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September 10, 2017

In South Florida, the worst of Hurricane Irma is yet to come


Sorry, South Florida: When you wake up Sunday morning, Hurricane Irma will still not have passed, even though waiting for the dreaded storm has already felt interminable.

In fact, the worst for Miami-Dade and Broward counties — which mercifully won’t be nearly as bad as once feared — probably won’t start until mid-morning, and it will last for several hours.

The region won’t get sustained hurricane winds, only dangerous gusts. But tropical storm winds are expected to extend into Sunday night. That means getting out of the house and around town might not be safe until — gulp — Monday.

A tornado watch will be in effect until at least noon. Two tornadoes touched ground Saturday in Oakland Park and Wilton Manors, and tornado warnings were briefly in effect Saturday night and early Sunday morning in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

And then there’s the storm surge, the water washed ashore by the storm, an unpredictable hazard that local emergency managers fear could result in serious damage. Overnight from Saturday to Sunday, water lapped over bayfront roads along parts of Northeast Miami-Dade, including Miami Shores. After hours of unrelenting rain, some streets had already flooded in downtown Miami and Miami Beach. The National Weather Service’s Miami office issued a flood warning at 4:40 a.m. 

“The thing that has caused me the biggest concern is I don’t think anybody has realized the impact of this storm surge,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a Saturday evening news conference at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

Sunday morning is also when forecasters expect storm surge to rise in the vulnerable Florida Keys, perhaps as high as 10 unimaginable feet.

More here.

Photo credit: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald staff

September 09, 2017

Politicians are just like us: They lose power in Hurricane Irma


South Florida politicians have been among the tens of thousands of Florida Power & Light customers to lose power as Hurricane Irma gets closer to the state.

They have shared their powerlessness in news conferences and on Twitter:

--U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who lives in Pinecrest

--Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who lives in Coral Gables

Miami's mayor calls a hurricane press conference (during a hurricane)



How bad is the weather in Miami?

Not so bad that the mayor couldn't call a press conference Saturday afternoon to announce that his city was instituting a 7 p.m. curfew. The curfew will last until 7 a.m. Sunday, unless conditions linger as Hurricane Irma heads north.

Mayor Tomas Regalado said getting the information out was crucial. But asked why he would call the media to Miami's Emergency Operations Center rather than, say, simply sending a press release, Regalado had this to say:

"The only way that we have to reach in a massive way the residents of the city of Miami, or any residents for that matter, is through the mass media. We know people are glued to the media, be it social media or the TV, because there's anxiety ... I personally felt that just sending a press release would kind of confuse people. So, we ask for your support in disseminating this information. We can reach a lot of people and people can understand what is going on. This was an important news conference because it's an important decision the city can take. We are not competing for air time. But this was needed."

This article has been changed to correct the day of the press conference. It was held Saturday.

Rubio on Irma: 'Don't be the guy' killed by tree. Stay home, watch 'Games of Throne'

Florida1 senators lnew cmg (1)

When U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio spoke to reporters at a storm briefing Saturday morning, he had a message: Don't let Hurricane Irma's western track cause you to let your guard down in Miami.

And the Miami Republican inadvertently shared a revelation, too: He's not a big "GoT" fan.

"Don't be the guy or the gal who gets killed by a tree," Rubio said in winding up to his remain-in-place advice. "It's a great time to get home, and catch up on 'Games of Throne.' Or whatever it's called."

Um, actually, it's "Game of Thrones."

"Yeah," Rubio said to chuckles from reporters, "I don't watch that myself."


Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

September 08, 2017

What Hurricane Irma's worst-case scenario could look like

@AndresViglucci @PatriciaMazzei @lrobertsonmiami

One day after Hurricane Andrew tore its demolition-derby path east to west across Miami-Dade, Hugh Willoughby drove from his damaged South Miami house to a Home Depot by Mall of the Americas near Doral. Street lights were working, so there was power. He bought roofing supplies and was soon atop his home nailing on new shingles.

