Opinions Archives - Page 6 of 259 - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Florida’s hard choices after mega-storm

Hurricane Irma rammed home the point that Floridians need leaders to provide more than a mop to deal with the damage and misery these mega-storms bring.

We just got overwhelmed by a natural disaster that showed again how vulnerable we are. Climate change – yes, deniers, it is real – will likely bring more storms the size of Irma, or maybe larger.

Ponder that.

Oh, people will clean up from the most powerful storm to hit Florida in a quarter century. There will be investigations into the nursing home tragedy in Hollywood Hills. Some places might enact tougher building codes and things like that.

The bigger question, though, is whether Tallahassee will finally realize Florida needs some fundamental policy changes.

Take the catastrophic power failures throughout the state, for starters. There is an ongoing power struggle between large power companies and those who advocate for expanded use of solar power.

Solar was helpful during Irma.

In Coral Springs, for instance, where an estimated 300,000 people lost power Inside Climate News reported how that city kept solar-powered traffic lights functioning at 13 major intersections.

There were stories of individuals who used solar to power their homes even in hard-hit places with widespread electrical failures.

The wise thing to do would be to remove the many bureaucratic barriers and surcharges power companies charge homeowners who want to go off the grid.

Floridians want solar energy.  They overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 last year, which gave property tax breaks to homeowners who installed solar panels, with 73 percent of the vote.

This should be a front-burner conversation in Tallahassee.

The state and local communities also could finally find the backbone to curb runaway coastal development. I know – insert laugh track here.

If common sense doesn’t win the argument though, maybe this will. The New York Times recently provided some staggering numbers about both the growth along Florida’s coasts and the cost associated with hurricane damage.

Since 1990, two years before Hurricane Andrew ripped apart large portions of South Florida, the state has added about 6 million people. That growth isn’t slowing.

The Times cited a 2016 Congressional Budget Office report that estimated hurricane damage costs $24 billion annually, a number that is expected to increase dramatically.

Ashley Dawson, a professor at the Princeton Environmental Institute, pointed out another potential danger in an op-ed that appeared in the Times a few days before Irma hit.

“ … there’s the threat of a storm-caused nuclear meltdown. The Turkey Point nuclear power station sits on an exposed island in Biscayne Bay, about 25 miles south of Miami,” she wrote.

“Built in the early 1970s, the aging plant depends on similar vulnerable backup systems to prevent a meltdown as those of Japan’s Fukushima plant, which is still leaking radiation.”

Washington needs to get in the game too. President Trump’s proposed budget called for a 16 percent cut at NOAA, an agency that proved to be kind of valuable in providing early and detailed warnings about Irma and other storms.

Add it up.

Millions of displaced residents. Billions in damages. Florida’s emergency response both before and after the storm was exemplary, but people deserve more to help mitigate these storms long before they arrive.

We can’t stop them, but better policies going forward might help limit the damage. That will require some hard decisions in Tallahassee starting now. Think they’re up to it?

Blake Dowling: Lessons from Irma; tech tips for the next storm

Irma was a monster; some parts of the state were lucky, others were not. My prayers are with all those impacted by the storm.

Shout outs to our state and local leaders for keeping everyone in the loop; a lot was learned from Hermine last year. I personally thought Gov. Rick Scott did a great job with communication and his relentless messaging. That is what it’s about. Keep the people in the loop. Same with county officials, they also did a great job.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was also all over the place keeping the people in the know.

Nice work Government.

On Monday, I was talking on Twitter with Skip Foster of the Tallahassee Democrat about Irma (during the storm), because you honestly could not get a straight answer on the Weather Channel for what was about to happen in North Florida (meaning that after a rough sunrise, we got hit).

Skip was like “look at the radar,” it’s gone. Meanwhile, several other media outlets were still saying the worst was yet to come. It was what they were saying all weekend.

But then … poof … never mind, show’s over folks.

