A week after Hurricane Irma slapped us, are we back to normal yet?
And for a large swath of the lower Florida Keys, our neighbors on the West Coast of Florida and in the Caribbean, normal will be a foreign concept for a long time.
In Miami-Dade, the storm’s impact — knocking out our must-have electricity, cable and cell service — is still being felt from Aventura to Homestead. One hundred schools have sustained damage. Their reopening dates remain up in the air.
And even though Irma did not hit us directly, the storm uncovered the weaknesses in our preparedness, and also the strengths. Here’s our take on the good, the bad and the ugly.
Shelters: It all began with evacuation orders for as many as 660,000 residents and the opening of Miami-Dade shelters at public schools to accommodate them. As the need grew, more shelters were needed. Early coordination between the county, the Red Cross, and school staffs hit some snags. The Red Cross said they were only contracted to run eight shelters; Miami-Dade ended up opening 43 shelters and housing a total of 31,438 people and 807 pets — a massive, impressive undertaking. But let’s straighten this snag before the next storm. When people are running for safety, they rightly expect to find adequate shelter and a friendly face to make them feel safe. And miscommunication aside, those volunteers from the Red Cross and schools performed a true service to the community.
Electricity: For those of us with power, FPL is a hero. For those us still without, not so much, especially since FPL has had to walk back its promise to restore power to just about every household and business by Sunday night. However, it informed the public that South Dade won’t be “empowered” until Tuesday. Although the company should not have risked raising the expectations of the hot and sweaty, only to dash them, the crews driving around doing the dangerous dirty work are worthy of a major dose of gratitude.
Bulk waste pickup: Getting back to normal means getting rid of the visual and psychological blot of downed trees, branches, and debris on the swales and public corridors. It’s tedious, time-consuming work, but the county and cities must pick up the pace. Our neighborhoods should be invaded by trucks with wood chippers — now. And looking ahead: From safety and economic standpoints, it’s time for the county and municipalities to consider requiring mandatory tree trimming in advance of hurricane season.
Gas stations: Finding a station with gas or the electricity to pump it was a big problem. The state requires some gas stations to install “transfer switches” that let the pumps run off generators. But the rules apply only to stations built after 2006, and to older stations if they have 16 or more pumps and are within half a mile of an evacuation route. That’s not good enough. There simply were not enough gas stations running on generators after the storm. Lawmakers need to come up with a real solution.
Nursing homes: In addition to gas stations, Irma handed the Legislature a slew of issues it must address in the next session. Top of the list: In light of eight deaths at a Hollywood nursing home, all similar facilities should be required to have generators sufficient to power their air conditioners. It’s no-brainer legislation that — to lawmakers’ shame — went nowhere after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. They need to get the do-over right, this time.