But if the far-larger Hurricane Irma rakes a possible course from south to north along the county’s spine, Willoughby — an atmospheric scientist — fears things won’t be so simple this time.

In that worst-case scenario — still very much an “if” at the end of the day Friday — Irma brings substantial and extensive damage to Miami-Dade on a scale that might make Andrew pale by comparison, he said. That’s like having Andrew’s fearsome but compact hurricane wind field, and the destruction it wrought, extend across most of the length and breadth of the county.

“The worst case is pretty bad,” Willoughby, a professor at Florida International University and Andrew expert, said. “The scary thing is, we may have more widespread damage. We are talking winds much like the damage in Andrew, only more widespread.”

To be sure, Irma’s track remained highly uncertain, and forecasters say its course would not become clear until virtually the last hour Saturday. With a jog in the storm’s path either to the east or west, Miami-Dade could experience another strong but lesser storm like 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, perhaps. But it would not in that case be a cataclysmic Andrew writ large. 

But that nightmare possibility is what’s kept Willoughby and millions of anxious South Floridians glued to the National Hurricane Center’s forecasts and predictive models for the better part of a week. Anyone who believes Miami-Dade experienced the worst a hurricane can deliver 25 years ago better think again, he and others say. South Florida’s vaunted subtropical climate is perfectly capable of delivering far worse.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Lawmakers will ask Trump to extend TPS to Caribbean nations hit by Irma (Updated)

Hurricane Irma


A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are urging President Donald Trump to allow people in the United States but from Caribbean countries hit by Hurricane Irma to stay here for a temporary period.

Ros-Lehtinen, along with New York Democrat Eliot Engel and California Democrat Barbara Lee are circulating a letter to colleagues in Congress over the weekend asking them to support extending what’s known as Temporary Protected States to affected countries, including the Dominican Republic and Antigua and Barbuda.

On Monday, they will send the letter to Trump.


“While Congress and the Administration work to provide relief for those affected by devastation from Irma in our own country, we must also support our friends in the Caribbean,” the draft letter, obtained by Miami Herald, said. “As the storm moves away from the first-impacted islands, the casualty toll is slowly rising as deaths have been reported in Barbuda and Saint Martin. The economies of the affected areas have been completely destroyed and will take years to rebuild.”

The TPS program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security and allows foreign nationals already in the United States from 10 countries to stay in the United States for a designated period of time. Trump, who continues to talk tough on immigration, hasn’t indicated that he’s open to extending the program to more people from more countries.

One of the 10 countries currently on the TPS list, Haiti, lies within Irma's path. TPS was extended to Haiti in 2011 after a massive 2010 earthquake and Florida lawmakers have asked the Trump administration to extend Haiti’s TPS status, which is set to expire in January 2018.

Other countries impacted by Irma include Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, along with overseas territories of the UK, France and the Netherlands. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were also impacted by Irma, though residents there are U.S. citizens and not subject to TPS.

“I have signed onto Eliot's letter and I support extending TPS to the folks living in the US who are from nations impacted by Hurricane Irma,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “For them to go back to their areas that have been devastated by Irma would not be constructive because the infrastructure is not able to sustain the economy. Jobs would be impossible for them to get and if they are granted TPS here, they can earn a living and pay taxes to help our economy.”

Ros-Lehtinen and Engel serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee while Lee is part of a congressional subcommittee that deals with international diplomacy.

Update: 9/12/17: Engel's office announced in a press release that 75 members of Congress signed on to the letter.

Read more here.

Miami's mayor on Hurricane Irma: 'If this isn't climate change, I don't know what is'

Hurricane mayor


Miami's Republican mayor called on President Donald Trump and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency Friday to acknowledge that climate change is playing a role in the extreme weather that has slammed his city and the continental U.S. this summer.

