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: PBC school teacher may have answer to post-Hurricane Irma blues

John I. Leonard High School teacher Xi Bajipura (standing second from right) hamming it up with other shelter volunteers and residents. (Photo courtesy of Xi Bajipura)

As we continue to dig ourselves out from under about 3 million cubic yards of debris, the memories of our time with Hurricane Irma remain fresh on our minds.

A friend of mine is fond of saying that many Palm Beach County residents are still walking around in a post-Irma funk… like folks just aren’t quite themselves yet.

Easy to understand, right? I mean between the loss of power, messed up traffic lights and above-mentioned vegetation debris still piled up on many neighborhood streets, it can be hard to put Irma behind you.

RELATED: Hurricane Irma: Employees question county shelter staffing policy

For a smaller group of residents, there was also the time spent at the 15 country-run shelters. The Post, last month in the days following Irma, spoke with a handful of county employees who were none-to-happy to be “volun-told” they’d have to work in shelters before, during and after the storms.

Shelter residents at John I. Leonard High School doing stretching exercises during Hurricane Irma. (Photo courtesy of Xi Bajipura)

The Post’s story got lots of attention; much of it negative toward the county as readers felt for the county employees who obviously didn’t want to work at the shelters despite being paid double time-and-a-half to do so.

Well, that’s something that County Administrator Verdenia Baker will have to contend with going forward given that she has made it clear the new policy of requiring county employees to staff shelters will not be changing — at least for the remainder of this hurricane season.

It might surprise some, however, that there were shelter workers who actually did want to be there; helping friends, neighbors and strangers get through the storm.

To that end, Monday’s “Point of View” column from Xi Bajipura — “Pooja Patel” to her friends — was a pleasant reminder that no matter the inconvenience to our own personal lives, that we can be here for one another. That our county’s diversity is not a burden, but a blessing. And that there is more that unites us than divides us.

It’s just possible that the ESE VE instructor in the Social Sciences at John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres. her uplifting words may bring many of us out of our post-Irma daze. Let’s hope so.

Her column is worth repeating. So here it is in its entirety:

What I witnessed in the four days serving in John I. Leonard High School’s shelter stretched my heart to how deep love can swim in times of crisis.

Imagine uprooting yourself from the comforts of your home, bed and safety in the midst of a devastating hurricane not knowing if there would be a home on your return. This cracked open the window into how refugees must feel except there is no chance of returning home.

About 2,100 people of all backgrounds and ages entered the gates of John I. Leonard. There was richness in life experiences and cultures. I met beautiful families and students of mine from Pahokee, Belle Glade, Haiti, the Caribbean, Bangladesh, Iraq, Guatemala and South America. All were united under one roof in Greenacres.

Despite conditions and finite resources, evacuees offered water and food to each other and volunteers. They shared their limited blankets, pillows and air mattresses to those who came with no bedding. They helped lift elderly from the ground. They aided the disabled using the restroom in the dark.

For the first time in some time I felt that Americans were united above politics, religion, nationality and income. I could breathe in the vastness of humanity, its unlimited greatness.

Residents who sheltered at John I. Leonard High School during Hurricane Irma made their own checkerboards and game pieces to play. (Photo courtesy of Xi Bajipura)

With unconditional care, volunteers built community in the special needs and physically challenged unit. Our 19-hour volunteer shift around the clock helped us become family to our guests. We organized karaoke and Zumba classes with seniors, including a WWII veteran, amputees, and those with special needs, dementia and PTSD. We played checkers on a homemade checkerboard that one evacuee made with cardboard and Sharpie markers. Guests quickly drank so they could offer their caps and pill bottle tops for game pieces. We told stories and listened. We sent positive vibes of prayers and love to all those affected by hurricanes. One evacuee has already started planning activities and games for her next stay at the shelter.

John I. Leonard High School shelter volunteers Jim Lynch (left) and Xi Bajipura. (Photo courtesy of Xi Bajipura)

“When I first entered the shelter, I thought that I was making a big mistake. I never had a reason to stay at a shelter before. I thank God for the volunteers who made my experience at the shelter a memorable one of joy and unity during a difficult time. Let’s not forget that a few of the (horror) stories were true, but we all worked together to create an environment where God is welcomed,” said Inger Hogan, a disabled Zumba instructor who shared her passion for dance with seniors.

