As I write, backbiting and finger-pointing have begun among Florida politicians about the timing of evacuation orders previous to Hurricane Ian. Having made a dreadfully ill-timed joke in this column about the kind of divine retribution often cited by religious cranks as the cause of natural disasters, I’m inclined to be forgiving. Mistakes were made because the storms are inherently unpredictable.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis scolded CNN for stationing its correspondents too far north, in Tampa.
And ain’t he a piece of work?
Of course, if people had any damn sense, they wouldn’t have been living in mobile homes on recently-drained swamps near the Gulf of Mexico in the first place. Much less building three-story McMansions on offshore islands and expecting government to rush in when the ocean wrecks the causeway. The highway was a boondoggle to start with.
I’m so old, I can remember when people built flimsy shacks and wooden bridges near the ocean, understanding that storms would eventually destroy them. I also have vivid memories of a charismatic Rutgers professor of physical geography warning a lecture hall filled with Jersey boys that allowing urban development on the state’s Atlantic Ocean front was dangerously short-sighted and a day of reckoning would surely come.
Although a liberal arts major, I took the course because I thought it might be useful to understand how the world works in terms of geology, landforms, ocean currents and climate. An Air Force pilot in Korea, Prof. Melvin G. Marcus showed us aerial photos of the string of barrier beaches—images satellites provide today--separating the Atlantic Ocean and a series of shallow bays all along the New Jersey coastline.
Comes a serious hurricane, he warned, and scores of New Jersey resort towns would be washed into the ocean. Erecting permanent structures on such terrain was an exercise in futility. Better to preserve the barrier beaches as public parkland. Build nothing on sand that you can’t afford to see pounded to splinters by the sea, was his advice.
(The same applies to floodplains far from the sea. Anybody who builds on level ground near running water in Arkansas, where I live, is just asking for trouble. How do you suppose the terrain got so flat? I’ve seen several 500-year floods in the fifty years I’ve lived around Little Rock.)
So, although I’m no climatologist, I can read a damn map. Sanibel Island, Florida is a barrier beach off Fort Myers, a fancy resort community build on a sandbar. Its destruction was inevitable. It ought to be a state park. (Much of Fort Myers itself was once a mangrove swamp.) Rebuilding an expensive causeway for wealthy snowbirds from Ohio to access their retirement homes by automobile would be an act of sheer folly.
So, you know the contracts are already being negotiated.
Top headlines of the day:
"Florida death toll continues to climb as historic cleanup looms"
“More Americans are moving into hurricane zones even as climate risks
Look, Florida has two essential industries: Tourism and real estate speculation. OK, three: Drug smuggling. Politicians there know better than to stand in the way of property development. An estimated 1000 people a day move there; the state’s population has grown from 5 million to 22 million since 1960. They’ve basically turned it into New Jersey with palm trees.
Speaking of which, when Hurricane Sandy made my late Rutgers professor a prophet back in 2013, Florida governor DeSantis, then a freshman congressman spouting Tea Party rhetoric, voted against federal disaster aid. He derided what he called the “credit card mentality” that had those states begging for help.
But because he isn’t stupid, and grew up near Tampa on Florida’s west coast, DeSantis certainly understands that hurricanes are a natural phenomenon as common as blizzards in Buffalo, and has long since changed his tune. I think it’s safe to say he won’t be flying a planeload of Venezuelan refugees from Texas to Joe Biden’s Delaware home, as had been the rumored plan before Hurricane Ian struck Florida.
“Ironically,” former Florida GOP congressman David Jolly told the Washington Post, “there’s nobody in America that Ron DeSantis needs more than Joe Biden.”
For his part, Biden loves playing President Magnanimous. “He [DeSantis] complimented me. He thanked me for the immediate response we had,” Biden said the other day. “This is about saving people’s lives, homes and businesses.”
DeSantis explained to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, that “when people are fighting for their lives, when their whole livelihood is at stake, when they’ve lost everything — if you can’t put politics aside for that, then you’re just not going to be able to.”
Feckless Yankees are going to keep emigrating to Florida. Ever-more powerful storms are also a certainty. There are ways to protect them from themselves—mainly enhanced building codes and environmental regulations.
But will Florida politicians act? Maybe so. Probably not.