Florida beachfront paradise shattered by Hurricane Ian
Rod Nickel – October 5, 2022
FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Nearly a week after Hurricane Ian hammered southwest Florida, once tony Fort Myers Beach is a nearly deserted disaster zone where destroyed beach houses now mar the postcard views that made this stretch of the Gulf Coast famous.
The town on Estero Island facing the Gulf of Mexico was one of the communities hit hardest by the Category 4 hurricane, which killed more than 100 people in the state when it struck last week.
Fort Myers Beach, a barrier island that stands between the Gulf and the city of Fort Myers, has a population of 5,600, living in bungalows and posh multistory beach houses. Many retirees living here have second homes elsewhere in the United States.
The island’s soft, white sands and teal waves now make for a stark backdrop to rows of pastel storefronts that are missing walls and windows, a landmark pier stripped to its piles, crushed beach houses, and foundations swept entirely clean of the houses that once rested on them.
At one address, a set of concrete steps leads to nowhere. Furniture, plumbing fixtures and drywall are scattered everywhere.
Rescue teams directed by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are conducting a second round of door-to-door checks for survivors, equipped with dogs and cameras on extending poles.
“It’s going to be a long recovery,” said Ignatius Carroll, a representative of Florida Task Force 2, a search-and-rescue unit that is part of FEMA’s efforts.
“See that debris from the house?” Carroll asks during a tour of Fort Meyers Beach, pointing to a home with its front yard piled high like a junkyard. “That came from another house over here.”
The first 48 hours after a disaster hits are critical to finding survivors, although many people in hurricane-prone areas stock 72 hours’ worth of food and water, Carroll said. Even so, it’s possible to find people days later than that, depending on their provisions, he said.
Steve Duello, 67, a retired grocery store executive from St. Louis, said he was devastated on Tuesday to see the damage to his Fort Myers Beach home for the first time since the hurricane hit.
His ruined house filled with 8 feet of water during the storm, and Duello said he’s unsure whether he’ll rebuild, even though he has been coming to the beach since he was 14.
“It’s way too early. Right now our guts have been torn out. I don’t want to ever go through that again.”
Fort Myers Beach “looks like Hiroshima or Nagasaki,” he said, referring to Japanese cities where U.S. forces dropped atomic bombs during World War Two.
Another island resident, who declined to give his name, stayed through the storm, and has no plans to leave.
“I love this place. I don’t want to live anywhere else but here,” said the elderly, deeply tanned man, wearing shorts and no shirt.
“My daughter wants to pick me up and go back to New York. I don’t want to go.”
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Fort Myers Beach; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Florida’s Leaders Opposed Climate Aid. Now They’re Depending on It.
Christopher Flavelle and Jonathan Weisman – October 4, 2022
Hurricane Ian’s wrath made clear that Florida faces some of the most severe consequences of climate change anywhere in the country. But the state’s top elected leaders have opposed federal spending to help fortify states against and recover from climate disasters, as well as efforts to confront their underlying cause: the burning of fossil fuels.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott opposed last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, which devotes some $50 billion to help states better prepare for events like Ian, because they said it was wasteful. And in August, they joined their fellow Republicans in the Senate to vote against a new climate law, which invests $369 billion in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the largest such effort in the country’s history.
At the same time, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has blocked the state’s pension fund from taking climate change into account when making investment decisions, saying that politics should be absent from financial calculations.
In the aftermath of Ian, those leaders want federal help to rebuild their state — but don’t want to discuss the underlying problem that is making hurricanes more powerful and destructive.
As Hurricane Ian approached Florida’s coast, the storm grew in intensity because it passed over ocean water that was 2 to 3 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year, NASA data show. Its destructive power was made worse by rising seas; the water off the southwest coast of Florida has risen more than 7 inches since 1965, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Finally, warmer air resulting from climate change increased the amount of rain that Ian dropped on Florida by at least 10%, or about 2 extra inches in some places, according to a study released last week.
Rubio has secured millions of dollars to restore the Everglades as a way to store floodwaters and repair coral reefs to buffer storm surges. One of his House colleagues, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a South Florida Republican, has secured billions for climate resiliency.
But none of the top Republicans in the state have supported legislation to curb the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.
With its sun and offshore wind, Florida could be a leader in renewable energy, said Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat who represents Tampa. Instead, it imports natural gas that it burns to produce electricity.
“To not admit that climate change is real and we need to address it bodes nothing but a harm for the future for Florida and the nation,” said Charlie Crist, a former Republican Florida governor who won a House seat as a Democrat and is now challenging DeSantis’ reelection.
Hurricane Ian is far from the first time Florida has felt the impacts of climate change. In Miami, the rising ocean means streets and sidewalks regularly flood during high tide, even on sunny days. In the Florida Keys, officials are looking at raising roadbeds that will otherwise become impassable.
Yet the state’s leaders have long resisted what scientists say is needed to stave off a catastrophic future: an aggressive pivot away from gas, oil and coal and toward solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.
“Attempting to reverse-engineer the U.S. economy to absolve our past climate sins — either through a carbon tax or some ‘Green New Deal’ scheme — will fail,” Rubio wrote in 2019. “None of those advocates can point to how even the most aggressive (and draconian) plan would improve the lives of Floridians.”
Scott, the former governor of Florida who is now the state’s junior senator, has argued the cost of attacking climate change is just too great.
“We clearly want to and need to address the impacts of climate change,” Scott told NPR last summer. “But we’ve got to do it in a fiscally responsible manner. We can’t put jobs at risk.”