I don’t think I ever need to see another reporter doing the “I’m in the really strong wind stance” while covering a storm. Really? Isn’t that sensationalism at its core? I only want to see it if it’s Geraldo (that guy can cover anything).

But, seriously, when a storm is barreling down on you, it would be nice to just have the facts. Thanks, Skip.

So, as for the facts next time, grab the latest app and keep informed when a storm rolls around.

For crisp hurricane coverage, try Storm Radar — hurricane tracker, updates, radar etc. — it’s sharp and easy to navigate.

For finding fuel, which is still an issue, try GasBuddy, it will tell you where to find gas, and in the non-storm world, it can help you find the cheapest gas.

Another monster app that is really helping people in places like the Keys where cell towers are destroyed is called Zello. As long as there is a wireless network of some kind going (you can use your cellphone as a hot spot, you know), you can use this walkie-talkie app to communicate with others that have it. Innovation at its finest. Very cool.

Considering our interstates are still clogged, Waze can help navigate the roads and find shortcuts when available. These apps can all help you bring some calm, before, during and after the storm.

Lastly, you need Bottle Flip, a time-wasting gem of an app, for something to do besides watch the trees bend into Cirque De Soleil/Forest Road Show-like shapes.

Current high score 228. Try and beat it.

I wish our state and island neighbors a speedy recovery, help where you can and prayers for all those who were in the path of this storm and the next one, whenever that comes.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com. Blake enjoys electricity, cold beverages, television and fuel for his car. The end.

Emmett Reed: Tragic deaths, inaccurate reporting shouldn’t tarnish nursing home professionals

Florida’s nursing home industry is populated by hundreds of excellent centers staffed by thousands of dedicated, caring professionals. It’s unfortunate, but inevitable, that they will get painted with the same negative brush when one facility fails to meet the high standards we set for ourselves.

It is grossly unfair, however, for that challenge to be exacerbated by misleading news reporting that inaccurately suggests that the long term care profession actively blocked reforms that could have saved lives.

Every compassionate person was shocked and saddened by the death of eight residents of a single South Florida nursing home in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Even though that center is not a member of Florida Health Care Association, all of us in the long term care profession were deeply troubled by the circumstances that led to these losses and look forward to the culmination of a thorough investigation, which will hopefully shed light on that situation.

After Florida endured the one-two punch of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when eight named storms battered our state, FHCA reviewed emergency protocols and took numerous steps to make our centers as safe as possible. As part of these efforts, we fully supported legislation that would have helped nursing homes upgrade their emergency power generators by providing partial state reimbursement if the facilities agreed to take in residents from nursing homes in evacuated areas.

The goal of this proposal was to increase the number of nursing homes suitable to care for frail residents when their centers were no longer safe in the aftermath of a disaster. With FHCA’s support, the 2006 legislative proposal passed the Florida House and cleared two Senate committees, but stalled when the Senate Appropriations Committee balked at funding it. FHCA protested that without an appropriation, the bill amounted to an unfunded mandate. The bill died in Appropriations – the victim not of industry opposition, but of whoever pulled the funding from the proposal.

Despite this documented history, the most prominent story on the front page of Friday’s Miami Herald proclaimed that the nursing home industry helped killed the measure. Not only is this unfair to the many members of our profession, it is also patently inaccurate.

FHCA’s member centers are dedicated to doing everything possible to help provide a high quality of life for our residents, particularly during the most challenging times. Faced with Hurricane Irma, for example, we have worked tirelessly with utility companies to help them understand the importance of making nursing homes a priority so these facilities can get their power restored as quickly as possible. We also secured ice, chillers, and other resources to keep our residents and safe and comfortable as possible.

Throughout the past decade, we have recognized the obvious benefits of having effective backup generators in all nursing homes. My team and I have spoken with hundreds of nursing home administrators before, during, and after this hurricane and have learned countless stories of caregivers putting the needs of residents above their own or of facilities taking in residents from evacuated areas so they can be safe. Those stories have been eclipsed by the tragedy in Broward County, but that shouldn’t diminish the heroic actions of individuals across the state who put resident care above all else.

