For years now, coastal Palm Beach County residents has been able to watch the environmental disasters caused by toxic blue-green algae and red tide from afar.
We’ve watched our neighbors to the north in the Treasure Coast have their lives buffeted; our fellow county residents to the west in the Glades have their way of life threatened; and our fellow coastal residents in Southwest Florida shutter businesses.
But that was before this weekend. Before the red tide we’ve all been reading about elsewhere in the state was suspected of making the air so bad here that local health officials in Martin and Palm Beach counties were forced to shut down 27 miles of beaches.
Health officials, on Monday, were still trying to confirm that it is indeed red tide that forced beachgoers — especially those with respiratory issues — to stay away, and had many complaining about burning eyes.
Apropos that at the center of it all is Gov. Rick Scott and his dismal environmental record of budget cutting and lax regulation. But will county residents blame Scott for if the red tide disaster has indeed made it to our shores?
If it is red tide, this may be a game-changer for Scott — who prides himself among other things on shamelessly promoting our state’s all-important tourism industry. The embattled governor, who has already been taking hits for weeks in every coastal community he deigns to visit, usually sees Palm Beach County as a sanctuary for the Scott train. In fact, he was just here a couple weeks ago raising money in Palm Beach with former President George W. Bush.
That was then. Today, drivers can see signs for “Red Tide Rick” hanging from Florida’s Turnpike overpasses in the county. And again, if health officials confirm that red tide is the cause of the current “airborne irritant” at our beaches, Scott may have to scratch another coastal haunt off of his U.S. Senate campaign tour for a while.
Take our poll here, and let us know what you think: Is Scott’s handling of the environment to blame for the worse-than-normal red tide and toxic blue-green algae blooms?
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.