Hurricane Ian could be among the costliest storms to hit Florida, with losses estimated in the tens of billions.
The two senators also voted against last year’s infrastructure bill, which provided about $50 billion toward climate resilience — the country’s largest single investment in measures designed to better protect people against the effects of climate change.
That bill, which passed the Senate with support from 19 Republicans, included measures designed to help protect against hurricanes. It provided billions for sea walls, storm pumps, elevating homes, flood control and other projects.
Many of those measures were co-written by another coastal Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who called it “a major victory for Louisiana and our nation.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also supported the bill. Both states face enormous threats from climate change.
But Rubio called it “wasteful,” while Scott said it was “reckless spending.” Both voted no.
Scott and DeSantis did not respond to requests for comment.
Dan Holler, a deputy chief of staff to Rubio, said the senator opposed the infrastructure bill because it included unnecessary measures, just as he opposed the final version of relief for Hurricane Sandy in 2013 because of what he called extraneous pork barrel spending.
But the larger issue, Holler said, is that those pushing broad measures to wean the nation from fossil fuels have yet to prove to Rubio that such efforts would actually slow sea level rise, calm storms or mitigate flooding.
Other Republicans offer similar explanations. Anna Paulina Luna, a Republican candidate expected to win the House district around Tampa Bay, spoke of the devastation she said she saw in Fort Myers, Pine Island and Sanibel Island.
“The damage is so catastrophic, we are going to need help,” she said Monday.
But Luna pushed back hard on the need to address climate change by cutting fossil fuel emissions. She called it “completely bonkers” that the United States would harm its own economy “while we send manufacturing to a country that is one of the top polluters of the world,” referring to China.
Crist sounded almost sympathetic as he discussed the bind that Florida Republicans find themselves in — accepting donations from the oil and gas industry, unwilling to raise the issue of climate change with their most loyal voters, while surveying the damage it is doing to their state.
The oil and gas industry is not a major source of campaign cash for politicians in Florida, where offshore drilling is prohibited. Rubio has received $223,239 from the oil and gas industry since 2017, which puts the industry at 15th on his donor list, federal records show. Scott has received $236,483 from oil and gas, his 14th most generous industry.
But the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Scott leads, has received $3.2 million in oil and gas donations this campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, eclipsed only by real estate, Wall Street and retirees. By contrast, the fossil fuel business isn’t among the top 20 industries that have given this cycle to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“There’s an ‘ideological versus reality’ divide here that must be very excruciating to these Republican politicians,” Crist said.
Republicans in the state have taken steps to fund climate resilience and adaptation efforts but shy away from using the term “climate.” In 2017, Diaz-Balart, then the Republican chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds housing programs, secured $12 billion for “mitigation” measures in block grants to states and communities, $1.4 billion of that for Florida. The word “climate” did not appear in the definition of “mitigation.”
“If you’re from Florida, you should be leading on climate and environmental policy, and Republicans are still reticent to do that because they’re worried about primary politics,” Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from South Florida. “But on this, the consequences are so serious, it’s worth putting politics aside and addressing climate head on.”
While DeSantis announced a program last year to provide $1 billion over four years to local governments to address flooding, rising seas and other challenges, he has blocked his state’s pension plan from accounting for the environmental performance of companies in making investment decisions.
“We are prioritizing the financial security of the people of Florida over whimsical notions of a utopian tomorrow,” DeSantis said in a statement announcing the decision.
DeSantis’ record on other climate decisions may also come back to haunt him. As a congressman in 2013, he voted against a bill to provide extra disaster aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy — the same type of extra support that Florida is now seeking for Ian.
On Friday, Rubio and Scott wrote to their Senate colleagues asking them to support a package of disaster aid. Like DeSantis, Rubio opposed a similar measure after Sandy struck the Northeast in 2012. (Scott had not yet been elected to the Senate.)
Yoca Arditi-Rocha, executive director of the CLEO Institute, a nonprofit group in Florida that promotes climate change education, advocacy and resilience, said the state’s top elected officials need to do much more than react after disaster strikes.
“Florida will continue to be on the front lines of more destructive hurricanes fueled by a warming climate,” Arditi-Rocha said. “We need Republican leaders to step up.”
“If Republicans return to Washington’s business as usual, if we have no bigger plan than to be a speed bump on the road to America’s collapse, we don’t deserve to govern,” Scott wrote in the plan’s introduction. “We must resolve to aim higher than the Republican Congresses that came before us. Americans deserve to know what we will do.”
Scott’s decision to put his name to a series of specific proposals for what Republicans could and should do if they retake the Senate and House this fall stands in direct contrast to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has pointedly refused to offer an alternative policy agenda.
When asked last month what the GOP’s agenda would be if they took control of Congress, McConnell told reporters: “That is a very good question and I’ll let you know when we take it back.”
Scott seems to acknowledge the fact that he is rebelling against his party leadership, writing: “Like the ‘Contract with America’ before it, the Washington insiders will hate this plan.” (The Contract with America was the Republican agenda unveiled during the 1994 midterms, when the GOP won control of the House.)
Why did Scott do it then? Well, at least in part (a large part) because of politics. Scott, the former governor of Florida who was elected to the Senate in 2018, has his eye on bigger prizes. He’s currently serving as the chairman of the Senate Republican campaign arm and has done very little to knock down talk that he would be interested in a presidential bid down the line.
