NewsUSAHurricane 'Ian': the high price of living in paradise

Hurricane ‘Ian’: the high price of living in paradise

Until last September 28, the barrier islands off the southwest coast of Florida were for Americans, especially their retirees, the closest thing to paradise on earth that the current of life (and fortune) could leave them. Today, place names like Fort Myers Beach or the islands of Sanibel, Pine and Captiva are synonymous with destruction. Vast areas of these communities were devastated by the force of Ian, an unprecedented hurricane on the peninsula that made landfall bordering on category five, the most devastating, with winds of 250 kilometers per hour. It left behind entire neighborhoods devastated, at least 127 dead, thousands of homeless people, a bloody and uncertain battle between insurers and policyholders, and the question of whether it is worth paying such a high price to inhabit paradise.

Those who move there know that these are areas greatly exposed to the humors of nature, good or bad. But the scenario of inexorable global warming, experts agree, is aggravating the worst part to the point of turning the coasts of this corner of the United States into zero zone of climate change: the fury of Ian It was more devastating because on its way to Florida it was armed with the force that the high temperatures of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico gave it.

Residents of Fort Myers Beach evacuated their homes in one of the areas most devastated by ‘Ian’ on October 1.GIORGIO VIERA (AFP)

From the debris of the storm, which hit the elderly residents (70% of the dead are over 60 years old), the debate emerges about what to do now to minimize the damage of the next shock. “I am afraid that we will make the same old mistake again: rebuild the houses to leave them as they were before the hurricane,” explains Robert S. Young, a professor at Western Carolina University, where he directs a coastal study program, in a telephone conversation. developed. Young teaches in North Carolina, where Ian It caused five deaths on its return trip to the mainland, already converted into a tropical storm. “If you don’t have a good plan thought out beforehand, it’s difficult to keep a cool head and improvise when the government money arrives and people are impatient to get their houses back,” says this geologist. According to a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), “more than $210 million has been approved [una cantidad similar en euros] in aid for the more than 128,000 people and households affected by the hurricane Ian”.

Storms come and go, but Young believes the United States is still “not having a productive conversation about how to protect those areas for decades to come in light of rising water levels, ferocious hurricanes and increased rainfall.” . The expert reminds that this is not a problem exclusive to Florida. It also affects dozens of enclaves along the coast of the country, “from Maine to Texas.” And further: “We have been observing in recent decades wave after wave of people who are going to live too close to the sea. And Spain is no exception.

Yoca Arditi-Rocha, executive director of the CLEO Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to climate awareness in Florida, makes use of a truly graphic image: “Rebuilding would mean playing hurricane Russian roulette,” she says. Shortly before passing Ian, launched a prescient campaign titled “Don’t Let the Sunshine State Become the State of Emergency!”, which plays on Florida’s catchphrase and science’s black omens. “What we didn’t know then was what Mother Nature was preparing,” Arditi-Rocha clarifies in an email. As solutions, she proposes “stricter conditions in building regulations, elevations of structures that take into account projected sea level rise, underground power lines, and access to solar power with battery storage.”

Information is the first tool against climate change. Subscribe to it.

The activist, who says that “the good news is that solutions exist” (the bad news?: “as a society we are not claiming them”), cites the successful example of Babcock Ranch, an innovative community north of Fort Myers that has grabbing headlines these weeks. There, the houses are designed against hurricanes: the electricity travels, protected from strong winds, through the subsoil and there are water retention tanks that free the residents from flooding. Solar energy allowed them not to lose electricity or Internet in the days following the catastrophe, during which both supplies, with drinking water and gasoline, disappeared from vast areas of Florida (up to 2.6 million rs suffered interruptions ).

Young points out that what could also be considered in other disasters, such as the hurricane Sandy. Then, in 2012, the New Jersey authorities bought their land from some of those affected, to prevent them from building again where they shouldn’t have. At the moment, Governor Ron DeSantis has not announced any measure in this regard.

DeSantis, who sounds like a possible Republican rival to Donald Trump in the 2024 elections, has shown his closest profile to the victims and has extensively toured the affected areas, although he has avoided talking about climate change. “Years of state Republican leadership have condemned Florida to the dark ages due to partisan divisions,” Arditi-Rocha warns. “The Sunshine State depends on 70-75% of its electricity from imported and polluting fossil gas. The rest comes from nuclear, and less than 1% from solar or wind. The previous governor prohibited his agencies from mentioning the words climate change. The current one has made adaptation efforts to deal with chronic flooding problems, but without recognizing the root of the problem. It’s like cleaning a flooded bathroom with a running faucet.”

In the days following the storm, many residents also seemed oblivious to these discussions. And it was common to hear on the ground the testimonies of those, like Fort Myers resident Anne Dalton, who not only did not intend to move, but had decided to stay home to face the hurricane. Many did so out of conviction, although the authorities, criticized for their role in handling the emergency, took a day longer than desirable to sound the alarms in Lee County (they hide behind a miscalculation about where it would touch Earth Ian). The least, like a septuagenarian couple before their flooded house on the island of San Carlos, facing the most devastated area, declared themselves ready to collect their things and go “to another state, where there are no fires, like in California , or tornadoes, like in Kansas”.

In the hands of insurance

The decisions, drastic or not, of many affected, especially those with lower incomes, will also depend on insurance. It is estimated that the hurricane will cause companies $60 billion in losses in Florida alone, making Ian the second most expensive in history after the catrina in 2005, according to his employer. That, without counting the repairs caused by the floods. A separate chapter. “In this country that is paid as an addition to the policy, and it is only mandatory in the areas delimited by the Government,” explains Young, who adds that those federal maps “are not very good.”

Of course, the inland areas of Florida that suffered flooding after the passage of Ian. Areas like North Port, where residents had to access their chest-deep flooded homes by canoe. One of them, Wendy Bowman, lamented to EL PAIS that he and her husband lacked water insurance and would have to face a bill that she did not know if they could pay. What happened to the Bowmans has a name: compound flood. This is what happens when the overflows caused by the storm surge of the hurricane prevent the rivers from discharging into the sea because they are at full capacity, due to heavy rains, stronger because the climate crisis also caused Ian arrive loaded with 10% more rainfall.

Far from the media spotlights of the coastal areas, the most devastated, experts warned after the storm passed that it had also hit those inland areas, whose inhabitants have lower incomes and some, like Hope Smith, live in prefabricated houses that insurers are ignoring, many of which are expected to cease operations in Florida, as others have done after previous catastrophes. “Many of the idyllic islands off the coast are second homes,” says Young. “And then many others are for vacation rental. Why would those people want to take the risk again? Because they don’t live there, and the business accounts will come out after all.”

These days in Florida it has been shown that inequality also dictates the norms of the response to a storm. “If you’re rich, you don’t even care if you have flood insurance or not; the maximum that these polices cover is 250,000 dollars. For a homeowner in Sanibel, that’s what a car parked in the driveway costs. Those who can’t afford the repairs will move out and others will come in their place with more money,” says Young, pointing to an unexpected effect of Ian: The unstoppable process of gentrification of developed societies also imposes its ruthless rules in paradise.

Source: EL PAIS


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Posts

Read More