When the dust settles, we’ll have ample time to reflect on lessons learned and how we can improve upon emergency planning. Our focus right now is getting every nursing home in the state back to full operations, so we can meet the needs of our residents. The men and women of the long term care profession do heroic work every day, providing the best possible quality of life for many of our state’s most fragile individuals. They deserve better than to have their reputations tarnished by the tragic events at a single nursing home.

Emmett Reed is Executive Director of Florida Health Care Association, the state’s first and largest advocacy organization for long-term care providers and the residents under their care. He can be reached at ereed@fhca.org.

Darryl Paulson: Amnesty Don

Amnesty Don. That’s what Steve Bannon and Breitbart News called President Donald Trump after news came out that the president and the Democratic leadership of Congress brokered a deal concerning the Dreamers.

According to reports, Trump struck a deal with Democratic leader of the Senate Chuck Schumer and Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi. The supposed deal was to grant work visas and a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. Democrats agreed to bolster the number of immigration agents, but refused to support building a wall on the Mexican border.

After conservative critics ranging from Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Congressman Steven King and others attacked Trump for striking an amnesty deal with Democrats, Trump denied that any deal had been reached.

Immigration policy has always been one of the most divisive issues in America. Much of the early controversy centered around the Irish and German immigrants, both associated with the Catholic Church. The attack on the Irish and German Catholics led to the formation of the “Know-Nothing Party in the 1850s.

The party derived its name when members were asked about their beliefs, they were told to respond, “I know nothing.” Founded after the collapse of the Whig Party, the Know-Nothing Party swept Massachusetts elections in 1854. In the 1856 presidential election, their candidate was former Whig president Millard Fillmore, who won 21.5 percent of the vote. The party collapsed after the 1856 elections.

Many critics of current anti-immigrants attempt to link their views to the Know-Nothing Party. In a 2006 editorial in The Weekly Standard, editor William Kristol attacked populous Republicans for “turning the GOP into an anti-immigrant, Know-Nothing Party.”

In addition to the attacks on the Irish and Germans, later attacks focused on Southern Europeans, Africans and Asians. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1880s, which completely stopped the flow of Chinese immigrants.

The Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986 granted amnesty to illegal workers who resided continuously in the United States since Jan. 1, 1982, and paid a fine and back taxes. It was passed by the Democrat controlled House, the Republican Senate and signed into law by Republican Ronald Reagan.

A flood of illegal immigrants since Simpson-Mazzoli has led to more recent efforts to grant permanent status to the most recent wave of illegals. In 2010, Congress considered the DREAM Act which would have granted work permits to the children of illegal immigrants and create a pathway to citizenship. Although it passed the Democratic controlled House, the Senate was not able to get the 60 votes needed to stop a Republican filibuster.

Because of the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act, President Obama signed an executive order in 2012 to protect the Dreamers. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was praised by the Democrats, but attacked by Republicans who argued the president lacked the authority to unilaterally change immigration policy.

DACA became a focal point of the 2016 presidential campaign when candidate Donald Trump promised to end DACA on “Day One.” He also promised to build a wall on the Mexican border. Instead of “Day One,” it took Trump eight months to rescind DACA.

There are currently four major legislative proposals before Congress to reform immigration. The Dream Act, sponsored by Democrat Dick Simpson of Illinois and Republican Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, would codify DACA, impose educational, work and military requirements and create a path to citizenship after 13 years.

Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo has introduced the Recognizing America’s Children Act. This bill codifies DACA, imposes work and educational requirements, and creates a path to citizenship after 10 years.

The American Hope Act sponsored by Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, has 112 Democratic co-sponsors. There are no work or military requirements and Dreamers may apply for citizenship after five years.

Finally, Republican House member Mike Coffman of Colorado has introduced the Bar Removal of Individuals [who] Dream and Grow our Economy (Bridge Act). Coffman is seeking to obtain 218 signatures and force DACA to the floor for a vote.

