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Trigaux: Florida winners and losers aplenty in wake of Hurricane Irma's wrath

A view of the old Merriwhether Building on the 1000 block of 22nd Street South next to the Boys and Girls Club that collapsed overnight as Hurricane Irma passed through St. Petersburg. on Monday. This week came time to sort out the winners and losers post-Irma.  
[WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
A view of the old Merriwhether Building on the 1000 block of 22nd Street South next to the Boys and Girls Club that collapsed overnight as Hurricane Irma passed through St. Petersburg. on Monday. This week came time to sort out the winners and losers post-Irma. 
[WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Published Sep. 16, 2017

Face it. Everybody in Florida was a loser to the statewide rampage by Hurricane Irma. Floridians suffered distress and fear, expense, the home-vs-work tug of war, evacuation (and post-storm return) hell, personal discomfort, damage and — even now for too many residents and businesses — oppressive power outages that Irma delivered from the Keys to Jacksonville to Tampa Bay.

Still, out of this mess there are winners of a sort. And there are clearly losers of all kinds.

COMPLETE COVERAGE:Find all our coverage about Hurricane Irma here

Here are my top winners and losers. Ask me in a week or a month from now and the list will have changed, just as the post-Irma scene will evolve.

But this is now, so here they are:

•••

Winners

• Tampa Bay: At one point last week, this metro-who-must-not-be-hit was in the exact path of a Cat 4 Irma. Then the hurricane shifted direction, a bit, while losing its worst punch. There's a reason the top headline in the Tampa Bay Times "Hurricane Edition" on Sept. 11 reads "We're lucky."

Maybe that should become Tampa Bay's new slogan.

• Florida insurers: Had a Category 4 or 5 Irma hit high population areas in Florida, this state's crop of young and still untested property insurance companies easily could have been overwhelmed by billions of dollars in claims. Instead, insurers survived to await the next great storm.

• Rick Scott: Sure, we all tired of hearing our governor give the same dire warnings of imminent death and destruction to Floridians who did not evacuate. But Scott (and his NAVY cap) owned the Irma airwaves, earning the widespread perception that Florida was on top of the Irma crisis.

• Tourism: Tourism escaped what could have been a crippling blow — be it endless miles of mangled beachfront towns or badly damaged theme parks across Orlando. Now tourism's message is easier: Irma's gone but we're still here. Come on down!

• Home prep, food stores: How much did you spend on bottled water, batteries, plywood and junk food to prepare for Irma? Personally, I estimate about $350. I will be shocked if Home Depot, Publix and other chains in Florida do not rack up huge sales gains fueled by Irma being described for days on national TV as "catastrophic."

RELATED COVERAGE: Will Hurricane Irma slow Tampa Bay's booming real estate market?

• Bay News 9: Amid the overkill by the national TV media to cover Irma, the local Bright House Networks-now-Spectrum news/weather channel distinguished itself with less sensational, we-know-Tampa-Bay coverage before, during and after the hurricane.

• Gasoline: Sure it was in short supply. But name another commodity that got delivered by police escort?

• Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn: He enjoyed plenty of national media attention as our tough, spirited leader offering such pithy gems to CNN's Anderson Cooper as: "We are about to get our own version of what hell looks like over the next 24 hours." In the end, there was no catastrophe. But the good PR remains.

• Anywhere with A/C: Whether it was the movie house, malls or local Starbucks, any place that allowed Floridians who had lost power a few hours to get some temporary air conditioning relief and recharge their cell phones may as well have been heaven.

***

Losers

• Florida's image: We saw it after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and again in 2004-2005 when a flurry of major storms struck Florida. Any big hurricanes that dominate national and international news coverage — as Irma did — send a broad message that Florida can be a dangerous place at times. That will have a detrimental economic impact on the state, but not for long. Hurricanes be damned, there's a reason more than 20 million people call Florida home these days.

• Utilities: Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric, FPL and dozens of other utilities are trying to put the state's Humpty Dumpty electric grid back together — a herculean task. Think of all those homes and businesses without power. Normally, they should be sending monthly checks to cover big power bills in this hot weather. Not this time.

• Florida's citrus crop: Our state's orange juice industry was already in a tailspin. Hurricanes in 2004-2005 hurt. Then a nasty greening disease and changing consumer tastes have further decimated citrus output. Irma made things far worse, damaging as much as 70 percent of the crop in parts of South Florida.

• Airlines: Just when folks needed a quick flight out of Florida to escape Irma, many airlines were pricing their one-way tickets at ultra-high prices. Amid outcries of price gouging, airlines will be remembered poorly by some — though most air travelers have very short-term memories when it comes to airline reputations.

RELATED COVERAGE: Ruth: Time for new property insurers to perform after Irma.

• Tampa Bay Rays: As the Rays entered a do-or-die stretch to reach the playoffs, the team was rerouted to New York. What should have been a critical series at the Trop against the Yankees was, thanks to Irma, played at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. Trop attendance at Rays home games is puny enough but playing key games at guest stadiums — just as the Houston Astros played the Texas Rangers at the Trop after Hurricane Harvey — can unsettle any displaced team.

• St. Pete mayor's race: The Rick (Kriseman) vs. Rick (Baker) campaign fight was front and center until Irma backburnered local politics. Now the dueling Ricks must reassess if their campaign pitches need tweaking post-Irma in order to rekindle interest among St. Pete's distracted voters.

• Pinellas County: Its dense population suffered a higher percentage of electricity outages — more than 70 percent — from Irma than Hillsborough or Pasco, and thus may suffer a slower return to normalcy.

• Cruise ships: Plenty of cruise ships sailing from Tampa to the Caribbean were delayed or rerouted to islands that were not severely damaged by the early Cat 5 winds of Irma. Not a great selling point for the fall season. From St. Martin to Barbuda to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, island damages were heavy.

• Harvey: The Texas hurricane that seemed to inundate half of Texas with flood waters became yesterday's news when Cat 5 Hurricane Irma barreled across the Caribbean towards Florida. Now Irma and Harvey share the disaster limelight and the nation's attentions and resources. Like it or not, the woes and rebuilding of Florida and Texas are now closely intertwined.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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