No matter where you come from, how much money you have, what religion you practice or what you believe in, natural disasters don’t discriminate. As humans we are all connected by natural forces that go beyond the surface. Hurricane Irma reminded us of humankind’s fragility yet beauty. I have so much gratitude for my ability to bond and serve in ways I did not know were possible.

XI BAJIPURA, GREENACRES

Amen.

Christie: Some travel tips for Trump’s Puerto Rico visit

A political party banner waves over a home damaged in the passing of Hurricane Maria, in the community of Ingenio in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico on Monday ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to the U.S. territory on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

President Donald J. Trump is due to arrive in Puerto Rico today to survey and assess the federal government response to damage in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Other than Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who has been resolute as a picture of diplomacy, the president isn’t likely to get the warmest welcome. Certainly, not like he did in Naples when some Hurricane Irma victims there compared Trump’s response to former President Barack Obama’s playing golf in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (By the way, that’s a lie. Obama wasn’t even in office in 2005 when Katrina hit.)

The 3.4 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico, 95 percent of whom still do not have power, will care less about comparisons and more about answers as to why they’ve been made to feel like second-class citizens by their own country.

RELATED: An unlikely Palm Beach County pair bring relief to Puerto Rico

Plush toys, recovered from a flooded home, hang out to dry on a wrought iron gate in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in the community of Ingenio in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Monday. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Of course, most of them can be forgiven for asking. So much has happened since Maria — the second major hurricane to hit the island this season — flattened the place. Trump has repeatedly misstated the size of the hurricane. He has repeatedly talked about what a tough state the island was in to begin with — as if to shift blame. He has talked repeatedly about how Puerto Rico is an island “in the middle of the ocean” — as if to temper expectations. He has even talked about how Puerto Rico might be made to repay the cost of its recovery.

And while taking a weekend at his golf club in New Jersey, even as the scope of the problems in Puerto Rico was still growing, he stopped long enough Saturday morning to take some very personal shots at Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, after she once again criticized The federal response.

JERSEY CITY, NJ — U.S. President Donald Trump looks on from the clubhouse during Sunday singles matches of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club on Sunday. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

“…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They….”

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

“…want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

RELATED: From his N.J. golf resort, Trump continues to attack mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico

Not good. Especially given that while Trump was tweeting about her “poor leadership,” Cruz was wading through waste deep, sewage-tainted water helping to rescue people.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz deals with an emergency situation where patients at a hospital need to be moved because a generator stopped working in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Saturday. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

With that in mind, here are a few travel tips for the president as he visits hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico today:

  • Don’t bring up Puerto Rico’s crippling debt load — totaling $73 billion — as that has nothing to do with the problem at hand. Yes, Puerto Rico’s debt “must be dealt with,” as the president pointed out in a dispassionate tweet early last week, but keep the focus on preventing as many of its residents from dying right now.
  • Do remember that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, not a foreign country — even if it is an island “in the middle of the ocean.” Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens just like those in Key West and Houston. That means they can vote. Ask Gov. Rick Scott, who on Monday ordered a state of emergency in Florida to prepare for evacuees; and Sen. Marco Rubio, who has called for a bipartisan detente to address Puerto Rico’s humanitarian crisis.
  • Don’t keep pointing out Puerto Rico’s infrastructure issues. (See “debt load” above.) The island was hit by two major hurricanes in the span of three weeks. The second, Hurricane Maria, was a massive Category 5 storm when it swept across the entire island. Any state’s infrastructure — including Florida — would probably have been left paralyzed in that scenario.
  • Do remember the lesson from the first post-Hurricane Harvey visit to Texas, and mix it up with the citizens. Puerto Ricans are truly suffering, nearly two weeks after the storm. Embrace the role of comforter-in-chief, and show some real in-your-face compassion. Shake a hand, and let the first lady hug a child.
  • And please, don’t over-sell the federal response. Things still aren’t going “great” if you’re the one having to sleep on your porch just to remain cool at night. Things aren’t “fantastic” if you haven’t been able to get to elderly parents in a remote location. There’s no “good news” when you can’t do something as basic as feed your child.