Will President Trump’s negotiations with the Democratic leadership force Republicans to act, or will it alienate them from their president by shutting out Republicans from the negotiations?

Will Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan schedule a floor vote on DACA, especially if most Democrats support the bill and most Republicans oppose the bill?

Will Democrats offer concessions to the president and Republicans in exchange for supporting DACA? Will Democrats agree to build a border wall? Will Democrats support E-Verify to enforce immigration law? Will Democrats agree to hire more immigration agents?

At this point, there are a lot more questions than there are answers.


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Joe Henderson: Hollywood Hills deaths horrifying outrage

Of all the heartbreak and damage wrought by Hurricane Irma, nothing is worse than the deaths of eight elderly residents, aged 71 to 99, at a Hollywood Hills rehabilitation center.

It’s an outrage. It’s horrifying. It left people sputtering with anger and officials on the trail to find answers.

The facility lost power during the storm and backup systems failed. That left residents to swelter with no air conditioning, and now multiple investigations are under way, although other possible causes of death are being considered, including carbon monoxide poisoning. If there was negligence, criminal charges may follow.

My goodness, this rehab center was located across the street from a hospital emergency room. Did no one think to run over there and say, “Hey, we have a problem.”

The Florida Health Care Association, which advocates for elderly in the state, called it “a profound tragedy within the larger tragedy of Hurricane Irma.”

That about sums it up, and there is something potentially more disturbing. Will we find stories of neglect at other facilities? The FHCA said of the nearly 700 senior homes in the state,  about 150 didn’t have power Wednesday.

Hurricane Irma was a monster and everyone in the state, especially in south Florida, knew to expect havoc. But there were also several days to prepare, and the loss of power is one of the first things to happen with a hurricane.

The rehab center’s administrator, Jorge Carballo, told the Miami Herald facility officials are fully cooperating with authorities.

He added that the staff “diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma. We took part in emergency management preparedness calls with local and state emergency officials, other nursing homes and health regulators.”

If that is so, then why did no one there think to alert someone, anyone, that a portable cooling unit at the facility had failed?

Mara K. Gambineri, spokeswoman for the state health department, told the Herald, “At no time did the facility report that conditions had become dangerous or that the health and safety of their patients was at risk.”

Could no one see this coming? This facility recently received a “much below average” rating from a state agency.

Seniors make up nearly one in five of the state’s 20 million residents. By 2040, officials estimate the state will have more than 6 million senior citizens. Many of them will eventually need specialized care.

Even today, many seniors need help with basics like bathing, when to take their medications, or just getting out of bed. They require elevated care for diseases like Alzheimer’s, senior dementia, or Parkinson’s. Their diets have to be watched and managed.

They are not always the most cooperative patients.

It’s expensive, too. Agingcare.com reported the median national cost of a one-bedroom assisted living facility is more than $3,600 a month. Many places cost a lot more than that, and as rates continue to rise, some seniors are forced to find other places to live.

As events in Hollywood Hills proved, tragedy can result when things go wrong.

So, yes, there must be a thorough investigation. If there was criminal negligence, people should go to jail. Don’t stop there, though. Florida is judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable citizens.

Every senior facility should be under renewed scrutiny.

They have to get this right.

4 motels in 5 nights: Life on the run from Irma

It was a scene you would never expect to find in the United States, the land of hot dog eating contests and supersized Slurpees — hundreds of people wandering around forlorn, looking for food, against a backdrop of downed tree branches and a flattened gas station with no gas.

We were all refugees from Irma, which was at one point the most powerful storm ever recorded in the open Atlantic. Her devastation touched much of Florida, including Jacksonville, the very place we’d escaped to from our home in Miami. Now we were hiding out in a hotel, and it looked like the only open restaurant was a Waffle House where about 200 people were waiting in line.