This plan feels like the sort of thing that could become the basis of a Scott presidential run, whether in 2024 or 2028.
So what’s actually in the plan? A fair amount of it is just red-meat rhetoric sure to make the base of the party happy. But amid the spin – and the attacks on Democrats, “wokeness” and the media – there are some actual policy proposals. Let’s go through them.
1. Kids in public schools would say the Pledge of Allegiance and be required to stand for the National Anthem. They also would have to “honor” the American flag.
2. The Department of Education would close. “Education is a state function,” wrote Scott.
3. The government would never be able to ask you to disclose your race, ethnicity or skin color “on any government form.” (On a related note, the US Census Bureau is on line one, Sen. Scott.)
4. The US military would engage in “ZERO diversity training” or “any woke ideological indoctrination that divides our troops.”
5. If a college or university uses affirmative action in admissions, it would be “ineligible for federal funding and will lose their tax-exempt status.”
6. “Strict” mandatory minimum sentences would be required in every case in which a police officer is seriously injured.
7. Any “attempt to deny our 2nd Amendment freedoms” would be strongly opposed.
8. The wall along the US southern border would be completed and named after former President Donald Trump.
9. Immigrants to the US would not be able to collect unemployment benefits or welfare until they have lived in the country for seven years.
10. So-called sanctuary cities would be stripped of all federal funding.
11. The federal budget would be balanced and, if not, members of Congress would not be paid.
12. All Americans would pay some income tax “to have skin in the game.” (At present, roughly half of Americans do not pay taxes because their taxable income doesn’t meet a minimum threshold.)
13. Federal debt ceiling increases would be prohibited unless accompanied by a declaration of war.
14. All federally elected officials, as well as all federal workers, would be subject to a 12-year term limit.
15 All federal legislation would have a sunset provision five years after it passes. (People currently on Social Security or Medicare might be particularly interested in that one.)
16. Funding for the IRS, as well as its workforce, would be cut by 50%.
17. Politicians would be banned from becoming lobbyists when they leave office.
18. Voter ID would become the law of the land. “All arguments against voter ID are in favor of fraud,” according to Scott.
19. Same-day voter registration would be banned.
20. “No federal program or tax laws will reward people for being unmarried or discriminate against marriage.”
21. No government form would offer options related to “gender identity” or “sexual preference”
22. Biological males would be banned from competing in women’s sports.
23. “All social media platforms that censor speech and cancel people will be treated like publishers and subject to legal action.”
24. No tax dollars could be used for “diversity training or other woke indoctrination that is hostile to faith.”
25. No dues would be paid to the United Nations or “any international organization that undermines the national interests of the USA.”
26. “The weather is always changing. We take climate change seriously, but not hysterically. We will not adopt nutty policies that harm our economy or our jobs.”
There’s more in there, but those are the main points.
It’s an attempt – both rhetorically and from a policy perspective – to make permanent many of the changes that Trump ushered in during his four years in office. It’s a promise of all the things you liked about Trump without some of the bombast and unpredictability. It’s a blueprint for Trumpism without Trump.
‘DEATH WISH’? What Trump and his wannabes did in one weekend should scare us all.
Rex Huppke, USA TODAY – October 3, 2022
In the Republican Party of Donald Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, only those faithful to Trump’s cult-like MAGA movement are safe.
Democrats are called the enemy, labeled killers. And even Republicans who don’t embrace MAGA dogma – any lost election was stolen, Trump is always right . – have a death wish.
Trump, the current front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination should he decide to run, took to Truth Social on Friday night and attacked Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell because he voted for legislation sponsored by Democrats: “He has a DEATH WISH.”
Trump threatens McConnell, hurls racist nickname at Elaine Chao
Trump then launched a racist attack on McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who served in Trump’s Cabinet when he was president: “Must immediately seek help and advise from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!”
We know from Jan. 6, 2021, that Trump has potentially violent followers who take cues from him, so there’s no way to see the “DEATH WISH” comment as anything more than a veiled threat.
With racist garbage about the wife of a high-ranking member of the party Trump claims to represent, the former president shows the world his true nature for the 10 millionth time. And by misspelling “advice” as “advise,” Trump shows the world, also for the 10 millionth time, that he can’t be bothered with little things like attention to detail.
Michigan Republicans line up to kiss Trump’s ring
This is dangerous rhetoric, but rather than stand up to it, many Republicans remained silent over the weekend. In fact, several Republicans joined Trump at a Saturday rally in Michigan, including GOP candidates for the state’s three highest offices: Tudor Dixon, running for governor; Matthew DePerno, running for attorney general; and Kristina Karamo, running for secretary of state.
Greene, of Georgia, was also there and, as if to impress Trump with violent rhetoric of her own, told the crowd: “I’m not going to mince words with you all. Democrats want Republicans dead, and they have already started the killings.”
That is absolute insanity. And like Trump’s comments directed at McConnell, it’s sickeningly dangerous. Not to mention false.
Trump and Greene make it clear that no one disloyal is safe
Saying a Republican has a “DEATH WISH” because he did his job and voted for legislation puts a target on the back of that Republican. Saying Democrats “have already started the killings” provides a justification for violence against anyone who happens to be a Democrat. Openly spouting a racist nickname against a woman of Asian heritage tells people, during a time of rising anti-Asian hate crimes, that it’s OK to be hateful.
And this all happened over the course of TWO DAYS!
Republicans keep their mouths shut in face of Trump’s hatefulness
How courageous. Republican leaders won’t say a thing, even to defend themselves, even when it’s clear Trump and his MAGA minions have loyalty only to themselves.
