Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Florida Keys & Everglades
By Rick Ferren
When Hurricane Andrew roared across the park in August 1992 with 164 mph winds, Everglades National Park was severely damaged and was temporarily closed. The park's trees were the most dramatically affected. More than 70,000 acres of mangrove forest was flattened, along with a number of mature hardwood hammocks and between 25 and 40 percent of the pines.
Also hit hard were park employees, over half of whom lost their homes. The original landmark visitor center was also destroyed, along with many of the man-made structures such as boardwalks and visitor information displays.
The effect of the storm on the park's wildlife population varied from species to species. All of the 32 radio-collared deer that were part of an ongoing study survived. Also, resident populations of white ibis and egrets seemed unaffected, as were the few remaining Florida panthers that still use the park.
On the other hand, alligators, which were nesting in August, were less fortunate. About 25 percent of that year's newly hatched young were in nests destroyed by the storm. In addition, about 10 percent of the known wading bird rookeries were in the direct path of the storm and some were destroyed.
Big storms are not new to a habitat adapted to a hurricane-prone climate. Interpretive signs near Flamingo have for many years pointed out remnants of great trees blown down by Hurricane Donna in 1960. Though most species recover after storms, the process can sometimes take a decade or longer.