To be sure, the president will find some less critical, more supportive voices among the territory’s 70-plus other mayors, as well as Puerto Rico’s Republican Congresswoman, Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon. But such sentiment, even with the ramping up of federal aid in recent days, will be hard to come by among the regular folks.

This is not the time for victory lap, because Maria is quickly shaping up to be Trump’s Katrina. It has not been a heckuva job. But it still can be.

Good luck, Mr. President.

Goodman: Hurricane Irma: For us, catastrophe averted. But still not much fun.

Downed trees at the beach at Delray Beach after Hurricane Irma, Sept. 11, 2017 (Palm Beach Post / Howard Goodman)

Ah, the sound of chainsaws in the morning.

Sure beats the whistle of high-speed winds all night.

We awoke this morning to a house that still had power. Which told us right away that 1) we were extraordinarily lucky, and 2) our Hurricane Irma experience was a lot less than we had braced ourselves for.

The difference was that westward shift, which we began hearing about on Saturday morning if my blur of a memory has it right. Instead of blasting her way up the east coast of Florida — which would have chewed up Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — Irma didn’t turn north until she put Marco Island, Naples and Tampa Bay in her sights.

Instead of the direct hit we’d feared, we got pelted by outer bands of the hurricane. A lot of wind. A lot of rain. Now and then a tornado warning or an alert of high winds coming, possibly 80 or 90 mph.

It was a long weekend of staying in the house and watching TV as long as we could, thankful that WPTV-NewsChannel 5 weatherman Steve Weagle knows so much and explains so calmly.

We tried to block out the wind sounds. Scurried to our safe room — a bathroom outfitted with flashlights and snacks — when Weagle said destructive winds were heading just our way.

Amazingly, this was going on while the eye of this storm was around Naples — about 150 miles away. I’m still trying to absorb the immensity of this thing. To think that the same storm brought flooding to Miami, to Naples, to Jacksonville…

Our refuge was west of Boynton Beach, around the area of Lyons and Hypoluxo Roads. As we took a look around in our car this morning, it was obvious that Irma had treated us much better than Wilma or Jeanne. We saw downed limbs and drove through intersections missing stoplights — but there were far more trees that looked unhurt, many stoplights were working, and Publix, Winn Dixie and Walgreens stores were open and attracting customers.

We drove east to Federal Highway and then south through Boynton to downtown Delray Beach, and saw that Ellie’s 1950s Diner had lost part of her marquee. Here, power outages looked almost universal. There was a long line of cars queued up on Federal, south of Woolbright Road, but they weren’t waiting for gas. It was a McDonald’s, hot food and coffee being the important thing if you were emerging from a house that hadn’t had power for hours.

But very few roofs appeared damaged. It looked like we won’t be seeing blue tarps all over this part of the county, as we did for weeks after the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes.

Ellen and I checked our condo, which is in Hypoluxo, near the Intracoastal Waterway. We had abandoned it on Friday, spooked by the dire storm surge warnings, not sure when we’d be able to get back in. Somehow… it was perfectly fine. The building even had electricity; I couldn’t believe it. A neighbor said power had stayed on all through the storm, went out at 8 this morning, then returned around 10.

Another neighbor, who lives closer to the water, had ridden out the hurricane in his apartment to keep his eye on storm surge. He said the Intracoastal had seeped over the sea wall but gone no further.

The storm was flukey. A neighbor who lives in an opposite building had lost power early on Sunday, he thought. Or maybe Saturday. It was hard to sort everything out. At the construction site next door on our other side, there was evidence that a tornado had hit; some small, newly planted trees were lying on the ground in opposite directions from each other. Coulda been us.

We went to Ellen’s parents’ home, atop a tall condo building on Delray’s barrier island. Police were allowing only residents across the bridge, but Ellen had her father’s ID and the cop let us through. There was no electricity and, as throughout Delray, no one can use toilets or bath tubs; the city’s sewage pumping stations are without power.

