Reflections on Hurricane Irma


Note: This column is updated from the newspaper version. 

The name – “Irma” reminds me of one of my old girlfriends with a similar-sounding name.

She was crazy as hell, so unstable that I always had to keep an eye on her; I never knew what she was gonna do; and I ended up running in the other direction from wherever she showed up. Thinking about either “Irma” years later will give me the shakes…

Electrical workers are first responders – Let’s treat them as such. They never get the credit they deserve going coast to coast and disaster to disaster, restoring civilization to the masses. And if you don’t believe electricity is civilizing, try living without it for more than three days in Florida between April and October…

The revenge of Hillary Clinton and Kunta Kinte? A friend, Medellin Pepe, reminded me that Irma made one of its landfalls at Naples’ Marco Island – one of the richest and most staunchly Republican areas of the state – then made its way up Florida’s west coast before having an unexpected watery impact on Jacksonville, another conservative Republican stronghold. Democratic South Florida (other than the Keys) was mostly spared. Hmmm…

Hurricanes all start as West African dust storms that travel across the Atlantic Ocean, gaining strength as they travel from east to west. They remind me that our African ancestors never got paid for 200-plus years of free labor that made America the economic behemoth it has always been.

(To “King Don” Trump: Foreign aid to keep Kunta Kinte’s folks in the Gambia from kicking up West African dust would go a long way.)

Irma also showed no mercy to the Civil War Confederacy. She adversely affected all or parts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee with flooding rain, high winds, or tornadoes…

Temporary Refugee Status – I am one of the estimated 6 million Floridians who bugged out of the state as Irma approached. There’s no shame in my game. Better to be laid back in a recliner watching “Monday Night Football” in air-conditioned comfort in Atlanta as Irma’s remnants passed by, versus sitting in the stifling heat of a dark home waiting uncertainly for Florida Power and Light to perform its magic.

And though Irma seemed to follow many of us who temporarily relocated north, I don’t think many Floridians regret being a part of one of the greatest single mass evacuations in American history to date. Which brings me to…

Who are these people? The response to dangerous hurricanes puts folks into a few general categories that are not all-inclusive:

•“Cut and Run:” I’m a proud member! We watch the Weather Channel or local meteorologists religiously, know the intricacies and limitations of the “cone of uncertainty,” and have hurricane tracking apps on our phones. We can talk knowledgeably about wind speed, fronts, storm categories, barometric pressure, eyewall replacement cycles, and how far tropical storm or hurricane winds extend from the eyewall. If a dangerous hurricane takes a “jog” in our direction, we’re evacuating and not looking back, insurance or not.

Many Cut and Runners have had previous hurricane experiences, going as far back as Donna in 1960, and may include Andrew, Katrina, Wilma, Charley, and/or Matthew, among others. Our motto? “Never again!” One nail-biting hurricane experience is usually enough.

•“Stay and Pray:” These folks primarily see hurricanes as a test of their religious faith. They are thus willing to gamble that their relationship with God will keep them “from all hurt, harm and danger.” They despise the evidence-based Cut and Run crowd, and assume that any ‘deviation’ by a storm away from them is due to divine intervention that protected them – even though the lives of their fellow Stay and Pray-ers in the storm’s path were destroyed by the deviation. But “favor ain’t fair,” is it?

To the Stay and Pray-ers who put their families’ lives “in God’s almighty power,” I’ll repeat a story you may have already heard somewhere.
A flash flood (think Houston’s Hurricane Harvey) forced a woman to get on her roof waiting to be rescued. A guy in a rowboat came by, but the woman refused to climb in because “I’m waiting on God to rescue me.” She said the same thing when an airboat, then a helicopter, came to rescue her. She eventually drowned, died, and went to heaven. When she got there, she asked God why didn’t he rescue her. He said, “Who do you think sent the rowboat, airboat, and helicopter?”
My point: GOD HAS ALREADY ‘RESCUED’ YOU by giving you time, the means, and the opportunity to evacuate. If you have a decent vehicle or a few dollars in your pockets and/or credit cards with “room” on them to buy a bus, train, or plane ticket, everything else can follow. I especially don’t understand the hesitancy in trying to get away from Irma, the most powerful storm in recorded hurricane history. I wonder how many Stay and Pray-ers gambled with their lives and the lives of their loved ones and “lost” that gamble in the Keys?

•“‘Die Hard’ diehards:” I’d say this describes many of the 10,000 or more people — native or longtime Floridians, or just plain hardheads — who rode Irma out in the Keys even if they had the means to evacuate. They all voted for King Don and believe that Irma was a fake news conspiracy to drive them from the “Conch Republic.” These folks will tell you, “I survived Hurricanes blank, blank, blank, and blank, and I’ll survive Hurricane blank.” They will never leave because their brains won’t allow them to believe that a storm could or would kill them. When it does, they “die hard,” knowing they made the wrong decision….

•“Shocked and Awed:” Mostly newcomers to Florida who don’t get it until feeder bands hit. Many have never experienced a hurricane and just don’t know what to do. Deer, meet headlights on a dark two-lane highway at 60 mph. If they stayed to ride Irma out, it’s probable they’ll become Cut and Runners soon enough…

Southwest Airlines – I’ve written before about how Southwest was my “last resort” hurricane evacuation strategy during Wilma in 2005, and it turned out that way again this time.

By last Friday, literally millions of Floridians had already endured six to 10-hour trips from South Florida to Orlando; 15 to 21-hour trips from Miami to Atlanta; and the like.

At the last minute, Mom and I were able to score two Southwest tickets from Orlando to Atlanta – a 55-minute flight – the Friday morning before Irma made landfall, and for less than $100 apiece. I got two tickets for my kids to evacuate from South Florida (that’s another story for another column).

Next time, I’ll do even better, and make Southwest my first resort. On June 1 of every year – the beginning of hurricane season – I will go ahead and purchase Southwest tickets for the family somewhere entirely out of the hurricane zone. (Southwest’s very liberal policies make it generally easy to change dates without a financial penalty.) And if any storm that is a Category 2 or above comes anywhere within shouting distance of where me and mine are living, we are dropping the keyboard and heading out. After all, I’m a proud Cut and Runner!

Gov. Rick Scott – There are a long list of gubernatorial decisions with which I vehemently disagree. But our climate change-denying governor was on top of things during Irma, as the face of state government (also ironic, given the GOP desire to shrink government and drown it in a bathtub) and by giving out relevant information regularly. For the first time in his two terms, he wanted to be asked questions by journalists, and actually answered them without stumbling and bumbling.

Noticeably, there was also plenty of political booty-patting to go around. (I use “booty-patting” because this is a family newspaper.)

Almost every time before they spoke, state and local officials lauded Scott, with the booty pats being passed up the chain of command from Scott, to FEMA officials, to King Don. Are all our political and administrative officials now so insecure that they’ve got to constantly be praised for the jobs we expect them to do?

Two quotes I’ll remember: “Evacuation is about safety, not about convenience.” (Gov. Rick Scott) “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” (A wise anonymous Christian)…

You know you are in a Black neighborhood when…you go “storm shopping” to stock up at a supermarket located in the Atlanta area, and the store has run short of potato chips, water… and dark meat chicken. Oh, there were plenty of breasts, but not a leg, thigh, or drumstick to be found. And plenty of fruit and vegetables. Go figure…

To those still suffering  This column is (mostly) tongue in cheek. God bless you as you endure this…

I’m at Follow@flcourier and @ccherry2 on Twitter.



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