For the sizable swath of voters and politicians who remain loyal to Trump despite his falling approval numbers, this is not the behavior of a political party. This is the behavior of a cult: fealty to one individual; zero tolerance for any who stray from the core beliefs; threats of violence toward any who step out of line; characterizing those who disagree as existential threats.
MAGA followers think you are not a Democrat; you are a member of a party now actively killing Republicans. You are not a mainstream conservative; you are a person with a death wish.
How can Americans of good conscious not come together to shut this down?
How is it possible those of us who see how wildly messed up this all is can’t come together as one in condemnation? How is it possible for Republicans to continue supporting a malignant figure who would unleash his hateful hounds on them in a heartbeat?
As Trump and pathetic wannabes like Greene have committed outrage after outrage after outrage, each time sinking to new depths, there’s a common refrain: Ignore them. Don’t give them the attention they crave.
Like it or not, Trump and Greene have power and stand to gain more
That’s fine if you’re fending off a meaningless internet troll, but as I’ve said already, Trump is likely to be the next Republican candidate for president. And he is, of course, a former president. He’s not nobody.
Greene is a big-time fundraiser for Republicans and someone routinely praised by Trump and revered by his loyal followers. As much as we’d like her to be nobody, she’s not.
These cartoonish MAGA knuckleheads have power, and if we don’t denounce them, if we don’t vote them into oblivion, they stand to gain more. Real danger could follow because as they made clear over just one weekend, they will come for you if you’re an apostate Republican. They will come for you if you’re a Democrat because they’ll be told you’re coming for them.
Let’s stop dancing around it and call the MAGA movement what it is
They will come for any who question them. Because they’re not a political movement..
They’re a dangerous and swiftly worsening cult.
And they need to be denounced by everyone, including Republicans who still value basic human decency. Then they need to be rejected by voters, en masse and with thunderous force.
As the high court readied itself for another consequential term, Kagan used a series of public appearances to describe how she believes the court should function – and to warn that Americans will lose faith if the institution is viewed as another political branch.
But one need not squint too hard to see Kagan’s meaning.
“The court shouldn’t be wandering around just inserting itself into every hot button issue in America, and it especially, you know, shouldn’t be doing that in a way that reflects one ideology or one…set of political views over another,” she said Sept. 19 during a question-and-answer session at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island.
“A court does best when it keeps to the legal issues, when it doesn’t allow personal political views, personal policy views to an affect or infect, its judging,” said Kagan, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010. “And the worst moments for the court have been times when judges have allowed that to happen.”
Her remarks come after a term in which the court’s 6-3 conservative majority consistently decided the biggest cases – on abortion, guns and religion – in ways that aligned closely to conservative political ideology. The rulings caused outrage on the left, led to protests outside some of the justices’ homes and sent the court’s approval rating into a tailspin.
Chief Justice John Roberts defended the court’s work last month, arguing that while its opinions are open to criticism from the public, the institution’s legitimacy shouldn’t be called into question “simply because people disagree with an opinion.”
“Lately, the criticism is phrased in terms of, you know, because of these opinions, it calls into question the legitimacy of the court,” Roberts said at a judicial conference in Colorado. “If they want to say that its legitimacy is in question, they’re free to do so. But I don’t understand the connection between opinions that people disagree with and the legitimacy of the court.”
That view has drawn pushback from critics who say it’s only partly about the outcome of individual cases. It’s also the case, they say, that the high court repeatedly upheld its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision until former President Donald Trump nominated and won confirmation for three justices, giving conservatives a super majority. Trump repeatedly promised to nominate judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
Without mentioning Roberts, Kagan indicated her point was broader: That Americans need to have confidence the Supreme Court’s decisions are based on judicial philosophies and doctrines that are applied evenly – regardless of whether the outcome matches the party platform of the president who nominated the justices in the majority.
“The thing that builds up reservoirs of public confidence is…the court acting like a court and not acting like an extension of the political process,” she said.
“I’m not talking about the popularity of particular Supreme Court decisions,” Kagan said at the Northwestern event last week. “What I am talking about is what gives the people in our country a sort of underlying sense that the court is doing its job.”
Facing a Dire Storm Forecast in Florida, Officials Delayed Evacuation
Frances Robles – October 1, 2022
FORT MYERS, Fla. — As Hurricane Ian charged toward the western coast of Florida this week, the warnings from forecasters were growing more urgent. Life-threatening storm surge threatened to deluge the region from Tampa all the way to Fort Myers.
But while officials along much of that coastline responded with orders to evacuate Monday, emergency managers in Lee County held off, pondering during the day whether to tell people to flee, but then deciding to see how the forecast evolved overnight.
The delay, an apparent violation of the meticulous evacuation strategy the county had crafted for just such an emergency, may have contributed to catastrophic consequences that are still coming into focus as the death toll continues to climb.
Dozens have died overall in the state, officials said, as Ian, downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, moved through North Carolina and Virginia on Saturday, at one point leaving nearly 400,000 electricity customers in those states without power.
About 35 of Florida’s storm-related deaths have been identified in Lee County, the highest toll anywhere in the state, as survivors describe the sudden surge of water — predicted as a possibility by the National Hurricane Service in the days before the storm hit — that sent some of them scrambling for safety in attics and on rooftops.
