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: 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.