Christie: Thankful Hurricane Irma wasn’t worse, but we can’t dodge bullets forever

Police turn around traffic attempting to cross the bridge on Lake Avenue after the passing of hurricane Irma in Lake Worth. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

We, meaning Palm Beach County, “were damn lucky.”

Basically, that was the assessment in my editorial following Hurricane Irma last year. The massive storm looked like it was going to swallow the entire state as it approached us from the south after beating the snot out of Puerto Rico and Cuba in the Caribbean.

That’s not to say Irma didn’t leave a mark here, of course. Power and cellular service outages, tens of thousands of folks in shelters, tons of debris and hundreds of non-functioning traffic lights made life miserable for a lot of us for a while. Enough so, as the Post’s Kimberly Miller recounts today, that many residents still “believe they survived much worse during the September tempest, and aren’t keen to hear otherwise.”

RELATED: Hurricane Season 2018: Think you survived a Cat 4 here? Not even close

Well, we need to listen up and get real. Not to belittle anyone’s feeling of suffering, but we should be thankful we didn’t get Irma’s worst. Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico can’t say that.

And as the 2018 Atlantic storm season kicks off today, we need to take whatever lessons learned from our Hurricane Irma “test run” and apply it to this year.

Because we can’t dodge bullets forever.

So following is my Sept. 13, 2017 editorial in full… Thanks for listening, and be prepared.

Editorial: Hurricane Irma spared Palm Beach County its worst

We were lucky, Palm Beach County.

Hurricane Irma, after taunting us for days with its record-breaking size and power, spared us its worst.

It may not seem that way to some. Not if you’re one of the roughly 300,000 residents still without power. Not if you’re one of the thousands of residents of Delray Beach and unincorporated county who still can’t flush their toilets. And not if you’re the parent of one of the School District’s 193,000 students who won’t return to school until Monday — at the earliest.

But we were.

You see, dozens of people here weren’t left dead in Irma’s wake as in the Caribbean. A quarter of our homes here weren’t made uninhabitable as they were in the Florida Keys. There was no 10- or 15-foot storm surge here as was seen in tiny Goodland on Marco Island.

A skateboarder takes advantage of a sidewalk damaged by uprooted trees along South Olive Avenue just north of Southern Boulevard in West Palm Beach after Hurricane Irma. The road was blocked in both directions. (Meghan McCarthy / The Palm Beach Post)

We are instead left with some trees down, spot flooding, long gas station lines and a chance to show some gratitude.

There are, of course, those who, ready to hurl the asinine “fake news” moniker, complaining that the media over-hyped the storm. Really? Yes, we should be skeptical of hype — especially from dubious sources. But when the National Weather Service says the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean is headed in your direction, the prudent thing is to shutter the house, grab the kids and get the hell out of the way.

No less than Gov. Rick Scott, himself no fan of the media, wasted no time in taking this monster of a storm seriously and pleading with us daily to do the same.

As The Post’s Kimberly Miller reported, “Mother Nature stepped in to tweak Irma’s plan” to deliver a worst-case scenario for our county.

“By the grace of Cuba’s northern coast, which was abraded by Irma before the strong Cat 4 hurricane reached the Florida Straits, and a tongue of dry air sucked into its massive, state-swallowing wind field, the storm weakened slightly and couldn’t regain strength before making its first landfall Sunday morning at Cudjoe Key,” Miller wrote.

And according to Jonathan Erdman, a senior digital meteorologist at Weather.com: “There are just so many little subtle things that can make all the difference. After it hit the Keys, it took a more due north path instead of north-northwest and that drove the eye wall ashore near Marco Island, which started weakening it.”

Weakened, but not inconsequential. In its wake, Irma left billions of dollars in damage and thousands of people across the Florida Peninsula who could use a hand — in shelters, in nursing homes, and yes, even next door.

Yes, the vast majority of us were damn lucky.

As good a time as any to show some gratitude, and volunteer to help those that weren’t.