Her parents, who are in their 90s and unable to take of themselves, are with their caregiver in central Florida. It’s a good thing we checked their place. The refrigerator and freezer were full of food, left behind during a frenzied evacuation. The food was starting to stink. We threw it all out.

More than 530,000 customers in Palm Beach County were lacking power at midday today — maybe 1 million people. That’s a lot of disruption. For those who aren’t reconnected for days, it will be miserable. Lots of folks in Palm Beach County are going to need help. We’ve all got to be good neighbors to each other.

Hurricane Irma: Stress leading to questions about who should be allowed in shelters

Lines form outside of Palm Beach Central high school as people wait for the storm shelter open for evacuees from Hurricane Irma in Wellington. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Things are getting tense out there. Winds are picking up, rain bands are coming through and tornado warnings are buzzing our smartphones.

And being forced to sit in a closed-in space with hundreds of folks you don’t know is not exactly ideal.

As Palm Beach County emergency management officials quickly decided how many shelters they would need, and where to care for some 16,000 Hurricane Irma refugees, local residents were making a critical call of their own.

Should I stay and shelter-in-place, or should I go to one the 13 public shelters being opened and run by hurricane relief officials?

To be sure, it was a difficult question for many of the thousands that are now in the shelters. Just as it was deciding on whether to evacuate the area, despite not being in a mandatory evacuation zone.

But such decisions are bound to produce some ill feelings. The stress of the storm is already high, and clashes over bottled water and gas lines was inevitable.

RELATED LINK: Hurricane Irma: Updates from shelters around the county; some residents are leaving

Not surprisingly, some of that stress is also spilling over into the hurricane shelters, as well.

As one Post reader put it in an email late Saturday afternoon:

Selfish.

It is hard to believe people who live in a gated community, whose homes have concrete and stucco walls, take themselves to a shelter when they are not in a evacuation zone because they are afraid

Many people were afraid, and with good reason. They may have been living in a mobile home, unstable home or on the water. Afraid is not a reason, but safety is.A couple I am thinking of did this just recently. They not only live in a fortress{ concrete stucco home) but also have hurricane shutters and a generator. Meanwhile, people are outside the shelters, sleeping in their cars unable to get in.The staff checking people in should tell people like this, who do not live in a evaculation zone to go to their safe home and let those who need shelter have it.

Adrienne Finer-Cohen, Lake Worth, Fl

While that can sound a bit harsh, she is far from the only once who shares that feeling right now.

But what do you think?

Should folks who have well-built concrete homes that are not in a flood-prone evacuation zone be allowed to take up much-needed space in a hurricane shelter, just because they are afraid?

Let me know what you think in the Comments section.

Hurricane Irma: This storm is really testing Floridians’ patience

Cars back up into Belvedere Road and Parker Avenue as drivers line up for gas at the Citgo Station in West Palm Beach Wednesday morning. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

“What’s up, Irma?”

That’s the question that most — nay, every — Palm Beach County resident must be asking after awakening to news that the “monster” tropical storm is now expected to side-step to the West coast.

For six days, we’ve been buying every drop of bottled water in sight.

For six days, we’ve waited in hours-long, miles-long lines to pay 50 cents more per gallon for gasoline. (And mind you, I’ve been known to skip stations for a two-cent difference.)

For six days, we’ve been putting up metal and plywood shutters, and moving all kinds of grimy outdoor items into our already crowded garages. (Yep; sorry Allstate, the cars are on their own.)

For six days, we’ve rightly heeded the pleas of our governor and local emergency officials, and the Post’s Kimberly Miller to evacuate flood-prone areas. (In fact, we now know that a massive, potentially “catastrophic” storm like you will cause major evacuation problems on our roadways.)

RELATED LINK: Post coverage of Hurricane Irma; updates

Those of us who’ve decided to shelter-in-place are hunkered down. We’re ready for you, Irma. But you’re really testing our patience here.

You were supposed to begin knocking on our door today, but no. You’ve decided — with a wink and nod — to make us wait another day.

That’s another day of finding games and other entertainment to keep the kids occupied. By the way, what do you do when they’ve reached the highest level of Destiny 2, Resident Evil or Madden ’18? Will a game of Monopoly really be enough?

