After 10 days and four landfalls, Hurricane Dorian moved further north in the Atlantic on Friday, leaving a wake as merciful in the United States as it was brutally devastating for the Bahamas. While Dorian’s winds only brushed Florida’s coast, state authorities reported at least three storm-related deaths. The aftermath this weekend could have been entirely different for this state, and now it’s time to channel this relief into lessons learned and help for those in the Bahamas who have lost everything.
Dorian made landfall over Cape Hatteras, N.C., Friday morning as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph. The storm had weakened since inching north from Florida and tracking off the southeast coast. Still, nearly 400,000 people were left without power Friday after Dorian sideswiped the Carolinas, unleashing tornadoes and storm surge and forcing the evacuation of 1.5 million residents. Dorian is expected to strike Nova Scotia and Newfoundland later Saturday.
Florida got lucky. It also did several things right, and Gov. Ron DeSantis passed his first test in emergency management. The track spared millions from the misery that even tropical-force storm winds could bring. As the storm system stalled, local authorities in the state acted appropriately and ordered only limited evacuations along the east coast. The state pre-positioned supplies, the power companies deployed in impressive force and residents generally heeded the call to stay informed and off the streets. While the Labor Day holiday may have helped, the level of preparedness going into last weekend showed a responsible regard for Dorian’s cone of uncertainty. It was unfortunate students throughout Tampa Bay missed a day of classes when the weather turned out fine, but better to be prepared for the worst than caught off-guard by shifting hurricane paths over a holiday weekend.
DeSantis was highly visible in the runup to Dorian, and his even-keeled television appearances helped reassure anxious Floridians. He understood the difference between being engaged and micromanaging the disaster response apparatus. DeSantis ensured an orderly flow of communication between state and local officials, but he didn’t big-foot the operation from Tallahassee, enabling local professionals to make decisions at the local level. DeSantis also opened routine emergency operations meetings so the media could hear, a welcome change from former Gov. Rick Scott’s micromanaging.
There’s still work to do. Gas stations ran out of supplies even in the Tampa Bay area as Dorian churned off the east coast. Some residents waited into the peak of hurricane season before buying staples such as canned food and water. Dozens of nursing homes and senior living facilities still are not in compliance with state law and lack on-site generators to keep the elderly safe during power outages. And area stormwater systems are not up to handling a major storm.
As we act on those lessons, Florida and the bay area can help those in the Bahamas and elsewhere recovering from the storm. State officials are wisely exploring how to redirect some of the 860,000 bottles of water and 1.8 million meals originally set aside for Florida counties to storm-ravaged areas. State health care officials are also taking daily inventories of available hospital beds as Florida makes room for needy patients from the Bahamas. This is fitting moment for Floridians to turn their relief into a lifeline.
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