As the remnants of Hurricane Irma trail off into Georgia, millions of Floridians are left with a scene all too familiar to many of us — massive power outages, downed trees and signs, and flooded homes.
Florida, a state surrounded by water on three sides, is a popular destination for intense tropical weather, and the names of some of these storms are etched in our brains. Andrew. Matthew. Ivan. Dennis. Opal. Erin.
And now Irma. The storm, which blew toward peninsular Florida as a Category 5 for a record three days, convinced many to flee their homes in search of a place free from her winds, rain and storm surge.
But Irma's massive size and frightening strength, as well as her unpredictable path, made finding a safe spot challenging. When faced with a major tropical event, most Floridians head north. But at various points during the weeklong buildup to landfall Sunday, Irma looked likely to threaten most of the places where we would normally hide. Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina were all in the so-called "cone of uncertainty" and only the westernmost portion of the Florida Panhandle escaped storm warnings.
The waiting, the watching, the worrying are finally over. Some folks were lucky. Many were not. As of Monday, crews were still searching for potential victims of the storm. Clean up efforts have begun.
Experts warn that some may be without power for weeks or months. The storm caused heavy damage to some of Florida's biggest cities in the peninsula. We will no doubt see crews from across the United States converge on Florida to assist in any way possible. The storm devastated huge swaths of the state and it did so just weeks after Hurricane Harvey caused similar destruction in Texas.
For longtime residents of Northwest Florida, Irma's destruction is a painful reminder of how our lives were after major hurricanes barreled ashore close to home in years past. We know how it felt to be hot and hopeless, how to wait in long lines for everything from food and gasoline to assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Storm recovery is not quick and its not easy, not on an individual basis or from a government perspective.
It requires vast resources ranging from funding to equipment needs to personnel to carry out the needed tasks. And all of these are needed at a time when folks who would typically step up and help are among those needing assistance.
In the wake of Harvey's destruction, folks in Northwest Florida sent everything from bottled water to emergency personnel and cash. We will surely do the same to help our neighbors to the east. The geography of Florida divides us. There is the peninsula and the panhandle. But we are all Floridians and we will pull together. Their storm, their tragedies, are ours also. And, together, we will hope Irma has served up the last dose of tropical destruction this hurricane season.