Lee County, which includes the hard-hit seaside community of Fort Myers Beach, as well as the towns of Fort Myers, Sanibel and Cape Coral, did not issue a mandatory evacuation order for the areas likely to be hardest hit until Tuesday morning, a day after several neighboring counties had ordered their most vulnerable residents to flee.
By then, some residents recalled that they had little time to evacuate. Dana Ferguson, 33, a medical assistant in Fort Myers, said she had been at work when the first text message appeared on her phone Tuesday morning. By the time she arrived home, it was too late to find anywhere to go, so she hunkered down with her husband and three children to wait as a wall of water began surging through areas of Fort Myers, including some that were well away from the coastline.
“I felt there wasn’t enough time,” she said.
Ferguson said she and her family fled to the second floor, lugging a generator and dry food, as the water rose through their living room. The 6-year-old was in tears.
Kevin Ruane, a Lee County commissioner and a former mayor of Sanibel, said the county had postponed ordering an extensive evacuation because the earlier hurricane modeling had shown the storm heading farther north.
“I think we responded as quickly as we humanly could have,” he said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and his state emergency management director also said the earlier forecasts had predicted the brunt of the storm’s fury would strike farther north.
“There is a difference between a storm that’s going to hit north Florida that will have peripheral effects on your region, versus one that’s making a direct impact,” DeSantis said at a news conference Friday in Lee County. “And so what I saw in southwest Florida is, as the data changed, they sprung into action.”
But while the track of Hurricane Ian did shift closer to Lee County in the days before it made landfall, the surge risks the county faced — even with the more northerly track — were becoming apparent as early as Sunday night.
At that point, the National Hurricane Center produced modeling showing a chance of a storm surge covering much of Cape Coral and Fort Myers. Parts of Fort Myers Beach, even in that case, had a 40% chance of a 6-foot-high storm surge, according to the surge forecasts.
Lee County’s emergency planning documents had set out a time-is-of-the-essence strategy, noting that the region’s large population and limited road system make it difficult to evacuate the county swiftly. Over years of work, the county has created a phased approach that expands the scope of evacuations in proportion to the certainty of risk. “Severe events may require decisions with little solid information,” the documents say.
The county’s plan proposes an initial evacuation if there is even a 10% chance that a storm surge will go 6 feet above ground level; based on a sliding scale, the plan also calls for an evacuation if there is a 60% chance of a 3-foot storm surge.
Along with the forecasts Sunday night, updated forecasts Monday warned that many areas of Cape Coral and Fort Myers had between a 10% and a 40% chance of a storm surge above 6 feet, with some areas possibly seeing a surge of more than 9 feet.
Over those Monday hours, neighboring Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties issued evacuation orders, while Sarasota County announced that it expected evacuation orders to be in effect for the following morning. In Lee County, however, officials said they were waiting to make a more up-to-date assessment the following morning.
“Once we have a better grasp on all of that dynamic, we will have a better understanding about what areas we may call for evacuation, and, at the same time, a determination of what shelters will be open,” the Lee County manager, Roger Desjarlais, said Monday afternoon.
But forecasters with the National Hurricane Center were growing more explicit in their warnings for the region. In a 5 p.m. update Monday, they wrote that the highest risk for “life-threatening storm surge” was in the area from Fort Myers to Tampa Bay.
“Residents in these areas should listen to advice given by local officials,” the hurricane center wrote. New modeling showed that some areas along Fort Myers Beach were more likely than not to see a 6-foot surge.
Ruane, the county commissioner, said that one challenge the county faced was that the local schools had been designed to be shelters and that the school board had made the decision to keep them open Monday.
By 7 a.m. Tuesday, Desjarlais announced a partial evacuation order but emphasized that “the areas being evacuated are small” compared with a previous hurricane evacuation.
The county held off on further evacuations, despite a forecast that showed potential surge into areas not covered by the order. Officials expanded their evacuation order later in the morning.
By the middle of the afternoon, Lee County officials were more urgent in their recommendation: “The time to evacuate is now, and the window is closing,” they wrote in a message on Facebook.
Katherine Morong, 32, said she had been prepared earlier in the week to hunker down and ride out the storm based on the guidance from local officials. The sudden evacuation order Tuesday morning left her scrambling, she said, as she set out in her car in the rain.
“The county could have been more proactive and could have given us more time to evacuate,” she said. On the road toward the east side of the state, she said, she was driving through torrents of rain, with tornadoes nearby.
Joe Brosseau, 65, said he did not receive any evacuation notice. As the storm surge began pouring in Wednesday morning, he said, he considered evacuating but realized it was too late.
He climbed up a ladder with his 70-year-old wife and dog to reach a crawl space in his garage. He brought tools in case he needed to break through the roof to escape.
“It was terrifying,” Brosseau said. “It was the absolute scariest thing. Trying to get that dog and my wife up a ladder to the crawl space. And then to spend six hours there.”
Some residents said they had seen the forecasts but decided to remain at home anyway — veterans of many past storms with dire predictions that had not come to pass.
“People were made aware, they were told about the dangers and some people just made the decision that they did not want to leave,” DeSantis said Friday.
Joe Santini, a retired physician assistant, said he would not have fled his home even if there had been an evacuation order issued well before the storm. He said that he had lived in the Fort Myers area most of his life, and that he would not know where else to go.
“I’ve stuck around for every other one,” he said.
The water rushed into his home around dusk Wednesday night, and Friday, there was still a high-water mark about a foot above the floor — leaving Santini a little stunned. “I don’t think it’s ever surged as high as it did,” he said.
