Tag Archives: Hurricanes

The ‘shocking’ statistics of Florida flooding

About this sweet land of liberty W.H. Auden, with whom I’ve been reacquainting myself, wrote in his preface to Henry James’ The American Scene: “Nature never intended human beings to live here.” Having finished Edward Mendelson’s superb poetic critical biography Later Auden, I can confirm the British poet, who became a naturalize American citizen, spent summers in Italy but not Florida; had he done so, this malarial backwater with its mephitic heat and dangerous animal life might have inspired the rewriting he was wont to do. Thanks to a new app, Floridians can see at what risk their properties are as sea levels rise. The results have proven, uh, auspicatory:

Currently, Flood Factor and FEMA data show about 1 in 5 Florida homes are in a special flood hazard area, where flood insurance is mandatory. Flood Factor predictions show that it could jump to 1 in 4 in the next 30 years. “It’s kind of a shocking statistic to think about,” said Jeremy Porter, First Street’s director of research and development. Within the next 30 years, Flood Factor data also show that more than 300,000 homes in Florida are almost certain to flood.

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‘When can we go back?’

As the remains of Florence dissipate in the northeastern United States, residents in towns like Garland, North Carolina reckon with their second bout of record-breaking flooding in two years. The Barnes family, for example, barely crawled out of Hurricane Matthew:

On Tuesday, Mr. Barnes, 42, and his wife, Brandy, 41, sat parked on what was now the water’s edge of Lisbon Bridge Road in Garland, some 60 miles inland from where Hurricane Florence had slugged ashore four days earlier.

They had lived in the house, just across the field from Mr. Barnes’s father, since 1996 and had never flooded out until Matthew. Mr. Barnes didn’t think twice about rebuilding after the 2016 storm, even though he said his flood insurance only covered about $25,000 of the damage. He paid out of pocket to get county approvals to raise the house and even put on an addition.

Mr. Barnes said he was denied a low-interest construction loan through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, so he borrowed money and drained the savings his family had built up after several good years running a local repair business.

“I replaced everything,” Mr. Barnes said.

Now, as he looked out at the waters and talked about boating home to check on the house, he said they did not know what to do.

Raising the house yet again would cost thousands. They had raised a son and a daughter there and did not want to leave. Their 16-year-old son, Mason, had been killed in a car crash just before Matthew. When the family had to flee again this month, the first thing their 11-year-old daughter asked her mother was: When can we go back?

Garland is about fifty miles southeast of Fayetteville; my North Carolinian friends will correct my geography. It’s inland. Yet these towns are no worse off for being away from sea level rise. Storms are getting bigger. They’re slowing down. They linger. No one is safe anymore.

And there I was thinking about investing in the beaches of Gainesville in 2075.

Puerto Rico and imperial machinations

Ricardo Rosselló, governor of a U.S. territory where power, thanks to Hurricane Maria, remains out for 36 percent of the population, tried making nice with Congress; now, incensed by how the tax bill on the verge of passing will punish investors, he’s lashing out.

Rosselló is particularly irked over portions of the law that impose a 12.5 percent tax on “intangible assets” of U.S. companies abroad and a minimum of a 10 percent tax on companies’ profits abroad, meaning businesses with operations in Puerto Rico will pay higher taxes than their counterparts on the U.S. mainland. The measure in the GOP tax bill is designed to stop American companies from avoiding taxes by shifting profits overseas. But it would also apply to Puerto Rico because the island is treated as both a foreign and domestic entity under the U.S. tax code.

Speaking of scathing, Refugees International excoriated the Puerto Rican government and FEMA’s bungled coordination:

Comparing it with past natural disasters, such as the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the group found the U.S. response lacking. In Haiti, the group says 8,000 U.S. troops were deployed to the island within two days of the disaster. In Puerto Rico, it took 10 days for 4,500 U.S. troops to arrive. Central to FEMA’s problematic response, Refugees International says, is that the federal agency is designed to supplement local and state disaster response efforts. But in Puerto Rico, the group found, municipalities and the Commonwealth had “limited capacity and ability to respond.”

Fifteen days ago, I dined with the warm and marvelous parents of a Puerto Rican friend. From their smiles it was impossible for me to tell that at home they still had no power and didn’t expect restoration until March. Please ponder this revelation for a moment. March 2018. Puerto Ricans enjoy no respite from the tropical climate; it’s humid or less humid. The machinations of their government fascinate them not a bit. Whether the imperial capital located thousands of miles north shows little besides a mercenary interest in the territory it regards as a colony matters less than fresh hot coffee in the morning.