Then my husband and daughter spotted a small Thai restaurant with a few people in it. They pulled up quickly and asked for food. The owner said they were closed, and that he had come just to check on damage. We’ll take anything, my husband pleaded. The owner relented and they left with enough food to feed the five of us — three adults and two always-hungry teenagers. The 20 or so other people who knocked on the door behind us were turned away.

As Irma grew in the Atlantic, feeding voraciously on the warm water until it became a category 5 hurricane, the eye of the storm looked like it was headed directly for us. Miami had seen hurricanes before, of course, but this one would be different, the meteorologists warned. It could be the storm of the century, the likes of which nobody had seen in their lifetimes. You could die by wind, with speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. Or you could die by water, with storm surge predicted to be up to 15 feet in a flat, low-lying region.

Get out, the governor of Florida warned. In some zones, including ours, evacuation was mandatory, and the police went door to door urging everyone to leave. If you stay, they cautioned, we can’t be responsible for your lives.

So we became part of what may be the biggest evacuation in U.S. history. We boarded up the house with hurricane shutters, and said a prayer for the 20-year-old roof. We emptied the refrigerator and grabbed our valuables. We tucked the cat away in the safest room in the house with plenty of food, water and litter, because she was too feral to get into the car, let alone a motel. And then we left, at 3 a.m. on Friday morning, hoping to beat at least some of the traffic.

We didn’t. It seemed all of Florida was on the road. The traffic inched along, held up by long lines at every gas station, usually for very little gas, certainly not enough for the huge SUVs around us. It was tight in our small Prius, with the five of us, our bags and our food, but we were thankful that it didn’t eat much gas.

People passed us with their lives in their cars or towed along behind – their dogs, their horses, even their bedding lashed to the back of trucks. We were headed to Ocala, but what was usually a 4-hour trip took more than 13 hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Our friends fanned out all over the state, to Tampa, Orlando or the Georgia border, all of us taking bets on the still-unclear path of Irma. Other friends chose to stay, in some cases in defiance of mandatory evacuations. They hunkered down with candles, battery-powered lanterns, food and lots of water. To us it seemed like they were gambling with their lives.

On the road, we played musical chairs with motels. Everything was booked, so we moved from motel to motel looking for instances in which people’s plans changed and they didn’t show up. We slept in four motels over five nights.

From Friday night into Saturday morning, the forecast for the gigantic storm shifted. Irma turned west, with its fiercest part aimed toward Tampa instead of Miami. But we knew that our good luck meant misfortune for many others who’d had virtually no warning.

Irma was going west, so we went east. We drove across the state to Jacksonville. But Irma was so wide she reached across the whole state, hitting us where we had run.

We were huddling in a motel in Jacksonville when Irma hit early in the morning. She had weakened by then, but the winds were still howling outside our windows at 80 miles per hour. We heard the window in another room shatter, leaving glass all over the hallway. The wind pried a sheet of metal loose, and it flapped insanely before hurtling to the ground. The ground outside was flooded with about a foot in storm surge, lapping up the sides of cars in the parking lot. Tree branches went flying. And this was just in Jacksonville, 80 miles from Irma’s eye.

Long before the worst of the storm had abated, the power went out. It groaned and flickered back to life a few times before giving up entirely. We were in darkness listening to Irma’s rage.

The storm finally died down by Monday afternoon. That’s when my husband and daughter went out to scavenge for food amid the wreckage. With the tide coming in, the water surged into downtown Jacksonville, and local officials spent the day rescuing people.

On Tuesday we began the journey home. We were among the earliest to return, and this time there was little traffic. Miami was deserted. In our neighborhood, Irma had ripped up huge trees with their roots everywhere, sometimes attached to slabs of concrete, and they were blocking the roads to our house.

When we finally got there, it was a huge relief to see the roof still on top. Several trees had fallen, but not one had damaged the building itself. The floor was wet, but the flooding was minimal. And the cat was terrified, hiding in the bathtub, but otherwise fine.