Lee County is now an epicenter of devastation, with mass destruction at Fort Myers Beach, the partial collapse of the Sanibel Causeway and entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble. With water mains broken, the county utilities agency has advised residents to boil their water.
President Joe Biden said Friday that the destruction from the storm was likely to be among the worst in U.S. history.
“It’s going to take months, years to rebuild,” he said.
The US Navy said ‘traces’ of jet fuel were found in the water on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. A sailor says the problem was way worse.
Jake Epstein – October 1, 2022
The US Navy said it found only “traces” of jet fuel in the water on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
But a sailor told Insider that they were exposed to an “unhealthy amount” of fuel and shared a photo as evidence.
They also said they didn’t immediately receive medical attention, despite health concerns.
The US Navy acknowledged recently that the water the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz uses to bathe and drink was contaminated by what it described as “traces” of jet fuel, but a sailor on the ship said the situation was worse than the service first let on.
The crew learned about two weeks ago that the water supply had a problem. Specifically, the water had become a troublingly discolored fluid with a bad smell, a sailor said. Testing found what the Navy said were “detectable traces” of hydrocarbons, a chemical component of jet fuel.
In a recent interview with Insider, a sailor aboard the ship described a situation that appears to be far worse than what was initially indicated by the Navy.
“We were exposed to an unhealthy amount of JP-5,” the Nimitz sailor, whose identity is known to Insider but is being withheld due to concerns about the possibility of retribution, said this week. JP-5, or jet-propellant-5, is a kerosene-based fuel that is used in military aircraft and is a go-to for the Navy’s carrier air wings.
Related video: The true cost of the most advanced aircraft carrier, USS Ford
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The sailor explained that although they and their shipmates drank and showered with the contaminated water, they were initially denied medical attention for issues that were believed to be related to their exposure to jet fuel.
After earlier Navy assurances there had been no ill effects, a spokesman for 3rd Fleet told Insider on Friday that five sailors have reported health issues that could be related to the contamination and that the ship’s leadership is monitoring the situation. In an overnight update, Insider was informed the number has since risen to 10.
Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a fleet spokesperson, told Insider on Friday that “if we receive any additional reports of potentially contaminated water, we will immediately investigate and take appropriate action to safeguard the crew.” The parents of the sailor Insider spoke with said at that time that the carrier’s medical team was still turning away some sailors.
Discovering jet fuel in the water
The sailor said they were first informed there was jet fuel in the water on the evening of September 16. A Navy spokesperson confirmed this date to Task & Purpose, one of the outlets that along with Navy Times first reported on the problem, and said that the crew “immediately took action.”
The sailor said that the ship’s commanding officer announced to the ship that night that jet fuel had been discovered in the water, stressing that the crew of roughly 3,000 should not drink it and that they should drink only distributed bottled water until they returned to port.
The sailor said that later that night, however, they were told by the ship’s executive officer and the commanding officer that the water was actually safe to drink and that there was nothing to worry about.
“It was not safe to drink,” the sailor said. “People believed the CO and XO, and people were showering in this stuff.”
On the morning of September 17, the aircraft carrier arrived at San Diego’s Naval Air Station North Island, and by noon, the carrier was connected to the local water supply. It wasn’t until that point that the Nimitz leadership reversed course again and said the water was actually unsafe to drink and shower in, the sailor said.
Throughout the night and through the morning, people were under the impression that the water was safe, despite indications that it wasn’t, the sailor said.
“Medical was refusing to see patients or acknowledge that anything going on with patients or different sailors had anything related to the JP-5,” the sailor said, adding that medical staff “refused” to note the JP-5 exposure in sailors’ records.
The Nimitz sailor said that one fellow service member was throwing up while another had a rash. In a separate interview with Insider, the sailor’s parents — whose identities are also known to Insider but are being withheld to protect the sailor — said they noticed their sailor had developed a dry cough after the exposure.
“Medical was telling us that it’ll just pass through you,” the sailor said. They said that after reviewing a safety data sheet, which has information about hazardous chemicals, and cross-referencing their jet fuel exposure, it was clear they should seek medical attention.
Testing the water
The sailor explained that when the ship’s water tanks were opened for inspection late on September 17, a “thick layer of JP-5 on top of the potable water” was found. The next step was trying to flush the jet fuel out of the system.
They said that starting the next day on September 18, crewmembers began conducting taste- and smell-tests of the ship’s water — a process that continued for at least the following 10 days and something the sailor described as a “big concern.”
Though Cmdr. Robertson did not say anything about taste testing, he did tell Insider that a “sniffer team” of Nimitz sailors has been tasked with checking out “hot spots,” areas with concerning odors.
The process described by the sailor involved filling and then dumping the water tanks and then sampling the water for jet fuel. In draining the tank, however, they frequently spotted the fuel leaving residue along the sides of the tank.
“So basically what we’re doing is draining the water out, filling it back up, and letting the JP-5 coat the sides of the tank,” the sailor said.
A Navy official told Insider that an initial test of water samples from September 19 did not “detect measurable amounts of fuel hydrocarbons.” The official said more testing on water samples from the Nimitz’s potable water tanks on September 21, however, did reveal “detectable traces of hydrocarbons.” The Navy did not disclose the specific amount detected.
But the sailor rejected the notion that there were only “traces” of jet fuel, pointing to the “thick layer” of fuel they saw on top of the water in samples.
