On Monday, November 14, 2005, I was on a plane, heading for South East Florida; I was in the process moving to this fair weather state. You laugh. Yes, in recent years, Florida has become known for its hurricane action; it hardly represents the calm one might call fair. Nevertheless, in Florida, the terms fair and weather are used concurrently. The two are the topics of daily conversation, at least they have been since Wilma hit.
In this state when speaking of weather, people ponder. What of justice, evenhandedness, and equality, are these void? Was hurricane Wilma just or was it merely indiscriminate in its destruction? Was there a reason for this tempest? Was nature taking its vengeance on this small and innocent province or was the administration to blame? Has the ignorance and denial of global warming taken its toll? Why did Wilma hit some parts of Florida twice? Could meteorologists have better predicted the direction and force of the storm? Could they have more accurately assessed what was to come?
There is reason for all this reflection. I saw it everywhere after I landed. Wilma whipped through the region weeks before my arrival; nevertheless, the devastation seemed fresh. I was stunned. I never imagined the damage would be as bad as it was. The President did not speak of it; the media did not mention it to any great degree; yet here it was. Ruin was rampant.
• Climate of 2005, Summary of Hurricane Wilma
• Hurricanes May Cost Insurers $57.6 Billion, December 28, 2005. Los Angeles Times
Massive and ancient trees were not down, they were uprooted. Sidewalks were not cracked; they were pulled away from their foundations. Buildings were without faces, roofs, windows, or frames. The waste was strewn about.
For out-of-towners, a trip to the stores reveals damage similar to what is found within many homes. Doors were jammed; windows cracked, stains covered the surface of the inner most sanctuaries. Now, as I write weeks later all is as it was when I arrived. There is so much work to be done, and supplies are few. Bricks, mortar, wood, and nails are in short supply and have been since the storms of 2004.
Many have been waiting for repairs since the storms of 2004. Homes and offices ravaged a year hence still were sitting in ruin. Charley, Frances, Jeanne, and Ivan may be no more than a memory for those in other parts of the country. However, for those in Florida, the memory lingers. Some left homeless in the prior year are still without a house to call their own. Wilma swelled these numbers.
Post Wilma, numerous hotels were closed; there was too much damage. They could not remain open. Those that did survive were packed; as I write this in December, many of these still are. Lodgings are and were booked through the month of November 2005; they are and were occupied with local residents. Throughout the end of October and into November, most were without telephone service; many suffered a loss of electricity. Even now, more than a month hence, there are still those without.
When I first arrived in Southern Florida, precautions were being taken. Residents throughout the area were told to boil water for safety reasons. Gas pumps were still not working. As time wears on, some stations are not yet serviceable.
Fractured signs, fallen trees, crushed glass, mangled metal; all are still present in late December. Individuals and industry are told it will be another eight months before repairs can be scheduled. This reality is accepted as true. After all, how long ago were the affects of Charley felt? These too have yet to be attended to.
I knew only a fraction of this when I first came to this area.
I had been living in California; at the time of the last tempest I was paying attention to the reports of the hurricane, for I was planning a permanent move to Florida. Therefore, the events in this fair weather state were of great and intense interest to me.
I listened on the news; I read the papers. I saw and heard a blurb here and there, and then it was gone. All the reporting on Wilma ceased; however, the repercussions did not. I was in contact with many in South Florida and I heard their stories. Still, I had no idea. Now, as I reflect, I realize people rarely communicate their deepest pain; they have their reasons.
My father, who accompanied me on my travel, concluded the same. Though he lives in Chicago; he too was interested in the storms and was working to be informed. Yet, he felt as I did; we did not know what really happened. We wondered aloud. We asked others, those here and away. We discovered that those in town lived what was real. Yet. When speaking with friends and relatives living afar, citizens, natives of the Treasure Coast realized there was no coverage. They wondered why this might be. So too did I. Those whose story was untold, were disgusted.
Please, let me contemplate aloud.
