ironic that I was a state champion and nationally ranked swimmer, and here I was going to drown in a bathtub. The howling wind sounded like screaming banshees, and our ears popped from the pressure changes”

Mary Kay Shean holds a photo album published by the Miami Herald

And that was just the beginning.

As soon as the eye of the hurricane began to pass overhead and the sky cleared temporarily, Shean and her friends decided to leave the nearly obliterated condo.

Florida’s Country Walk subdivision after Hurricane Andrew, in a photo album published by the Miami Herald

“The edge of the eye passed over us..(and) we actually left the bathroom and got into my SUV which was now buried/wedged under two trees.  We spent the second half of the storm relatively dry in my car. (It) took two days for the Florida National Guard to dig us out.”

In some ways, the damage inflicted by Hurricane Andrew in Florida ushered in better protection for all coastal states in future storms.

New Orleans native Mary Kay Shean survived Hurricane Andrew in Florida

Stricter building codes have led to stronger houses and businesses, and technological advances in meteorology give forecasters today a clearer picture of a hurricane’s expected path and intensity.

Mary Shean lives in Omaha, Nebraska now, where the annual existential threat is the potential for tornadoes, not hurricanes. Yet even 30 years after Hurricane Andrew, the memories remain.

She and her friends survived two days in her SUV, with almost nothing to eat.

“(We) lived on water and Fig Newtons. To this day I cannot eat a Fig Newton.”

And later, a common complaint among all hurricane survivors: 

“So much price-gouging for water, generators, electric saws. That being said, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Home Depot.. they just opened up their South Florida  stores and gave everything away for free.”