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Let wrath of Irma unleash a lasting positive impact


Published: Wed, September 13, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.

Despite weakening in intensity as she ruthlessly roared up the Sunshine State, Hurricane Irma has left behind a powerful mark on the history books of this nation. In her wake, she also left behind lessons that will come in handy for the inevitable natural calamities on the horizon.

Consider some of the many firsts from this season’s fiercest hurricane:

No other hurricane matched the ferocity of Irma in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Her sustained winds of 180 mph surpassed those of Hurricane David in 1979.

Irma was classified as a Category 5 behemoth for three consecutive days, longer than any other Atlantic hurricane in the 166-year history of record-keeping.

Irma marked the first time that two Category 4 hurricanes have hit landfall in the U.S. during the same season.

Considering that level of fury and destructiveness, it is absolutely amazing the casualty toll remained mercifully low. As of Tuesday afternoon, only 12 deaths directly attributable to Irma had been reported in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, according to the Associated Press.

Yes, Mother Nature did her part by slowing down Irma and wobbling her path hither and yon, thereby weakening the storm’s intensity.

But in many respects, strong preparedness and response efforts emerged as exemplary models for saving lives and lessening injuries and damage.

For his part, Fla. Gov. Rick Scott served as an aggressive commander in chief of the state’s mission to warn residents of impending doom. He repeatedly pleaded with them to flee. Despite cynics who argue Scott cried wolf and was merely grandstanding for a U.S. Senate seat, his repeated and passionate calls to action likely saved countless lives.

The fact that the vast majority of Floridians heeded those calls underscores the importance of preparedness and the need for those in the path of adverse weather events anywhere to respect the credible warnings and instructions from the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Those who stubbornly decided to ride out the storm were lucky to have trained professionals from emergency rescue squads to the national guard ready to save them from harm. For example, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday that 356 people were rescued from flooding in that metro area alone Monday.

We second the message that department posted on its Twitter account Tuesday: “We hope people who had their lives saved yesterday will take evacuation orders seriously in the future.”

LONG-TERM PREPAREDNESS

Another lesson reinforced from the three-day tempest is the value of long-term preventive strategies. New housing codes implemented in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 were put to their most challenging test yet and passed with flying colors. Investments in such proactive tools such as hurricane-proof windows and sturdier building materials should be seen as life-saving precautions, not burdensome dictates from Big Brother.

Our nation’s investment in sophisticated weather monitoring and forecasting apparatuses also proved its mettle. The success of these tools in accurately tracking Irma and Hurricane Harvey last month should inspire some in Congress to rethink the sense of severe cuts the Donald Trump administration has proposed for the NWS and the NOAA.

The immediate aftermath of the one-two punch of Harvey and Irma also should provide a launching pad for national discussions and research on the potential impact of climate change on expediting and exacerbating hurricanes and other severe weather events.

Perhaps it’s time for Environmental Protection Administrator and climate-change denier Scott Pruitt to seriously consider the views of highly credible climate experts. They maintain that global warming fed from unchecked fossil-fuel emissions only make storms of all varieties bigger stronger and quicker to intensify. Even though Irma now has petered out, the work for millions in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina stands as a yeoman’s effort. Millions still remain powerless, and thousands will ponder how best to repair damaged homes and properties.

But in the quarter-century since Andrew ripped apart Florida causing 10 times as many casualties as Irma, that state and the nation have matured greatly in preparedness and response efforts. Let us now harness the lessons of Irma and Harvey to maximize our defenses and minimize death and destruction from the all-too-certain return of nature’s furious and uncompromising wrath.


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