When Gov. Ron DeSantis last month signed the bill that launched plans for three new — and, as we see it, unnecessary — toll roads, one justification for the projects was that the highways could serve as vital hurricane evacuation routes.
Obviously, proponents of Florida’s largest highway-expansion initiative in a half-century are looking years ahead. But their point does remind us of the awful mess Hurricane Irma created on major highways two years ago, and more importantly, that preparedness is critical, since hurricane season is upon us once again.
The last three years, hopefully, have shaken us out of the storm stupor created by the lengthy lull — from 2006 to 2015 — when hurricanes were someone else’s problem. Hurricane Matthew broke the string in 2016, pummeling Florida’s northeast coast en route to the Carolinas.
Irma’s blitz up the spine of the state eventually killed at least 80 people and caused an estimated $77 billion in damage. Last year, Hurricane Michael devastated a broad swath of the Panhandle, and folks today are still awaiting relief and recovery funding.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released its prediction for this hurricane season. NOAA expects a “near-normal” season, which translates into an estimated nine to 15 named storms, with four to eight of them becoming hurricanes. Of those, two to four could achieve “major” hurricane status, meaning Category 3 or stronger.
While it would be nice if this were the start of another long, blissful spell, we won’t know until Nov. 30. Thus, preparedness will be critical.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, formerly Florida’s governor for eight years, this week ventured to the state’s main population centers to spread that message. “If there is one thing I learned, it’s that Florida is resilient. In times of crisis, the people of our state come together,” Scott wrote in an opinion article shared with media statewide. “Florida is resilient because we prepare for storms. I cannot stress this enough: Preparedness saves lives.”
To that end, Scott is urging Floridians to take advantage of the sales-tax holiday for a slew of items. They include: reusable ice packs under $10; portable, self-powered lights under $20, including candles, flashlights, or lanterns; fuel containers under $25; batteries (excluding those for cars or boats) under $30, including rechargeable ones; coolers under $50; bungee cords; battery-, solar-, or handcrank-powered radios, including two-way and weather-band; ground anchor systems, ratchet straps and tie-down kits; tarps and plastic or other waterproof sheeting; and portable generators under $750.
The tax holiday began Friday and runs through June 6.
Scott also recommends visiting www.ready.gov to find planning tips for the upcoming storm season. “We should never let our guards down or underestimate the threat of severe weather,” he writes. “As I always say, you can rebuild your homes, but you cannot rebuild your lives.”
He’s right. The hurricane-driven death and destruction visited upon Florida since 2016 should have been an eye-opener. You cannot go wrong hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
This editorial originally was published in the Lakeland Ledger.