The aircraft carrier was supposed to depart San Diego late last week, but it ended up staying in port. The sailor speculated that this may have been because of media coverage and attention, which they said is what initially triggered the laboratory tests — not the crew’s suspicion that there was still jet fuel in the water.
To highlight the visible impact of the jet fuel contaminating the water, the sailor’s family provided Insider with a screenshot of a text exchange between the parents and the sailor.
In the exchange is a photograph, shared with the sailor by a shipmate. The photo was taken shortly after it was first announced that there was jet fuel in the water, the sailor said, and appears to show a water sample — drawn from a water fountain — consisting of a thick, green, layer on the top and a murky, white layer on the bottom.
Working through the aftermath
The sailor said that as of this week, some of their fellow Navy sailors were still drinking and showering with the contaminated water because “we don’t have much of another option.”
The shore water looks clear and has gotten better, they said, but the smell and taste of jet fuel still lingers, as residual amounts continue to stick to the water tanks and piping.
“So the only way we can get all the contamination out of the tank is by completely draining it and scrubbing it, because the way JP-5 sticks to metal,” the sailor said.
Cmdr. Robertson told Insider in an email on Friday that the potable water system on the Nimitz continues to be evaluated so sailors get the “highest quality water” when the ship eventually leaves San Diego.
“The health and well-being of all of our Sailors is our top priority,” he added. “To that end, Nimitz leadership encourages the crew daily to report to medical immediately if they exhibit any illness or injury that could potentially be caused by exposure to contaminated water.”
As of Friday, Robertson said, 10 sailors have reported health issues that “could be associated with JP-5 ingestion, with no new reports in the last 24 hours.”
He said symptoms — which include headache, diarrhea, and rashes — were present between September 17 and September 26. None of those individuals are “currently reporting any symptoms that might be associated with JP-5 ingestion,” he said.
The parents of the sailor with which Insider spoke said in a separate interview that they have been reaching out to various lawmakers to try and voice their concerns, but they haven’t had much luck getting responses.
“Serving this country is a privilege,” one parent said. “But in return, I expect the leadership to support the soldiers and the sailors and to take care of them.”
‘500-year flood’: Florida begins to assess Hurricane Ian’s catastrophic damage
Dylan Stableford, Senior Writer – September 29, 2022
A day after Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida as a Category 4 storm, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that the storm surge that came with it was “basically a 500-year flood event.”
“We’ve never seen a flood event like this,” he said during a news briefing in Tallahassee. “We’ve never seen a storm surge of this magnitude.”
More than 2.5million people across the state were without power as search and rescue teams and first responders assessed the historic damage.
Large sections of the Sanibel Causeway, which connects the Sanibel Islands to the mainland, collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico.
DeSantis said the causeway and Matlacha Pass Bridge are “impassable” and are going to require “structural” rebuilds.
Lee County, which includes Fort Myers, was particularly hard hit. On NBC’s “Today” show, Mayor Kevin Anderson, who has lived in the city since the 1970s, said Ian was “by far the worst storm” he’d ever seen.
And there were conflicting reports of fatalities.
On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said, “While I don’t have confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds.” DeSantis, though, said that that number was unconfirmed and based on the thousands of people who called to report rising water in their homes.
Later on CNN, Marceno said that there were five confirmed deaths and that “a couple thousand calls came through 911.”
“We got crushed,” he said.
The devastation was seen in other counties too. In Port Charlotte, in Charlotte County, the storm ripped part of a roof off a hospital’s intensive care unit, forcing staff and patients to evacuate to other floors.
DeSantis said he spoke early Thursday with President Biden, who formally issued a disaster declaration and reaffirmed his commitment to use all available federal resources to assist in rescue and recovery efforts.
Biden was scheduled to receive a briefing on the response efforts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon.
Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm as it cut across the state Thursday morning, but officials warned that conditions remain dangerous.
In Kissimmee, Fla., just south of Orlando, multiple people were rescued from their cars in rising floodwaters. A military transport vehicle was used to bring people and their pets to safety.
“The initial investigation indicates the victim was using a hose to drain the pool down a hill and into a 30-foot-wide canal, where a steep decline into the water was extremely soft and slippery due to the heavy rain,” the post read. “The Sheriff’s Office sends its sincere condolences to the victim’s family.”
Hurricane Ian could cripple Florida’s home insurance industry
Alexis Christoforous – September 29, 2022
Hurricane Ian could cripple Florida’s already-fragile homeowners insurance market. Experts say a major storm like Ian could push some of those insurance companies into insolvency, making it harder for people to collect on claims.
“Hurricane Ian will test the financial preparedness of some insurers to cover losses to their portfolios, in particular smaller Florida carriers with high exposure concentrations in the impacted areas,” Jeff Waters, an analyst at Moody’s Analytics subsidiary RMS and a meteorologist, told ABC News. Waters said Florida is a peak catastrophe zone for reinsurers, and those with exposure will likely incur meaningful losses.
More than 1 million homes on the Florida Gulf Coast are in the storm’s path, and while Ian’s track and severity can change in the coming days, one early estimate pegs the potential reconstruction cost at $258 billion, according to Corelogic, a property analytics firm.
Industry analysts say years of rampant and frivolous litigation and scams have brought Florida’s home-insurance market to its knees, with many large insurers like Allstate and State Farm, reducing their exposure to the state in the past decade.
“Insurers most exposed to the storm will be the Florida-only insurers, which we define as insurance companies with at least 75% of their homeowners and commercial property premiums written in Florida,” according to a report from Moody’s Analytics submitted to ABC News.
