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Storm of the century

Employees recall Hurricane Andrew

Employee assisted customer during Hurricane Andrew
Miami Postmaster Rick Suarez, then a station manager, assists a displaced Miami-Dade County resident with a change-of-address form in August 1992, shortly after Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida.

Tom Day remembers South Florida looking like a war zone after Hurricane Andrew.

“We had Post Offices destroyed, street debris causing flat tires, no street signs or traffic lights,” Day said. “Some neighborhoods you couldn’t even recognize.”

The Category 5 hurricane unleashed its wrath 25 years ago this week, displacing thousands of people and causing more than $26 billion in damage.

Day, the Postal Service’s chief sustainability officer, worked as Miami operations support director at the time. He said the organization faced the challenging task of helping both customers and employees recover from the disaster, the most destructive storm in Florida’s history.

“Some people had no form of ID. They lost everything,” Day said. “We were very dependent on regular carriers to know their customers and identify them.”

USPS set up temporary Post Offices with tents, tables and signs — all arranged in delivery patterns directing customers where to pick up their mail.

Many employees took on different duties, including Walter Dobson, South Florida District’s operations programs specialist who was then a vehicle operations analyst.

“Whatever they needed, we did,” he said.

Debbie Fetterly, a quality improvement specialist at the time, helped American Red Cross workers account for displaced residents.

“As a postal community, we pulled together to give some hope and normalcy,” said Fetterly, now a Southern Area strategic communications specialist.

South Florida is thriving today, but Hurricane Andrew’s legacy remains — especially for USPS. Lessons learned after the storm helped the Postal Service facilitate recoveries from 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other emergencies.

For Miami Postmaster Rick Suarez, Hurricane Andrew solidified the value of USPS early in his career as a station manager.

“We establish continuity that things will be OK,” Suarez said. “It really showed me what the Postal Service means to communities.”

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