In the last two years Florida has been hit hard. In 2004 Jeanne, Frances, and Charley cut through homes and businesses. In 2005 the sands and seas of Florida have been torn asunder. The Southeastern region of this country has experienced turbulence that is unprecedented. Twenty-six tropical storms were named in this last year alone; many of these were significant enough to reach hurricane levels. In 1993 there were as many as twenty-one storms; only thirteen of these reached hurricane status. In 1969 there were twelve tempests, only seven developed further. None of these were as powerful as the squalls of 2005.
Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, all of which reached the intensity of a category five storm, were whirlwinds of destruction. This is the first time since 1851 that three, category five gales have occurred in one season! In this last season there were also three tropical depressions. Fortunately, these did not reach the strength of tropical storms. In the last four decades there were eleven storms, six achieved the rank of hurricane, and only two are exceptionally strong.
• Hurricane Central, Zeta weakening but ties another record.
Might we wonder of this? Many believe that the intensity and frequency has increased because of global warming. It is said that our mass consumption of natural resources and commitment to creating waste has caused the planet to warm. Ice caps are melting, ocean waters are heating up, climates are changing, and hurricanes are the result.
This concern had been voiced for decades; yet, little was done. Under the authority of King George II environmental protection policies were reversed. After this tumultuous cycle, considerations for global warming are again being discussed as viable. Currently, the theory is thought to be a legitimate concern among those that pooh-poohed it in the past. Former skeptics are now stating their anxiety aloud. The temperature of ocean waters is increasing, and the weather is not as any of us recall.
The people of Florida, as well as the people of the world are asking what can we do to lessen the affects of our consumptive society; can we reverse these? Numerous people ask what can we do in the midst of a storm, before, and after. Does life have to be as it was and is post Wilma?
Questions of fairness and weather are abounding. We have all heard of fair-weather friends. Much of Florida is feeling as though the media, the administration, and the rest of the nation are these. The general public in this southern state wonder are their “fellow Americans” enemies, apathetic, or barely acquainted.
As the whirlwind was occurring, the people here thought it reasonable to assume that the Sunshine State would receive the same attention or lack thereof that Katrina and the people of New Orleans did? Would the media cover the devastation and it’s consequences for real people for more than a moment? Would the government act to ameliorate the suffering? No, they did not. It was obviously not reasonable to assume. The media did not inform the nation; nor did the government act.
Florida simply slipped through the cracks, as water had in the New Orleans levees. There were many cracks and weakened walls to slip through. After all, The Army Corp of Engineers report on the New Orleans embankments slipped through the Bullish Bush grid. Why should Florida be any different or expect to have been? Perhaps, people hoped, having a Governor brother would help to bring aid or attention to the torment or turbulence, apparently not.
One will never know with certainty. Did the Governor ask for less publicity, less relief, was he worried of the tourist trade or the bad press his older sibling might receive? What of the media? Did he fear the Snowbirds might flee from tradition? Why was Wilma’s wrath not fully covered by the “news?” America offers 500 channels, non-stop information. There is time to share; yet, little was aired.
After the New Orleans embankments broke, King George II did ignore the ruined region. He was busy, vacationing. Perhaps this is his habit. Might Emperor George be as distracted with his whims and wealth? Is he as Nero was? Might he be busy playing to his affluent patrons and their pleasures? Is it impossible for him to see, let alone feel for the poor or powerless? Possibly. The magnificent monarch may be doing as is traditionally done by the Bush Dynasty; he watches as Rome burns.
While this theory would explain the Bush bull, what of the media? Post Katrina, the media was there. They reported of what was. Actually, they informed the President. Our quaint and preoccupied King admitted to witnessing with Americans families. He saw, the depth of destruction on television. Baby Bush observed millions on the streets, homes under water, people pouring out their pain from the safety of his TV screen. It was the outspoken awareness of the press that embarrassed Bush. He was so humiliated, that two weeks hence, he canceled his remaining holidays.
The President flew. He and his staff flocked into Louisiana and Mississippi. He journeyed to the ravaged regions eight times in the four weeks. He shook millions of hands, kissed many babies, hugged men, women, and children. Mr. Bush searched for solutions to problems, though a little too late. The press applauded, the public was calmed, the journalist polled, and all was well. People were again pleased, and the President was satisfied that he had done his job well. Had he? Had the reporters?