Speaking from Miami's Emergency Operation Center in downtown, where the city's senior public safety and political authorities will ride out Category 4 Hurricane Irma this weekend, Mayor Tomás Regalado told the Miami Herald that he believes warming and rising seas are threatening South Florida's immediate and long-term future.

"This is the time to talk about climate change. This is the time that the president and the EPA and whoever makes decision needs to talk about climate change," said Regalado, who flew back to Miami from Argentina Friday morning to be in the city during the storm. "If this isn't climate change, I don't know what is. This is a truly, truly poster child for what is to come."

Regalado's comments come as Hurricane Irma is expected to begin lashing his city with hurricane force winds this weekend. The storm, which is trailed in the Atlantic Ocean by Category 4 Hurricane Jose, has forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate from Coconut Grove and areas around downtown, Brickell, Little Haiti and the Miami River. A third hurricane, Katia, is located off of Mexico's coast.

Research, meanwhile, suggests a warming climate is increasing the intensity of hurricanes.

But on Thursday, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt told CNN that the time to discuss the cause and effect of this summer's intense hurricanes, "it's not now." Trump once called climate change a "hoax."

Regalado, however, said hurricanes like Irma and Harvey, which devastated the Houston area of Texas last month, ought to spark conversation about climate change -- not dampen them over concerns about political sensitivities.

""I don't want to be political but the fact of the matter is that this is a lesson that we need protection from nature," he said.

A Republican serving out the final two months of his time as Miami's chief executive, Regalado is currently campaigning for a $400 million general obligation bond, nearly half of which would go toward storm drain and pump improvements. The projects are part of a roughly $1 billion, long-term plan to make Miami more sustainable in the face of rising seas.

He has said publicly that he hopes the federal government will help the city pay for parts of the initiative

"You know, for those who say we don't believe in the bond issue because we can do that later, no, it's happening now. We got [Hurricane] Jose in the back and we got Katia. We got stuff going on," he said. "So, I think this is a lesson for the people to say you know what? We have to be prepared."

Rubio asks FEMA to prioritize debris removal from Florida roads

Marco Rubio 3


Sen. Marco Rubio is concerned that debris from Hurricane Irma will clog roads in Florida, and he sent a letter to FEMA administrator William Long on Friday to urge the federal government to prioritize debris removal on roads after the storm passes through. 

"Local leaders and I are particularly concerned about debris removal on county, state and private roads that serve as crucial access points to hospitals and serve as important conduits to aide those in need, or who need to evacuate post-storm," Rubio said in a letter obtained by the Miami Herald. "These must be clear so that emergency services and utility repair crews are able to do their jobs. Also, the storm is a significant threat to Florida’s numerous inland and coastal bridges, which may be rendered impassable following the storm, cutting off residents from life-saving assistance and recovery resources. I urge your agency to work with the state of Florida to rapidly assess the connectivity of Florida’s road networks after the storm has passed and ensure that these residents are identified and assisted as quickly as possible." 

Rubio spent Thursday in Miami meeting with local officials and preparing his home for Irma. He missed a Senate vote on a $15 billion hurricane relief bill that also raises the nation's debt ceiling. The bill was devised after Donald Trump cut a deal with Democratic leaders. 

Rubio was opposed to the deal but said he would have voted in favor of the bill to keep FEMA afloat as it prepares for Irma. 

Read the letter below: 


Florida Republican calls hurricane funding bill "generational theft"



Florida Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Ted Yoho of Gainesville voted against a $15 billion hurricane relief package on Friday despite calls from South Florida lawmakers to support increased FEMA funding as Hurricane Irma threatens Florida. 

The relief package was part of a deal between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders to raise the nation's debt ceiling for three months and temporarily fund the government through December. 

Gaetz bristled at the spending package, calling it "generational theft." 

