Our Hurricane Irma wish list (besides a sharp turn east): Be kind, send help, rebuild

Miami Herald Editorial Board

A volunteer offers solace to a resident after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
A volunteer offers solace to a resident after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. United Way

To state the obvious, a monster hurricane is headed our way. Nerves are frayed, to say the very least. But South Floridians have always risen to the occasion during difficult times, extending a generous helping hand, with no hesitation, with no expectations of reciprocation.

It is one of the Editorial Board’s most fervent wishes — but only one — that in the pre-disaster hunt for plywood, water, gas, and hotel rooms, we remain civil, empathetic. Remember Connect Miami? April’s successful community-wide initiative to encourage residents to engage with people unlike them? To hear their stories? To find commonality? Irma will be put this initiative on steroids.

Be kind.

As for those other fervent wishes:

▪ Anyone who was around during Hurricane Andrew likely remembers the raw, pained, and angry question: “Where in the hell is the cavalry on this one?” It came from a supremely frustrated Kate Hale, at the time Miami-Dade County’s director of emergency management, when help from the federal government took far too long to send aid. There have been a lot of lessons learned — and occasionally forgotten — since then.

Already, Florida’s elected officials, including Gov. Rick Scott and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, have pushed for emergency assistance as soon as it is safe to parachute in after Irma. But Hurricane Harvey, which inundated Houston last month, already has imparted a lesson for the long term. FEMA is already stretched from that disaster and others, including wildfires out West. Yet, the president seeks to cut its budget. Congress needs to push back and say No.

In addition, the administration recently rolled back flood mitigation rules. But in the light of Harvey’s ravages, even the president is astute enough to reconsider that one.

▪ This community rebounded from Hurricane Andrew’s massive destruction. Who knows what Irma will leave behind? However, if on Monday we wake up to our worst nightmare — again — it’s imperative that there be a concerted, egoless, and nonpartisan effort to lead the way to revival. That’s what happened after Andrew leveled South Miami-Dade 25 years ago.

After the “cavalry” finally arrived, President George H.W. Bush went on national television and promised South Floridians that the federal government will do “whatever it takes” to help them rebuild.

Within days, and from that promise, the group — and movement — known as We Will Rebuild was formed.

Assembled from the contact list of Alvah Chapman, then the former president of the Miami Herald and former CEO of Knight Ridder, the group’s goal was to help the area recover from the devastation with federal and private funds.

By the time they were done, We Will Rebuild had raised $27 million, which was leveraged into as much as $5 billion in buying power. What that group managed to do was just short of a miracle.

If Irma proves to be as bad as Andrew, we hope there will be a diverse group of community-engaged do-gooders in our community who will form We Will Rebuild, Part II.

Of course, the most fervent wish of all is that there is no need for it at all.