‘It feels surreal, being a Puerto Rican…’

“Puerto Rico” – as homeland, as concept – is personal for Miamians. Thousands of Cubans settled on the island after Fidel seized power, including my great great aunt, a San Juan resident until 1989. I’ve never visited its historical landmarks or beaches. In Javier Morillo’s erudite essay, the writer looks at the U.S. territory’s history: the two Jones Acts, granting Puerto Ricans American citizenship and restricting Puerto Rican ports from receiving any non-American ships in its ports. He uses One Hundred Years of Solitude as the prism through which to view his home’s peculiar limbo: not a sovereign country, whose culture amalgamates Latin America, Africa, and U.S. pop culture.

But reconsiderations must wait. Time stops for no one:

it feels surreal, being a Puerto Rican in the United States these days, seeing images of the devastation of an island I grew up on and that—despite not having lived there for three decades—I still call home. Like so many of the diaspora, even those born here and who never lived on the island, we feel our fates deeply intertwined with it. On the island, debates rage about those who are leaving, calling it quits on Puerto Rico. But for us in the diaspora, #YoNoMeQuito can feel incongruous, unsettling—because we haven’t quit Puerto Rico. We can’t quit. We, too, are Puerto Rico. We feel ourselves part of the volcanic rock, and in its despair we see our own uncertain reality in this country.

It feels surreal, being a Puerto Rican in the United States these days, talking to my mother on her cell phone when she occasionally has a signal. These talks add detail to my understanding of what has become the everyday normal: collecting rainwater to flush toilets and, now that they finally have running water in the house, boiling it for 10 minutes to make sure it is potable. Text exchanges with my sister feel incongruous, unsettling: ultramodern technologies are the vehicles through which I see a disaster that has pushed the island back to an antediluvian past, to the days of washing clothes in the river. “We have electricity now!” “Wait, that electricity we had for a few days is gone again!” Recovery efforts feel hopelessly slow and flawed. A ragtag group of Army vets, self-deployed on the island and looking like they stepped out of Duck Dynasty, decry FEMA’s ineptitude in regular social-media updates. Facebook and Twitter give us glimpses of the reality obscured by official death tolls that remain impossibly low.

Murillo also finds the space to explain how rapacious investors turned the island into a giant hedge fund and, worse, a punching bag for House Speaker Paul Ryan and our buffoon of a president, both of whom voted for or practiced policies, respectively, that led to the collapse.

Everything is awful

Since January I’ve recited Elizabeth Bishop’s line from “The Bight” as if it were a mantra: awful but cheerful. As the worst week of the year inches toward some kind of dignified close, reminders why we’re fucked.

First, Puerto Rico, where a million people or more than eighty percent of the island remains without power. Trash pickup is non-existent. So are essential services. Dengue, chikungunya and Zika epidemics are possibilities:

At the Iniciativa Comunitaria clinic, doctors said they’re seeing a spike in cases of pink eye, skin rashes and diarrhea that often come with lack of cleanliness.

On a recent weekday, Alexandra Hernández was watching her husband pour a bag of lime on a dead cow that had gotten tangled up in a derelict tractor on the day of the storm and remained in their yard.

The mayor’s office said it didn’t have the resources to remove the stinking carcass and suggested Hernández move for the safety of her 3-year-old child. But she was staying put. “I have nowhere else to go,” she explained

But the president, who pronounces “Puerto Rico” as if he learned it from Buster Poindexter, has threatened to withhold FEMA aid, no doubt because nobody on the island voted for him in 2016 unlike Texas and Florida and besides they’re brown skinned people.

Next, the president’s decision to stop paying Affordable Care Act subsidies has sent the insurance markets into a tailspin. Citizens dependent on Obamacare fortunate enough to live in a state with contingencies get the hammer blow deferred another year. For the rest of them?

The subsidy payments are worth an estimated $7 billion this year and go directly to insurers to help offset out-of-pocket costs — such as co-pays and deductibles for low-income Obamacare customers. Without them, Obamacare insurers will still have to provide discounts to customers — they’ll just have to eat the added cost, which most will attempt to recover by increasing premiums.