Now begins the next stage. Hurricane veterans tell us that like surgery, the recovery is almost as bad as the thing itself, as you try to patch back together a semblance of normality without power in broken neighborhoods. The power is likely to be out for weeks — and in the 90-degree heat of a Miami summer, that is a sweaty proposition. School is out indefinitely, in part because some schools are serving as shelters and people have nowhere to go.

But we feel grateful and incredibly lucky. The pictures of the utter havoc wrought by Irma in the Caribbean are a sobering reminder of what might have been. The Big One didn’t hit us directly, and, most importantly, we are all alive and safe. The same can’t be said for many others in Irma’s path, who will be dealing with the death and destruction she brought for a long time to come.

Editor’s Note: Mary Rajkumar is the AP’s international enterprise editor. She lives in Miami with her family and evacuated with them ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Joe Henderson: It’s past time for flood insurance reform

The images of sunken cars, water-soaked homes and submerged streets in the aftermath of hurricanes in Florida and Texas should be enough to convince politicians to finally address the issue of flood insurance.

Millions who need coverage don’t have it or can’t afford it. It’s an old problem in states like ours, and it’s time to fix it – past time, really.

Private and federal aid is pouring in to the parts of Florida and Texas that were battered by hurricanes Irma and Harvey, but for many that won’t be enough. Home insurance doesn’t cover damage from floods, and that left an estimated 85 percent of people whose homes were destroyed in Houston to face financial calamity because they don’t have the coverage.

Across Florida’s coastal counties, only 42 percent of homeowners carry flood insurance – and that number likely would lower if they weren’t required by law in some cases to purchase the protection.

With damage in the billions of dollars, people without proper insurance have few options. Many will be forced to declare bankruptcy.

So, what to do?

The biggest knock against flood insurance is that it is too expensive, so helping craft a bipartisan solution that brings down the cost while keeping coverage is simply the right to do for Americans.

Second, and more ominously, scientists warn that storms like Irma and Harvey will be firing up with increasing deadly strength and frequency due to climate change. Kicking the can down the road on tough issues is a favorite pastime of Congress, but that is not an option here.

As communities rebuild, local governments need to attack the problem of runaway development in flood-prone areas. That’s a different issue than insurance, obviously, but it’s no less important.

Low-lying cities like Houston and Miami have been shown to be particularly vulnerable to killer floods after these storms.

The problem is, people have always been drawn to the water and will continue to be. Leaders must find a way to balance the natural draw that waterfront homes have against the danger of building in those areas.

Elected leaders generally deal with these problems only by reacting when disaster strikes.

Fiercely independent states like Florida and Texas generally loathe interference from the federal government, but they’re also quick to plead for Washington to open the taps for relief in times like this.

Well, don’t stop with just requesting aid.

Demand that this nation come up with a comprehensive disaster plan that is fair and affordable. Yes, that probably means resistance from states where flooding isn’t the issue it is here. It will mean dealing with the question of why people in other states should subsidize our demand to live by the water.

Solve it anyway, because this problem is certain to come up again.

Joe Henderson: Hopefully we learned Irma’s lessons

The winds have died and the mopping up has begun. Businesses are reopening as people head back to work while dealing, at least for now, with their new realities.

I know people whose homes were badly damaged by this storm, while others – myself luckily included – had only minor inconveniences. No matter whether Irma dealt you a mighty blow or a glancing scratch, we’re all in this together.

That’s why the most important questions in Irma’s wake is what we learned about the experience, and whether those lessons will stay with us as we go forward into what seems increasingly to be an era of super storms.

They had better.

HAVE A PLAN: You know all those TV people who start preaching in June about the necessity of having a hurricane plan? Maybe everyone ought to listen.

When the news of Irma’s impending arrival became real, there was a rush on water, batteries, flashlights, and necessities like canned goods. Those things are a lot more available in June than they are 48 hours before a Category 5 hurricane is predicted to strike.

Water doesn’t spoil.

If you have bought supplies in the past, you might want to update the inventory. On Saturday, after shelves had been cleared out and stores started to close, we confidently pulled out the giant plastic container that kept the supply of size “C” and “D” batteries. They were right where we left them.

