Preparation proves key to successful Keys evacuation
Mobilization quicker than expected
LARGO, FLA. Hurricane KEY Harvey’s devastation of Texas may have helped save lives on the Florida Keys when Irma hit because tens of thousands of people mobilized for evacuation far more quickly than expected.
Instead of a last-minute crush to leave the low-lying Keys and southeastern Florida, many residents gassed up and hit the road days before Irma first made landfall, participating in one of the largest — and possibly the most successful — mass evacuations in state history.
Experts credited the news coverage of Harvey as it inundated Texas, along with widespread access to computer models that showed where the storm might hit and the potential storm surge. A coordinated local-state-federal message reinforced the danger, spread widely by the news media.
“People were preparing even
Residents and leaders across Houston and Southeast Texas are in the midst of a mud-caked recovery from Hurricane Harvey after unprecedented floods and winds — from Katy to Orange to Rockport — ravaged the area.
Harvey caused up to $160 billion in damage, impacting more than 100,000 homes and making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history. President Trump approved $15 billion in disaster aid for Harvey victims last week.
Irma drew a lot of national news media attention away from Texas, as it churned over Caribbean islands, sideswiped Cuba and rumbled into Florida. But the federal, state and local response to Harvey won’t be slowed because of Irma, said Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal, whose area includes Port Aransas, a beach town that was one of the hardest hit by Harvey.
The close timing of the disasters that hit Texas and Florida created a kinship between first responders in the two states. In one of several such instances, Florida dispatched 100 game wardens to Texas as the floodwaters rose, and Texas responded with 100 of their own game wardens as Irma approached, said state Rep. Dade Phelan.
“Having just gone through one of the most expensive and catastrophic storms that’s ever hit the U.S., we’re certainly sympathetic” to Florida, he said.
Phelan said he is less concerned about politics interfering in the distribution of federal aid to Texas and Florida — Florida, after all, is an important swing state in presidential elections, while Texas is reliably Republican — and more worried about the back-to-back disasters making rebuilding supplies scarcer in the region.
Area stores have reported shortages of carpets, tiles, cabinets, plywood and other materials needed to rebuild homes, he said.
In Houston, recovery has been a patchwork. Some residents are back at home and returning to work, while others just returned to flood-ruined homes or are still in shelters, said Zakary Rodriguez, a community activist.
The attention shift from Texas to Florida will mostly affect those still struggling with recovery, including undocumented immigrants and families in shelters, he said. Zachary volunteers at the shelter at the NRG Center in Houston, which has housed several thousand evacuees.
“At this point, if they’re not back in their home, they have no home to go to. They’re homeless. They’ve lost everything,” he said. “Those are the ones feeling most abandoned.”
It was property not people that took a beating in the Florida Keys because residents got to safety before Hurricane Irma hit.