“The market can only take so many shocks,” said Ceci Connolly, CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans. “We had hoped that a business person would have understood the implications to the market, but that seems not to be the case.”

Obamacare customers are already contending with fragile markets. Nearly half of all counties have just a single insurer selling plans, and premiums are skyrocketing in many states. Trump’s decision to cut off the subsidy payments two weeks before open enrollment begins on Nov. 1 for Obamacare’s fifth enrollment season is sure to lead to further uncertainty by consumers as well as insurers.

I had conversations about Bob Corker yesterday. Bob Corker, who voted for every one of World War III enthusiast Donald J. Trump’s Cabinet nominees, will not save us.

If our president didn’t have a couple bats gliding across his belfry, I would say he has loaded the legislative branch with the responsibilities for the sake of running a do-nothing Congress campaign in 2020; the world knows he hates Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, who don’t hate him because, at last, their pet projects are getting underway. Tom Cotton, the ghoul from Arkansas, agrees:

The president seemed determined to erase any residual hope that the nuclear deal might form the basis of a new relationship between the United States and Iran. His speech, from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, was perhaps the most hostile of any American leader toward Iran since President George W. Bush placed the country on his “axis of evil” in 2002.

Mr. Trump recited a litany of misdeeds by Iran going back to the 1979 hostage crisis and described it as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, supporting Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban. He also accused the country of dealing with North Korea, a reference to Pyongyang’s long history of selling missile technology to Iran, and said he had asked the nation’s intelligence agencies to investigate whether the relationship went further.

His tone made clear that Mr. Trump has no interest in what, for the Obama administration, was the biggest gamble of the accord: to provide the basis for two longtime adversaries to find other ways to cooperate.

We’ve got three years, three months, and three-odd weeks left, if my wretched math is correct. The Senate will not recommend impeachment. In 2016 I discovered Aperol. I can’t think what potent potable I can add to my collection that will produce the necessary daze.

The empathy of Donald Trump

I couldn’t think of this dialogue even after reading Terry Southern:

Trump passed out yellow bags of rice and then started tossing rolls of towels into the crowd as if he were shooting free-throws. The crowd laughed and cheered him on. When he contemplated doing the same with the cans of chicken, the crowd gently told him no.

The church is also distributing water purification kits, and a member explained the process to the president.

“Wait,” Trump said, “you put it in dirty water?”

“And then you can drink it after 10 to 12 hours,” she explained.

“Would you do it? Would you drink it?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said.

“Really?” Trump said, a disgusted look coming across his face.

“Really,” she said.

“Is this your company or something?” Trump asked the woman, seeming suspicious of the aggressive pitch.

“No,” she said, “I’m part of the church.”

“This is an interesting thing,” Trump said, as he started to hand out the kits. “Try that.”

Almost as flabbergasting as this exchange quoted earlier:

One homeowner told Trump that he lost a couple windows and still hasn’t regained electricity, but he was never worried about his family’s safety.

“We have a good house, thank God,” he told the president.

“That’s fantastic,” Trump said. “Well, we’re going to help you out. Have a good time.”

Have a good time. Warm condolences.

Irma update, FPL anger edition

My parents and several friends belong to the ten percent of FPL customers without power this morning. Although the utility had been promising full restoration for the southeastern coast of Florida all week, it revised its statements on Friday: now those who live south of Miller Drive will get power restored by Tuesday latest. But FPL had twelve years and hundreds of millions spent updating the grid and technology only to have the technology crash (in the Sunshine State, residents aren’t allowed to disconnect from the grid even if they own solar panels; it’s another one of the perks that lobbyists can buy).

An example of the absurdity. On the way to the supermarket, my dad waved down a Michigan power company truck contracted by FPL. After he explained that power was out to eighty-eight homes connected to their transformer, the man said he was shocked; he checked the computer. Apparently the neighborhood wasn’t on the grid. Who knows then if trucks would have appeared at all. As I pointed out, a dozen years after Hurricane Wilma a powerful hurricane that delivered a glancing blow knocks out a million-plus customers in Miami-Dade County alone. Imagine if Irma had stuck to the Sept. 7 forecast, which had her buzzsawing through us and points north. Imagine if my father hadn’t flagged down the driver.

