Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Farewell Irma, I Never Liked you

As Tuesday dawns on the east coast, we begin the task of cleaning up after a massive storm. It will be along road home for many, and they will appreciate a kind word in days to come. 

This storm was astounding in several ways, and this morning I try to capture some of that. One of the first things that comes to mind is the preparation. Florida's emergency preparedness team began hitting us with information a week ago. There were Tweets, broadcasts, and press conferences. This was one of the best publicized storm evacuations and preparations I have ever seen. 

I lost count of the places that Governor Scott was prior to the storm, including emergency operation centers, shelters, and more. All through the storm, the tweets just kept coming from the Governor. He was reassuring and inspiring. Another Tweeter that deserves mention is Dan Daley. He is the Vice Mayor in Coral Springs, and his efforts to keep the public informed were upbeat, timely, professional, and sometimes even humorous. I am certain there are many others out there that did a great job, but these two caught my attention repeatedly. 

The resources massing was inspiring. A video of power trucks was popular on social media. There was also video of fuel trucks being escorted by the Florida Highway Patrol, part of the effort to make sure there was fuel for evacuation. 

The National Hurricane Center and others had a difficult time predicting the track of Irma. We had much conjecture and explanation, but there was much uncertainty until Sunday. There were storm-track predictions (these are published in what they call "spaghetti models") over various portions of Florida through the week last week. The difficulties in prediction raised anxiety and fear. I spoke with a Pensacolan (not a real word, I know) on Saturday who was convinced that Irma would "head into the Gulf and then all bets are off." 

The rain. Florida got a great deal of rain. Data has been published by the National Weather Service (this is their photo) showing the volume. Along with storm surge in various locations, the flooding has been horrible. 

However, in other locations, the predicted storm surge did not materialize. Some meteorologists have opined that the storm having a "weak" back side contributed to that phenomena. They describe how the front of the storm drove water away from shore on the west coast and into the Gulf of Mexico, but the "weak" side failed to return that water at flood levels on the back. That is simply amazing. As amazing was the way the far-reaching "strong side" pulled the Atlantic into Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Daytona as the storm moved north.

The results we saw included people walking into the bay in Tampa, there was no water for hundreds of feet out. Similar pictures were posted of the Bahamas. But, to lend some respect to the size of this storm, there were also pictures posted of Mobile Bay, Alabama. That photo made the rounds on social media. And there is some truth to the proposition that Irma winds pushed water out of that bay 300 miles west of the eye wall. But there is also truth that Mobile Bay is very shallow and almost any southern wind will effect mudflats there, particularly during low tide. 

Social media was alive with Irma. Twitter provided us with photos and video. One south Florida video was of a Miami construction crane collapsing. Another Miami video showed the roof being torn from a structure by high winds. The flooding videos were compelling. One from Miami was seen repeatedly on social media, showing Brickel Avenue. The photos of flooding in Jacksonville are heartbreaking. 

Social media also picked up on people allegedly liberating some shoes from a store in Miami. Yet another shoe store video from Ft. Lauderdale made the social media rounds as well. These reminded me of the news story two weeks ago in Houston. There a reporter contacted authorities and alerted them to a store being emptied. Social media erupted, not with praise for the reporter, but scorn. Many took issue to the reporter calling that looting. Some commented on those stories suggesting that people stealing food or necessaries during an emergency are not "looting." 

We had a scam story out of Jacksonville yesterday. Supposedly people were impersonating utility employees and robbing folks. That has now been debunked. Floridians will do well to be wary of scams in days to come however. Unfortunately, there are some people who thrive on taking advantage of situations like Irma, and they could come to your town. Watch for them and report them. After Ivan, I learned of a group that charged a 90 year old home-bound lady $1,000 to remove a "tree" from her home. In truth, a large branch had landed there and these hooligans merely threw it from her roof to the yard. Some people have no shame. 

There was great coverage on Irma social media of the heroes coming to our aid. I liked the video of a Los Angeles Fire Department truck driving into Florida in preparation for search and rescue. There were inspiring moments. Some Manatees were grounded by the falling tide, but were rescued. Two gentlemen in Marco Island struggled to rescue a dolphin. A first-responder even rescued a flag

People were rescued from boats, from homes, and cars. It seems that there was no shortage of people who needed help. Fortunately, there were a great many there to provide help. But the storm has produced fatalities. ABC News reported two law enforcement officers died in a car accident. Other Irma fatalities have been attributed to wind, electrocution, and carbon monoxide (generators can be very dangerous). 

I am proud of the job our OJCC team did in preparing for this storm. As of this morning, we believe that 11 of our 17 offices have electrical power and are ready to open Wednesday. Two offices in the panhandle are already open today. Although there were outages in other court systems, the OJCC electronic filing system remained up and functional all weekend. And, believe it or not, people were out there e-filing throughout. 

On September 8, 2017, we had 625 documents e-filed (compared to the Friday two weeks prior, which had 2,496). On Saturday, September 9, 2017, we had 23 documents e-filed (compared to 69 on Saturday, August 26). Sunday, September 10, 2017 brought us 20 e-filed documents (compared to 52 on August 27). And yesterday, September 11, 2017 we had 71 filings (compared to 2,322 on August 28). I am proud that our system was available for people to file. Many people were without power and were dealing with important issues of home and family. But, It is good to know our system was there for those that did want and need it. 

There will be much news in coming days. News of damage, tragedy, recovery, heroism, and love. The nation's eyes will focus on Florida and the thousands of people that come here to genuinely and selflessly help. Then the media will likely be distracted by some new and shiny story elsewhere, but the work here will continue. Long after the news crews cease to be interested, Floridians will be rebuilding. That is just the way it is. 

Long after the spotlight shifts, we as Floridians will remain true to our friends, neighbors and communities. We must not forget those who have lost and those who are recovering, no matter how long that takes.  

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