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A hurricane during the pandemic:

Florida prepares for the worst possible scenario

We are already in hurricane season, and everything looks like the US will continue to fight the coronavirus.

What could be worse than a life-altering pandemic like the coronavirus that collapses the health system and devastates the global economy? Add a natural disaster. With less than two months to go before hurricane season begins, Florida is already preparing for it.

Covid-19 is bad. A hurricane is bad. The impact of a hurricane on a Covid environment will be much worse than both combined. “It will be a multiplier and not a cumulative effect,” says Bryan Koon, who until 2017 was the head of the state’s emergency management services and is now a consultant.

And this scenario is possible. When the Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1, the United States will most likely continue to fight the new coronavirus. Meteorologists from the University of Colorado, as well as those from Accuweather, already predict that this year the hurricane season will be more active than usual. According to them, between July and November, they could hit four major hurricanes, with winds of more than 180 km/h.

“We are preparing for the worst, of course,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said on Thursday. “We hope we are not dealing with a hurricane, but I think we should assume that we will have one.”

FLorida citizens know how to deal with a hurricane: storing food, protecting windows with wooden planks, and/or fleeing the area if the storm promises to be devastating. Those who can pay go to hotels, friends or family. The rest are evacuated by bus and housed in shelters.

The question that Florida’s leaders now face is this: How do you maintain this mass evacuation strategy this year, when people are called to physical distance? How will shelters, often located in gyms with beds generally pushed together, work in these times of highly contagious viruses?

None of this will be possible in the new reality imposed by Covid-19, experts warn. “His friends and family may not want him at home because they are trying not to get sick,” says Koon.

“Hotels may not be open. They are closing due to lack of customers. I do not know how we are going to open large shelters, at the moment we cannot fill the gyms with people ”, he adds. “People will have to make difficult decisions: ¿am I left with the risk that the roof of my house will fly off or flood? Or do I go by car to expose myself to the virus?”.

All this without mentioning, according to Koon, that many will not be able to pay for the fuel or the hotel if they decide to evacuate, given the record number of people who will be unemployed due to the pandemic. As of Thursday, about 17 million Americans had lost their jobs.

Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio on Thursday asked Fema, the federal emergency management agency, to establish a hurricane strategy during the pandemic.

Furthermore, “we ask that you consider how to properly evict and shelter those who have, or are suspected of having, coronaviruses at the time of the storm,” the senators wrote to Peter Gaynor, the FEMA chief, in an open letter.

A Fema spokesperson told AFP that the agency is working with local and state authorities on new guidelines.

In 2018, Category 5 Hurricane Michael devastated Northwest Florida, leaving traces still visible today. The previous year, when Hurricane Irma struck, millions of people had evacuated their homes in Florida, and some 300,000 of them had gone to shelters.


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