"Only Congress can find a way to turn a natural disaster into a trillion new dollars in spending authority," Gaetz said. "I have a pretty strident view that I will only vote to raise the debt limit if that vote is accompanied with reductions in entitlement spending. If conservatives don’t start voting no against debt limit increases all the FEMA in the world won’t save us from our must unfortunate destiny."

Gaetz and Yoho did vote in favor of a standalone $7.5 hurricane relief bill on Wednesday, which passed the House with only three no votes. Gaetz represents a conservative-leaning district on the western part of Florida's panhandle, an area of the state less likely to be heavily damaged by Irma. 

The House passed the spending bill with the $15 billion in hurricane relief by a 316-90 vote. All 90 no votes were Republicans. 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin huddled with Republican lawmakers before the vote and urged them to "vote for the debt ceiling for me." 

"Ha. He's not one of my constituents," Yoho said to the Associated Press. 

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also urged the House to vote in favor of the bill, circulating a dear colleague letter on Thursday evening ahead of the vote. 

"As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, I would ask that all my Congressional colleagues reflect on the fate of Florida’s 20.61 million residents when they are asked to again vote on this vital emergency disaster funding as it comes back from the Senate," Ros-Lehtinen said. 

Three Florida Republicans, Reps. Tom Rooney, Francis Rooney and Brian Mast, and every Florida Democrat left in Washington voted in favor of the bill while 11 Florida Republicans were not present as they left Washington to prepare for Irma. 

Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday after the U.S. Senate passed the hurricane relief bill by an 80-17 margin that he would have voted in favor even though he had "significant reservations." Rubio was in Miami preparing for Irma.

"I strongly disagree with the decision made by the administration to agree to pair funding for FEMA and emergency disaster relief to short-term extensions to the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and the National Flood Insurance Program unaccompanied by significant reforms," Rubio said in a statement. "Absent extenuating circumstances such as the outbreak of the Zika virus last year, I have consistently opposed passage of short term continuing resolutions, because they are an incredibly inefficient way of spending taxpayer dollars and fails to provide the certainty required for effective planning." 

But Rubio said the need to keep FEMA afloat would have led him to vote yes despite his objections. 

Gaetz felt differently. 

"The federal government has a significant role to play in disaster relief, and I support that role, but we didn’t have to authorize over 1 trillion in new spending to help hurricane victims," Gaetz said. "That was Washington using a crisis to feed its addiction to spending." 


Hurricane Irma is forcing Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate to evacuate

Mar a lago


President Donald Trump’s seaside Mar-a-Lago resort has been ordered to evacuate because of Hurricane Irma, along with the barrier islands and low-lying areas of Palm Beach County.

About 125,000 Palm Beach residents are being told to leave starting Friday at 10 a.m., according to the Sun Sentinel. All of Florida is under a state of emergency, with evacuation orders also issued in Miami-DadeBroward and Monroe counties.

Trump has returned repeatedly to the private club — which he bought in 1985 — to relax and conduct state business since becoming president. Initiation fees were raised to $200,000 after his election.

Category 5 Irma is expected to arrive in South Florida starting Saturday.

Mar-a-Lago, which overlooks the ocean on Palm Beach, was built in 1927. Summer is the slow tourist season in South Florida.

"We are closely monitoring Hurricane Irma," a Trump Organization spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday. "Our teams at the Trump properties in Florida are taking all of the proper precautions and following local and Florida State Advisories very closely to ensure that everyone is kept safe and secure. We continue to send our thoughts and prayers to victims of Hurricane Harvey and are praying for those that are in the path of Hurricane Irma."

Trump also owns three golf courses in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, as well as an 11-bedroom mansion on the French side of the Carribean island of St. Martin.

Widespread devastation was reported on St. Martin after Irma swept through. Authorities on Wednesday said at least four people were killed and 50 injured. The hurricane destroyed 95 percent of buildings on the island, according to AFP.

“We know that the four most solid buildings on the island have been destroyed,” said French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, “which means that more rustic structures have probably been completely or partially destroyed.”

Read more here.