They also had expired in 2011.

CUT FORECASTERS A BREAK: I actually heard some people complain weather forecasters were totally wrong on this one because Irma didn’t follow the initial projected paths. That’s crazy.

They routinely warned viewers that even the slightest change in conditions could send the hurricane off in many directions. They emphasized everyone was in danger, and everyone had to prepare like they were going to be directly in the damage path.

Even with the advanced and other equipment, plotting an exact course of these storms can be an inexact science. They get it right more often than not, though.

I remember hearing Steve Jerve of WFLA-TV in Tampa say last Friday that the eye of Irma likely would pass just east of the city, which is exactly what it did.

SHELTER FROM THE STORM: People seem to have this one down. Shelters filled early as people wisely took no chances, Hillsborough County had to open more.

I wonder, though, if the story would have been the same had Irma stayed on the original east-coast track. Given the size of the storm, that could have been catastrophic here. Some people in Miami probably thought they were safe when Irma moved west.

How did that work out?

A POLITICAL MODEL: Future leaders take note: Gov. Rick Scott again provided a blueprint for how someone in his position is supposed to lead during a threat like this.

Like last year with Hurricane Matthew, Scott was here, there and everywhere, sounding the warning early, often and loudly.

As someone noted, when you see Rick Scott wearing the Navy ballcap, you know it’s getting real.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was all over TV, radio and Twitter with similar warnings. He gets the quote of the week with his one about how after 90 years of avoiding, Tampa was about to “get punched in the mouth.”

DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Remember the lessons from this adventure because there will be a test. Just look at 2004 after Hurricane Charley left devastation in its path. Three more storms followed.

Wanna bet this won’t happen again?

I don’t.

Anxiety, panic, work: A reporter’s day with storm hours out

Tamara Lush is the Associated Press correspondent and multimedia journalist for the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, covering Florida’s Gulf Coast. She has covered 10 storms – including the recent Hurricane Harvey in Houston. She returned to St. Pete, where she’s lived for seven years, to cover Irma and soon found herself among Florida’s many evacuees as the storm moved west and put her home and family in danger. She’s filing occasional dispatches on her experience.


3 p.m. Sunday:

I feel as if the stress of this storm has taken a year off my life, and I’m sure millions of my fellow Floridians feel the same. Several times, my shoulders have been so tense that I have to remind myself to lower them away from my ears.

My husband and I snapped at each other while deciding what to bring with us. I became peevish when he told me to watch the dogs; he was annoyed when I lost the hotel key. Tensions are high, and now, we’re treating each other and ourselves tenderly.

For days, we’ve planned, prepared and discussed scenarios of where to go during the worst of the wind and rain. And it’s not as if I have a job that allows me to think about anything but the storm.

Perhaps it’s because of the flooding I saw from Harvey in Houston, or the wind damage I saw back in 2004 in Punta Gorda, but with each passing hour, I second-guess my decisions. A lot of that is due to social media. I see reasonable, intelligent people leaving their homes, and wonder whether I’m doing the wrong thing by staying in a hotel.

In rational moments, I tell myself that everyone has different tolerance for risk and anxiety – although my anxiety levels are through the roof at the moment. My dog Dino can sense this, and early this morning, he threw up.

An awesome start to the day.

When my mind goes in a panic loop, I remind myself that tens of millions of people around the world have it way worse than me. Even though for the moment, I’m a bit trapped here, I have options. I have money. I have friends and colleagues who are eager to help (and I love them for that).

I went through Wilma, a category three in Key West, in 2005. But somehow, I didn’t have the fear back then that I do now. Was it because every person I knew then wasn’t posting every thought, fear and anxiety on a public forum?

We’re about six hours from the storm coming to our area.


Noon Sunday:

What do you pack when you might lose everything?

It’s a question I’ve thought about during every interview in every storm over the years. I was even in the middle of reporting a story in Houston about flood victims’ relationship with their possessions when I was called home to Florida to cover Irma.

