Trump to visit Hurricane Michael’s war zone aftermath
Monday, October 15, 2018
Last Wednesday is a day that will be marked in history books. Like Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Maria and Florence before it, another historic social and environmental disaster is upon us: Hurricane Michael. It’s the largest U.S. hurricane since 1969, touching down on the Florida panhandle and the southeastern U.S. on Oct. 10.
Hundreds of thousands are without power, which could last months. Many are stranded in rubble, surrounded by felled structures and downed trees, without water, food or medical help. Forty-six people are unaccounted for in hard hit Mexico Beach, Florida alone, as search teams fan the impacted areas. There are still many people missing.
Florida’s panhandle, including Mexico Beach and Panama City, was hit so hard by Hurricane Michael’s almost category 5 winds, with storm surges reaching 14 feet, that the media routinely compares the region to a “war zone.”
When stores, like Panama City’s popular Sam’s Club, reopened, the National Guard was called to protect the supplies inside. It’s like that there.
As of Monday morning, Oct. 15, there are 18 confirmed deaths. As communications improve, thousands reported missing may be located. Search and rescue teams are clearing up these questions in many cases, but it takes time as search parties wade through Michael’s ruins, looking for signs of life in some of the bleakest conditions imaginable.
Like Puerto Rico after Maria, Hurricane Michael’s death count can become a political matter, as the government’s role in unnecessary deaths is a serious political blame game involving much finger pointing.
Ghosts of Katrina and Maria haunt emergency response services as another disaster overpowers a region already taxed with rising housing costs, an aging population, unemployment, drug addiction, poor healthcare, chronic poverty, hunger and homelessness.
Bay County’s small beachside community, Mexico Beach, was basically wiped off the map. Nearby Tyndall Air Force Base has had millions of dollars’ worth of aircraft damaged, and the entire base is in ruins. The base houses the Pentagon’s most serious fighter jets, the F-22 Raptors, which are rumored to have sustained serious damages costing millions.
After hitting the Panhandle, Michael continued northeast through Georgia, where more than 2 million chickens have been destroyed along with “pecan, cotton, vegetable and peanut crops” to the tune of almost 2 billion in losses. The storm ended in the already decimated Carolinas, where Hurricane Florence’s flooding caused hog waste pits and coal ash ponds to leak into area waterways.
Before Florence, Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Florida, while Puerto Rico had to bear the brunt of Maria the hardest under a criminally negligent federal response.
The schools in Bay County received Puerto Rican students who left after Maria, and at least one of these schools near the central library and downtown, Jinks Middle School, has been totaled. All of the area schools report damage, and now officials struggle with how to get students back in classrooms as soon as possible.
On social media, 39-year-old native Panama City resident and war veteran, Isaac Holmes III, described his hometown two days after Michael hit:
“Debris is everywhere. Downed power lines and poles fill the streets. Broken trees block roads, avenues and major highways in the city and surrounding areas. I drove around town yesterday in tears from all of the destruction. Businesses, churches, banks all have moderate to severe damage. Panama City is unrecognizable, and I lived here all my life.”
The Florida Panhandle, Bay County and Panama City residents now know they cannot take their quaint Gulf side neighborhoods and white sanded beaches for granted. Mexico Beach is all but gone, with home after home blown to smithereens in a post-apocalyptic scenario that has the town declared Hurricane Michael’s ground zero.
Also, the already toxic blooms of the red tide are now mixing with post-hurricane waters in unpredictable ways, causing new water and air quality problems.
Hurricane Michael caused Gulf of Mexico energy operations, like crude oil production, to be cut by more than 40 percent: “natural gas output by nearly a third as offshore platforms were evacuated.” Oil refineries and platforms in the Gulf, and toxic sites already under scrutiny for cleanup, were all impacted too.
While “climate change” is almost a common household phrase, Florida’s state-level governance denies its significance in hurricane matters. Gov. Rick Scott’s staff has been forbidden to use the phrases “climate change” and “global warming.”
Now Hurricane Michael recovery promises to be the central issue in the Florida governor’s race, pitting Scott against Tallahassee mayor, Andrew Gillum, in an early November vote.
Donald and Melania Trump are scheduled to tour some impacted areas Monday, Oct. 15.
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