Hurricane Irma: Scott says Florida needs 17,000 volunteers for relief effort

DORAL, Fla — Florida Governor Rick Scott gives an update to the media regarding Hurricane Irma. It’s still too early to know where the direct impact of the hurricane will take place but the state of Florida is in the area of possible landfall. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott continued his plea today for more volunteers in preparation for, and in aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

“We’ve had 6,800 volunteers sign up in the past 24 hours,” Scott said during a 10 a.m. televised update from an emergency operations center in Hialeah. He said most of those have been government employees.

“That’s great, but we need more,” he added. “We going to need 17,000 volunteers statewide.”

Even that may not be enough.

Hurricane Irma is still a Category 5 storm packing winds of 175 mph, the most powerful to hit the Atlantic Ocean outside of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. And it is expected to be the most powerful to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Andrew 25 years go.

Irma is also a large storm that, if it follows a track of heading down the center of the state, has the potential to cause up to half-a-trillion dollars in damage and leave thousands of Florida resident without homes.

RELATED LINK: Hurricane Irma: Plywood lines, Gov. visit ahead of storm; Here’s the latest

“The storm is bigger, stronger and faster than Hurricane Andrew,” said Scott, who is scheduled to visit the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center today and give a noon briefing. “We have to understand that this is serious and not take chances.”

Scott said the non-profit Volunteer Florida has 43 teams on stand-by and the American Red Cross is arriving with 1,000 volunteers and several tractor trailers. A Red Cross disaster relief operation is setting up in Orlando, and the Salvation Army and Florida Baptist Convention have kitchens on stand-by to distribute food.

But with the prospect of widespread damage from a direct hit from Hurricane Irma — and Houston’s devastation from Hurricane Harvey still fresh in Floridians’ minds — Scott has been sounding the volunteer alarm for days.

 

Scott’s pleas are made necessary because relief resources are stretched thin in the wake of Harvey. That goes for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well.

DORAL, Fla — (L-R), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Gov. Rick Scott discuss the need to FEMa aid with the media about Hurricane Irma. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio reminded that FEMA is scheduled to run out of money on Friday. The agency is hoping to get a $7.5 billion infusion just to deal with Harvey alone; but Nelson and Rubio are pushing their Senate colleagues to add more for Florida to the disaster relief bill because “even with the Harvey supplemental aid package, FEMA is likely to run out of funds before the end of September.”

And Nelson took the Senate floor today to urge the immediate passage of a $15 billion disaster aid package needed to fund FEMA past Friday.

“I urge the Senate, I implore the Senate, I beg the Senate to pass this package,” Nelson said on the Senate floor. “FEMA is stretched, and, of all things, FEMA runs out of money unless we act by tomorrow.”

“I left Florida in the middle of the night to come back to make sure that it has my stamp of imprimatur on this legislation,” he continued, “And I’m very glad that the majority leader has agreed to double the amount – basically $7.5 billion, for FEMA and another $7.5 billion for CDBG, Community Development Block Grants, both of which would be for natural disasters.”

“I have emailed yesterday to the administrator of FEMA, Brock Long,” Nelson added, “People are trying to get out, but they’re stuck on the roads, and now they’re running out of gasoline … An urgent plea that I made yesterday that I would make to FEMA again, that we get gasoline into the state of Florida.”

Scott has already deployed 1,000 members of the Florida National Guard to begin logistical and planning work ahead of Irma’s landfall. The governor mobilized another 3,000 this morning. The National Guard also has 1,000 high-water vehicles, 17 boats, 13 helicopters and more than 700 generators on stand-by. More can be brought in from other states, if necessary.

However, Scott insists that people who can help will be needed for everything from food and water distribution to checking on residents to clean up to helping with the disabled in shelters and more.

He urged folks to visit www.volunteerflorida.org to sign up for volunteering opportunities.

“It’s not too late,” Scott said. “We know that volunteers can make a huge difference.”