A week after Irma, the rest of us crawl toward normality. Classes resume at every level tomorrow. And north of the Caribbean Sea churns another tropical storm on its way to hurricane status following a similar trajectory as Irma’s. Early reports suggest Florida may get spared a direct hit. Normality in Florida means living with hurricane anxiety in September.

Hurricane Irma’s highest body count

While I’ve been posting about missing cable and internet and running out of James Salter novels to read, seniors are dying from heat exhaustion. In Hollywood Hills about twenty miles north of me, Hurricane Irma claimed her highest death toll. And in what kind of facility were these seniors?

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has a health inspection rating of “much below average” by the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, which evaluates all long-term care facilities in the state for the U.S. government. The facility’s “overall rating,” which includes staffing, fire safety and health inspections, was was listed as “below average.”

The nursing home is owned by Larkin Community Hospital, which has a long history of running afoul of healthcare regulators. In 2006, the U.S. Justice Department fined Larkin and its owners $15.4 million in a settlement of a civil fraud complaint. The litigation named Jack Michel, a doctor who is listed in Florida healthcare records as an officer and board member of the nursing home with a controlling interest.

Florida is ripe fruit for charlatans and grifters. Besides its history as swampland requiring drainage and several hundred million in execrable real estate investments, the state also boasts a large senior population who no longer have a Claude Pepper in Congress to watch over their interests. Our governor, who has, I must admit, projected fortitude and command for the last ten days, ran a company responsible for the largest Medicaid fraud case in American history.

Irma, mephitic heat edition

A sense of normality returns when you and your loved ones have power restored. The disaster recedes; the cans of Vienna sausage get moved to the back of the cabinet for Hurricane Jose and his successors; the #firstworldproblems, such as complaining about power restoration without the cable or internet returning, grows louder. Many of us — I include myself — were out of practice. The last time a major hurricane and South Florida shook hands the smartphone was a gleam in Steve Jobs’ eye, and unlike Wilma, Irma spun two hundred miles away. My parents had two generators, tested last week; they stopped working yesterday morning. I had a battery-operated radio, tested last week; it stopped working two hours before the power rent out on Sunday. No one in my building, including hardened Cubans, owned an appliance that wasn’t dependent on electricity. They sat in steaming, mephitic silence, presumably until the condo complex or relatives checked on them. A reminder, then, of how the comfort of technology becomes a noose.

Responsibilities don’t stop with the restoration of power. I spent the morning pouring water into Ziplock bags and freezing them for my parents, without ice and the generator’s welcome hum. Although the afternoons in the shade have been tolerable, I’ve seen what unlimited cans of Vienna sausage, the punishing Florida heat, and lukewarm Bud will do to a man in forty-eight hours. We need bars serving food and hair gel. We need people wearing shoes and shirts again.

Hurricane Irma, landfall edition

9:24. Nevertheless, I blended my breakfast smoothie!

9:24 a.m. My battery-operated radio, which worked during its test run on Friday morning, won’t work. I’m fucked on that end.

9:18 a.m. After a couple drinks, I stuck earplugs in and went to bed at a quarter to eleven. I slept surprisingly soundly. The wind didn’t stop its mild howl. We’re getting 65-75 mph gusts. It should get worse late morning and early afternoon.

As anyone who’s lived through hurricanes understands, cabin fever is a problem. I didn’t have the attention span to expend on a new film, though. With The Departed endured and dismissed, I turned to All the President’s Men — I didn’t expect comfort food to be this tasty.

We’ll say goodbye to flesh and blood: Songs about hurricanes

OK, folks, here we go!

1. Scorpions – Rock You Like a Hurricane
2. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Like a Hurricane
3. Florence + the Machines – Hurricane Drunk
4. Jazmine Sullivan – After the Hurricane
5. CCR – Bad Moon Rising
6. The Doors – Riders on the Storm
7. Peter Gabriel – Here Comes the Flood
8. Lena Horne – Stormy Weather
9. The Carpenters – Rainy Days and Monday
10. Migos – FEMA
11. Bob Dylan – Hurricane
12. Randy Newman – Louisiana 1927
13. Fleetwood Mac – Storms
14. New Edition – Can You Stand the Rain
15. Mobb Deep – Quiet Storm
16. Randy Travis – The Storms of Life
17. AC/DC – Thunderstruck
18. Fat Joe ft. Lil Wayne – Make it Rain
19. Led Zeppelin – Fool in the Rain
20. Keith Whitley – I’m No Stranger to the Rain