Irma did less damage in Florida than predicted for a category 4 hurricane. However, the United States has Cuba, the northern coast island, to thank owing that it soaked up most of Irma’s energy before it reached Florida. This is gratitude with no hope of being repaid by the current administration – or ever.
The hurricane wind blew counterclockwise, and in such instance, the precise path of the storm mattered for determining storm surge. If Irma had lingered enough off Florida’s Gulf Coast where the strongest winds occur, there is the possibility that it could have hurled at least six to nine feet of water into part of Fort Myers and Naples. However, at the last minute, Irma took an unexpected veer inland just before it got to Naples. Instead of hurling water into the land, the storm pulled water away from the shoreline.
A disaster modeler for Enki Research in Savannah, Chuck Watson, initially predicted the total damage could amount to as high as $150 to $200 billion but downgraded the damage to around $50 billion once the storm shifted inland. He said,
“There’s always a lot of uncertainty with storms that run south to north. If the storm shifts just 50 miles east or west, that can make a huge difference in terms of damage.”
Source: The New York Times
Although some areas were badly hit like the Florida Keys and Marco Island, neighborhood residents of Tampa Bay, Sarasota, and Fort Myers expressed relief. Some of the residents in Tampa Bay walked to the beaches in bewilderment to see them sucked dry. The water level had dropped five feet below what they normally were.
Floridians reacted differently to the experience. A resident on Summerland Key, George Ramos, said the storm left a fish in his swimming pool and a boat in his garden,
“I have no idea who the boat belongs to. The storm sounded like war. It sounded like explosives.”
Source: The Telegraph
Irma was the strongest to have hit the Florida Keys since Hurricane Donna of 1960. A local administrator for the Florida Keys, Roman Gastesi, said, “It’s time to rebuild. It’s time to start cleaning up our paradise.”
It wasn’t only humans who needed to be saved. In Sarasota, two manatees were left on dry land for dead by the hurricane which sucked water away from the beaches. Michael Sechler, a rescuer, said, “We gave them as much water as we could, hoping the rain and storm surge would come soon enough to save them.” Residents dragged them back towards the water.
A Miami resident, Joe Kiener, who rode out of the storm, said, “The windows started cracking, and these are massive-impact windows. It psychs you out, it’s just the endless pounding off the wind.”
Irma is one of the messages of climate change. The hard question is whether Floridians and Americans in extension would ponder on the lessons from Irma especial as the United States President Donald Trump is making plans to exit the Paris accord on climate change.
Early messages emerging from Marco Island shows that some Americans still don’t think that global warming is a big issue. A 52 years old real estate lawyer, Chris Roche while taking a look at his damaged property had this to say,
“They always tell us we will have a storm surge. I know they are doing it for safety reasons, but I’ve never seen it happen… I don’t think climate change is such a big deal. I don’t think man is the tipping point. I think it’s more natural than that. We’re not experiencing historically close [to] high temperatures, not even close to it.”
Source: The Guardian
Another resident on the other side of the island, John Sullivan, was caught cleaning up the driveway of a friend’s house. He also thinks lightly of the hurricane,
“I really thought we were going to get hammered this time. Take away the downed trees and the missing roof tiles, for a category 4 hurricane we could have done a whole lot worse.”
Source: The Guardian