The state-run, taxpayer-subsidized Citizens Property Insurance Corp. stands to lose the most. As more local insurance companies in Florida have closed their doors, Citizens has seen its number of policyholders swell from 700,000 to more than 1 million in just the past year.
Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg and a vocal critic of Florida’s insurance industry, warns that if Citizens can’t pay its claims, Floridians should brace for assessments to go up on their own insurance policies under a state law that allows it to assess non-customers to pay out claims.
“Every policy holder in the state of Florida, home and auto, should be watching this storm very carefully because it could have a direct impact on their pocketbooks,” said Brandes. He predicts policy holders will see rate hikes of up to 40% next year as a result of Ian.
A spokesperson for Citizens tells ABC News that if their preliminary estimate of 225,000 claims and $3.8 billion in losses holds, the insurer of last resort would be in a position to pay all claims without having to levy a “hurricane tax” on residents.
Florida is already home to the highest insurance premiums in the U.S., something Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor running against incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, blames on his opponent.
“Gov. DeSantis let these insurance companies double Floridians’ rates and they’re still going belly up when homeowners need them most. You pay and pay and pay, and the insurance company isn’t there for you in the end anyway,” Crist said in a statement Monday.
A spokesperson for DeSantis did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
In May, DeSantis signed a bipartisan property insurance reform bill into law that poured $2 billion into a reinsurance relief program and $150 million into a grant program for hurricane retrofitting. Among other things, it prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage based on the age of a roof and limits attorney fees on frivolous claims and lawsuits.
At a news conference Tuesday, DeSantis said a lot of the damage from Ian would be from flooding and storm surge. DeSantis said the danger with the Tampa Bay area is that the water has no place to go, noting that the area has close to 1 million residents enrolled in a national flood insurance program.
Homeowner policies typically do not cover flood damage, and most homeowners located in a flood zone often get coverage from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Most private property insurance companies insure primarily for wind damage.
President Joe Biden on Thursday approved DeSantis’ request for a disaster declaration for a number of counties in the state. It includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
“The expense will be higher because of higher construction costs and overall inflation,” Denise Rappmund, the vice president of Moody’s Public Project and Infrastructure Finance Group, told ABC News. “FEMA is the key source of aid following a natural disaster, but much of the costs to repair and rebuild damaged property will be borne by property insurers who will benefit from $2 billion of state-funded reinsurance.”
Analysts say Hurricane Ian has the potential to be among the four costliest storms in U.S. history, mostly because Florida’s population has exploded in recent years.
No state in the eastern U.S. has grown faster in population than Florida in the past decade and the state’s fastest growing cities: Tampa, Fort Myers and Sarasota, are all in the storm’s path. Analysts warn that more people and more homes mean that a major storm could become more destructive and costly.
Cuba without electricity after hurricane hammers power grid
Andrea Rodriguez – September 27, 2022
HAVANA (AP) — Hurricane Ian knocked out power across all of Cuba and devastated some of the country’s most important tobacco farms when it slammed into the island’s western tip as a major hurricane Tuesday.
Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement that work was underway to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people during the night. Power was initially knocked out to about 1 million people in Cuba’s western provinces, but later the entire grid collapsed.
Ian hit a Cuba that has been struggling with an economic crisis and has faced frequent power outages in recent months. It made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the island’s western end, devastating Pinar del Río province, where much of the tobacco used for Cuba’s iconic cigars is grown.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the area ahead of the arrival of Ian, which caused flooding, damaged houses and toppled trees. Authorities were still assessing the damage, although no fatalities had been reported by Tuesday night.
Ian’s winds damaged one of Cuba’s most important tobacco farms in La Robaina.
“It was apocalyptic, a real disaster,” said Hirochi Robaina, owner of the farm that bears his name and that his grandfather made known internationally.
Robaina, also the owner of the Finca Robaina cigar producer, posted photos on social media of wood-and-thatch roofs smashed to the ground, greenhouses in rubble and wagons overturned.
State media said Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited the affected region.
Cuba’s Meteorology Institute said the city of Pinar del Río was in the heart of the hurricane for an hour and a half.
“Being in the hurricane was terrible for me, but we are here alive,” said Pinar del Rio resident Yusimí Palacios, who asked authorities for a roof and a mattress.
Officials had set up 55 shelters and took steps to protect crops, especially tobacco.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and storm surge impacts” when the hurricane struck with top sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph).
Ian was expected to get even stronger over the warm Gulf of Mexico, reaching top winds of 130 mph (209 kph) approaching the southwestern coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate.
As the storm’s center moved into the Gulf, scenes of destruction emerged in Cuba. Authorities were still assessing the damage in its world-famous tobacco belt.
Local government station TelePinar reported heavy damage at the main hospital in Pinar del Rio city, tweeting photos of collapsed ceilings and downed trees. No deaths were reported.
Videos on social media showed downed power lines and cut off roads in the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Mayabeque. A hospital in Pinar del Río was damaged.
“The town is flooded,” said farmer Andy Muñoz, 37, who lives in Playa Cajío in Artemisa.
He said many people lost their belongings due to the storm surge.
“I spent the hurricane at home with my husband and the dog. The masonry and zinc roof of the house had just been installed. But the storm tore it down,” said Mercedes Valdés, who lives along the highway connecting Pinar del Río to San Juan y Martínez. “We couldn’t rescue our things … we just ran out.”
AP journalist Osvaldo Angulo in Pinar del Rio contributed to this report.