The King came, he left; he came again, ultimately, leaving nothing much changed Well not exactly nothing. He improved his poll ratings. In this we discover the answer to the question of the correspondents.
The servant media passed on the mandatory message. Quotas were fulfilled. The full image of “compassionate conservative” was once again intact. Thirty-second sound bites were preserved and misreporting reality was once again fulfilled. Bush pretended to care; long enough to satisfy a society that prefers to remain minimally informed and lethargic.
In essence, Baby Bush and even the seemingly active journalists provided little resolution and less resolve. Nothing was solved; no one was saved. There was only a pretense, a posturing of care, concern, and communication. However, when it came to Wilma and Florida, there was never a flitter, never a flock, not a pretense or even passing murmur of concern.
Upon reflection, I realize people can be calm in the face of a storm. They adjust, they make do; they plod and plan. Persons can be passÃ© when discussing what is occurring, particularly if they had experienced similar in the past. It might be that natives and residents fear what others will think. After all, Florida is known for hurricanes. Therefore, why worry.
Might those residing in the province believe that others will perceive Floridians as crying “wolf.”? Did those in Florida fear the attention of the nation, I wonder.
What of the journalist, the Governor, the President of the United States? What were their reasons and motivations for ignoring this area? Why did they choose not to hear the communities as they were crying crocodile tears? Why were those residing in or around the everglades suffering the impact of a hurricane that twisted, turned and slammed into their shores, twice in a single day, alone in this storm?
Why are the words of those in Florida falling on deaf ears? I know not. I only know that I must speak and share their plight. These strong souls speak of it, the two years of hurricanes, culminating with Wilma. They mention the streets that were once canopied with healthy branches and leaves. Those in Sunshine State mourn daily. They reflect upon what was and fear that it might never return. They are proud, for they have endured. Nevertheless, they want help. These stalwarts want others throughout the nation to know that it has not been easy; it still is not. Much remains in ruin. The roots have lifted trees. Roofs have been torn from their foundations. Walls are weeping. There are holes in every avenue and heaps of wood on every curb.
Yet, only those in Florida truly comprehend. Others may have heard of the possibility, nonetheless they are not here and they cannot begin to imagine. The President does not tell for he was hurt by his own ineptitude after hurricane Katrina. The media is manipulated, be they in Iraq or America. Jeb, ever the good brother, he too is silent. It is all so sad and so very true.
For those interested in documentation, I offer resources. Please review these references.
• After Hurricane Wilma: Claims Piling Up Insurance Journal
• Wilma Slams Both Florida Coasts WashingtonPost By Peter Whoriskey
• Climate of 2005, Summary of Hurricane Wilma
• Hurricanes May Cost Insurers $57.6 Billion, Los Angeles Times December 28, 2005
• Far from normal in Wilma’s aftermath. MSNBC
• Actions Of GSA As They Relate To Hurricane Katrina And The Ongoing Recovery. U.S. General Services Administration
• Hurricane Winds Blow Through Condo Market, National Real Estate Investor
• Florida has post-Wilma shelter crisis. Science Daily
• Roof repairs add $178M to price of Wilma damage. The Miami Herald
• President Discusses Hurricane Relief in Address to the Nation
• President Signs Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005
• Photograph, White House Release. Bush Tours a hurricane ravaged neighborhood.
• Florida cleans up after Frances, Hurricane Charley blamed for 25th Florida death, , Relief pours in as Jeanne moves north, Ivan blamed for 25 U.S. deaths. CNN News
• Global Warming Hits New Orleans: The Controversy After the Storm, by Jeremy Rifkin
• Bush’s Attention Wanders From Katrina as Reconstruction Lags
• Levee repair work has yet to begin
• New Orleans Levees Not Built for Worst Case Events, by Brian Handwerk. National Geographic
• Department of Homeland Screw-Up, What is the Bush administration doing?, By Tim Naftali. Slate