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.

Christie: Was Trump too focused on himself to feel Harvey victims’ pain?

Our president can’t help himself. He just cannot help himself.

As he exited a firehouse in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday, President Donald Trump noticed a crowd of about 800 people. He grabbed a lone star Texas flag and shouted back at his supporters: “What a crowd! What a turnout!”

And there you have it. Minutes after managing to show leadership while sitting at a table of local, state and federal officials managing the catastrophic mess of Tropical Storm Harvey, the president couldn’t resist the lure of the adoring crowd.

And as a result, raise questions about his inability to show true compassion for those who are suffering.

I know, I know… this simply sounds like nit-picking. Only it’s not.

Nit-picking would be making hay of first lady Melania Trump walking to Marine One in a pair of expensive snake-skin, spiked heels — on her way to “helping” storm victims. That’s trivial in the grand scheme of things. So I’m not doing that.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, holds up a Texas flag after speaking with supporters outside Firehouse 5 in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday, where he received a briefing on Harvey relief efforts. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This is about our president, and the tens of thousands of Texans who want to believe that he feels their pain.

He had the opportunity, but he didn’t close the deal.

The president, despite criticism about pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday, had pushed aides from the beginning to schedule a visit to Texas as early as possible after Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas on Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane. He has made sure to say repeatedly that all necessary federal resources would be made available to relief efforts; and the crucial Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has performed admirably, coordinating with Texas state and local officials.

RELATED LINK: Trump, in Texas, Calls Harvey Recovery Response Effort a ‘Real Team’

Trump even made the right call Tuesday by going to the Gulf Coast city of Corpus Christi, largely avoiding being a distraction from the catastrophic flooding that was ravaging the Houston area about 200 miles to the northeast.

“It’s a real team, and we want to do it better than ever before,” Trump said of the response effort during a briefing with officials in the Corpus Christi firehouse that resembled more a board meeting. “We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it.”

More than 9,000 and counting have gathered at the downtown evacuation center at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Tuesday in Houston. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

That’s all good. But even during the briefing, Trump had to be pulled back from P.T. Barnum-mode after introducing FEMA administrator Brock Long as “the man who’s really been very famous on television over the last couple of days.”

Long quickly responded that “all eyes are on Houston, and so are mine,” cautioning that rescue and recovery efforts still have “a long way to go.”

“We’re still in a life-saving, life-sustaining mission,” he added, as if intending to re-focus the president’s attention where it should be — on the victims, especially in Houston where 9,000 residents fleeing rising floodwaters crammed into a makeshift shelter designed to accommodate 5,000.

“This is not the Superdome,” Long said, referring to the chaos residents of New Orleans endured while seeking shelter at a sports arena after Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.

“At the convention center, we are sustaining food,” he added. “I have an incident management team inside the city of Houston. And more and more people are being moved to shelters to stabilize the situation.”

People navigate through floodwaters with their belongings during flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey in Orange, Texas, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Long’s sobering focus was made surreal by the split-screen video feed from Houston that showed simultaneously on every major news channel that carried the briefing. Images of people wading through water chest deep, carrying babies and pets. The self-described “Redneck Navy” risking their own lives and boats to find trapped residents and get them to safety. Neighbors fighting against rushing floodwaters to form a human chain to get a nine-months-pregnant woman aboard a dump truck.

It was an awesome sight. America at its best, to be sure.

And in Corpus Christi, which, by comparison, had sustained relatively light damage from the storm, there was Trump still managing to seem like he was above it all standing atop a fire truck.

“Texas can handle anything,” he said, waving the state flag to cheers.

No handshakes. No hugs. No words of comfort whispered in any ears.

Well, even Trump knew this lack of empathy didn’t play well. This morning, he tweeted:

Indeed. It was a seeming disconnect made worse shortly thereafter by the mayor and police chief of Houston delivering the somber news that a Houston Police Department officer had died in the relief effort around 4 a.m. Sunday. Officer Steve Perez, a 34-year veteran of the force, drowned when his car was submerged driving through a flooded underpass as he tried to get to his “secondary” duty station after not being able to find a path to his primary station, according to Police Chief Art Acevedo.

“We couldn’t find him,” Acevedo said through tears.

Once the dive team got to the scene, it was “too treacherous to go under and look for him,” Acevedo said.

“We could not put more officers at risk,” he said.

The dive team went back out at 8 a.m. Tuesday and found Perez “within 20 minutes,” Acevedo said.

At last 20 people, including Perez, have been confirmed dead as a result of the storm, officials said.

Today would be a good time for the president to reach out to Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner, whom Trump has basically avoided to this point.

It is possible, given all of the misery they are currently experiencing from the deluge of Tropical Storm Harvey, that Texas residents — especially those in Houston — could care less whether the president feels their pain.

Maybe this early test of Trump’s talents as comforter in chief will be less of a showcase for him to demonstrate compassion, and more one for leadership. To that end, maybe all frustrated and exhausted residents really care about is an adequate response.

Maybe. But they also want to know that the president cares more about them than he does himself. That he won’t be standing above an adoring crowd blowing kisses while they and their family are sleeping on cots in a over-crowded, makeshift shelter.

Sure, it’s symbolic; but symbolism matters — just ask former President George W. Bush.

President Trump plans on making a second trip to the region on Saturday. This time including a swing through Louisiana, which is starting to feel the brunt of the storm today.

Rarely do we get second chances to make good impressions. I hope the president makes the most of his.

Opinion Poll: Should President Trump pull US out of Paris climate accord?

In this November photo, Greenwood Drive at South Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach can still flooded 2 hours after high tide. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Are you paying attention Florida?

Today, President Donald Trump is expected to announce his decision on whether to exit from the historic 195-nation Paris agreement meant to address the issues presented by climate change.

Trump, though he repeatedly promised to do so during the presidential campaign, is reportedly under pressure from the major corporations and senior members of his own staff to remain in the pact.

As I’ve said previously, climate change as especially important to Florida due to the threat from rising sea levels up-and-down the east coast. Trump’s own South Florida properties, including Mar-a-Lago and Doral are said to be at risk.

We’d like to know what you think, so take our poll here:

The Post Editorial Board last addressed Florida’s issue with sea level rise in April, saying state and federal leaders must reverse themselves and see sea-level for the threat it is — today. Because it will only get worse for Florida:

A simple change in the phase of the moon.

That’s all it takes now to flood parts of Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach. That’s all it takes to flood homeowners’ yards in Delray Beach and Boca Raton. That’s all it takes to flood tourist-laden stretches of Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.

You would think this would be enough to convince our state and federal officials that it’s time to take action to mitigate the threat of rising sea levels along Florida’s 1,200-mile coastline.

It should be enough. But thus far, the response has been … meh.

You can read the editorial in its entirety.

Climate experts say that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and Resort in Palm Beach is at serious long-term risk from sea-level rise.