Florida pummeled by Hurricane Irma
The main stories...
Millions of Florida residents began returning to their storm-battered homes this week, after Hurricane Irma tore through the state causing extensive flooding, widespread power outages, and billions of dollars’ worth of property damage. The record-breaking storm, which also pummeled the Caribbean (see next page), prompted some 7 million people to evacuate the Sunshine State. After making landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane, Irma barreled northward up the peninsula’s western side, covering the whole width of the state. While Miami was spared a direct hit from the eye, the 420-mile-wide storm still caused widespread damage elsewhere. The Keys were devastated, with a quarter of homes destroyed and another 65 percent damaged. Overall, up to 13 million people—two-thirds of Florida’s population—lost power. Utility companies warned it would be weeks before electricity was fully restored.
Irma weakened to a post-tropical depression after moving north out of Florida, but continued to unleash high winds and heavy rainfall. A million people lost power in Georgia and the Carolinas. By Wednesday, the death toll across the whole region stood at 30, including eight residents of a Hollywood, Fla., nursing home who were left without air-conditioning in extreme heat. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but everybody’s going to come together,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott. “We’re going to get this state rebuilt.”
What the editorials said
“We’ve come a long way [since] Hurricane Andrew in 1992,” said the Miami Herald. Back then, many Florida residents failed to take the warnings seriously. This time, residents sensibly “stocked up, boarded up, or pulled up stakes and hit the road.” Irma “could easily have been worse,” said the Tampa Bay Times. Had the storm’s eye directly hit our city instead of veering away, the storm surge would have been catastrophic—half the population lives less than 10 feet above sea level. Now the priority is to restore power: In hot, humid Florida, air-conditioning is a “public health issue.”
Irma will require “a long recovery period,” said The WashingtonPost. The “economic toll”—in the form of “disruptions to business, increased unemployment, crop losses, and property and infrastructure damage”—could put the bill as high as $100 billion. But hopefully the devastation wrought by Irma— and by Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas only two weeks earlier—will shake Gov. Scott and other Republicans out of their stubborn denial that climate change poses a serious threat. While individual storms cannot be attributed to global warming, scientists say, higher temperatures will make destructive hurricanes “more common and severe.”
What the columnists said
There has never been a storm “quite like Irma,” said Robinson Meyer in TheAtlantic.com. It retained hurricane strength for 11 days, spent a record three days as a Category 5 storm, and whipped up 185 mph winds for 37 straight hours—longer than any cyclone in recorded history. In addition, Irma formed in the Atlantic, “a part of the world that usually does not produce huge hurricanes.”
To limit the impact of future storms, the government should stop “tempting people into hurricanes’ paths,” said Nicole Gelinas in the New York Post. The National Flood Insurance Program has provided heavily subsidized coverage that encouraged millions of people to build homes near coastlines. Some properties have had to be rebuilt several times—all on the taxpayers’ dime—and with extreme weather on the rise, the program was already $24.7 billion in debt before Harvey and Irma. Why is the government spending billions of dollars “keeping people in harm’s way”?
Climate change is causing more extreme weather, said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. But under President Trump, every senior government official dealing with the environment is a “know-nothing, anti-science conservative.” Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt insisted this week that even discussing global warming now would be “insensitive.” Really? We are being governed by people “completed alienated” from science and a rational assessment of what the evidence is telling us. “This willful ignorance is deeply frightening”—and dangerous.