The kids are literally asking, “Is it here yet? Is it here yet?… ”

“No! … She’ll be here to tomorrow!”

That’s another day of trying to eat all of the perishable food in the refrigerator so that those ribs we barbecued over the Labor Day weekend don’t eventually go bad. And that, of course, will leave us with only high-calorie snacks. (You are really bad for diets, Irma.)

It goes without saying, but that’s also another day of exploring the liquor cabinet to … ahem, “catalogue” all of the rums we’ve collected over the years. (It is likely the collection will have to be replenished.)

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

We’ve been teased before, of course.

Just last year, Irma’s little brother Matthew laid waste to Haiti as a Category 5, and promised a direct hit on Palm Beach County, leading to warnings from Gov. Rick Scott: “This storm will kill you!”

Hurricane Matthew made landfall to the north of us as a Category 1. More folks were probably injured taking down shutters than from the storm’s wind and rain.

But we know better than to ignore the warnings, no matter what.

There is still a great deal of danger from hurricane-, and even tropical storm-force winds likely hitting Palm Beach County.

RELATED LINK: PBC officials: Don’t be lulled into complacency by Irma’s western turn

So we pay close attention to the storm updates. We tune in to the governor’s regular briefings as he traverses the state coordinating with local officials, and making sure that Floridians don’t get complacent.

We won’t.

We’re waiting, Irma. But you’re testing our patience.

Hurricane Irma: Waiting for ‘Irmageddon’

We’ve prepared for hurricanes before, but none of them felt like this.

With Frances, Jeanne and Wilma, we expected winds that shake the roof and flatten trees. Rain that pelts sideways. Those were punishing enough.

This time, the forecasts predict a something new: devastating storm surge. And for my wife and me, who have lived in South Florida since 2000, and enjoy the view of the Intracoastal Waterway from our condo, this is nothing to fool with.

A sign at Harry’s Banana Farm bar in Lake Worth.  (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

This mother of all storms looks to be giving a new meaning to “Mother” Nature. It looks as fierce as an Andrew, as huge as Katrina and roaring to swallow up the whole of the Florida peninsula and spit it out as a chewed-up ruin.

Irmageddon, my friend Jon calls it.

Today, Ellen and I have spent hours packing clothes, medicines, laptops, bottled water, flashlights and plenty of food to bring to the house of a friend  who lives 10 miles inland and who generously invited us in.  Our house, a short distance from the ocean, is in a voluntary evacuation zone, and we didn’t hesitate to take the hint.

Our first shelter of choice — the Palm Beach Post building, a fortress of an office building constructed post-Andrew to withstand a Category 3 — fell through when the parent corporation and its risk managers decided the whole place had to be vacated as of Saturday morning. So this hurricane, unlike any other, is driving the Post from its home. Reporters and editors will work remotely.

We’re far from the only ones who have had to readjust plans — or move to firmer shelter– because this storm exceeds all previous experience in its scope and potential for savagery.

Luckily, we had a friend ready to share her house.

As we scrambled this morning to leave our fifth-floor condo, it dawned on Ellen that we might not be back home as soon as the hurricane passes. This is that different a storm. The surge they’re talking about — would it flood our parking lot? The first floor apartments? Would it compromise our building? Make it unsafe to enter?

We recalled a friend in New Orleans who fled Hurricane Katrina with only a few things flung into the car’s back seat — and couldn’t get back into her house for three months.

That might be us. And so we packed with a pang of melancholy: this could be the last time we see our house until….when?

It’s a hot day, somewhat breezy. As we drove to our place of shelter, local traffic was thinner than normal, but the streets didn’t feel empty. For all the thousands who have fled, there are still a lot of people here in this metro area of 6 million.

Lots of buildings are boarded up. Lots of cars still lining up for gas at the few stations with supplies.

Ellen and I are settling as I write, in a shuttered-up suburban house west of Boynton Beach with friend Agneta, a cooler of beer, a rack of wine and a bottle of good whiskey.

The TV is on and we’re watching the interviews with public officials and storm refugees, the meteorologists’ breathless explanations of the maps.

Nothing to do now but wait.

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.”