And this week, I got to answer my own questions.

Since I hadn’t unpacked one bag from my time in Houston – a suitcase filled with rain gear, a first aid kit, video equipment – I rolled it toward our front door to await the trip to our hotel. I washed my storm-chasing clothes from Houston and repacked those.

Since I had the luxury of time before the storm hit, I carefully considered what to take. What did I own that was truly meaningful? What would I need if our roof was torn off and we couldn’t live in our home for months?

I thought of what my former colleague, Ramit Plushnick-Masti, wrote when she had to evacuate her house a few weeks ago in Houston’s floodwaters. She packed jeans and her favorite moisturizer. So I packed a bag with my nicest professional clothes, and another bag with makeup and skin care. If I didn’t have a home to live in, I’d want some soothing, nice-smelling things to make me feel normal and beautiful.

The sentimental stuff was a bit more difficult. Which books, which photos, which mementoes of my life?

In the end, I filled two plastic tubs. The ashes of my mother went in first, then photos of her. Some reporter’s notebooks. My own published novels. Also, a first edition of “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” by Hemingway, a man who saw a few tempests himself.

“This was a big storm and he might as well enjoy it,” Hemingway wrote in that book I packed. “It was ruining everything, but you might as well enjoy it.”


9 a.m. Sunday:

I was in Houston a week ago, talking with a woman whose home had flooded during Harvey.

“Have you ever been in a hurricane?” she’d asked.

I nodded, telling her I’d covered eight storms. “And, I live on the Gulf Coast in Florida. So there’s always a threat. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

As I type this, Hurricane Irma is closing in, and I’m sitting on a bed at a hotel in my city of St. Petersburg. My husband is next to me, watching The Weather Channel. Our two dogs are letting out little woofs and sniffing the bags that hold everything important to us.

Yeah, I covered them before. But now I’m a hurricane evacuee.

Like tens of thousands of Floridians, we waffled before leaving. Evacuating our home, at a whopping 22 feet above sea level, wasn’t mandatory.

But, Harvey.

I booked a room near home. Someone would use it, or we’d cancel … Irma would probably hit Miami in any case.

Then the hurricane veered west, and we considered the five giant oak trees towering over our house. They drop large branches during even small rainstorms. What if a whole tree crunched our roof?

The sun cast a sparkling, golden, weirdly ominous hue as we left home, hours ahead of the first wind and rain.

I’m hoping we’ll be back home soon. But I know enough about natural disasters to understand that there’s no blueprint for what’s coming.

Nowhere will be safe: Can scary words save public from Irma?

Catastrophic, life-threatening, extremely dangerous. Scary? Forecasters hope so.

The National Weather Service are using as fearful words as they can, on purpose, to warn people about Hurricane Irma and shock them into action, just as they did last month for Hurricane Harvey.

“Words like catastrophic, get out, life-threatening, hopefully it will sink in,” said National Hurricane Center spokesman and meteorologist Dennis Feltgen.

The weather office on the Florida Keys may have done him one better.

“(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)THIS IS AS REAL AS IT GETS(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)NOWHERE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS WILL BE SAFE(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO EVACUATE(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)” The National Weather Service’s Florida Keys office tweeted Friday.

A year ago, the National Weather Service announced it would stop screaming in all capital letters unless in case of emergency. This is an emergency.

The hurricane center used all capitals some places and in other places just kept hinting at death if you don’t pay attention.

“Irma is expected to make landfall in Florida as an extremely dangerous major hurricane, and will bring life-threatening wind impacts to much of the state regardless of the exact track of the center,” a Friday posting wrote. “This is a life-threatening situation. Everyone in these areas should take all actions to protect life and property from rising water and follow evacuation instructions from local officials.”

During Harvey, Feltgen joked he was running out of words to convey how dangerous the storm was. He said the situation was the same with Irma on Friday.

“Do I need to bring a thesaurus here and see what I can do with it,” Feltgen said. “This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way.”

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