Florida Residents Work to Recover from Hurricane Jeanne
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JEFFREY BROWN: Work crews continued their efforts to get Florida back up and running today, after Hurricane Jeanne’s devastating trek through the center of the state this weekend.
It was the fourth hurricane to shut down much of the state in six weeks, following Charley, which devastated the state’s central Gulf Coast last month; Frances a slow-moving behemoth that battered much of the state; and Ivan, which pounded the Florida panhandle as its eye made landfall on the Alabama coast.
Some Florida communities, like Lake Wales, found themselves in the paths of three of the storms.
FLORIDA RESIDENT: Charlie, Francis and Jeanne.
JEFFREY BROWN: They all came right across this house?
FLORIDA RESIDENT: Yes.
FLORIDA RESIDENT: This is the third time, the third eye. I hope it is the last one. There ain’t much more to take out here.
JEFFREY BROWN: In Stuart, some residents were spared by Frances three weeks ago, only to be crippled by Jeanne’s 120 mile- per-hour winds.
FLORIDA RESIDENT: Three weeks ago, we drove out of our house to come here. And we were we crying the other kind of crying because everything was still here.
It was amazing, couldn’t believe it was here. Now it is all gone.
JEFFREY BROWN: Jeanne, a category- three, 400-mile-wide storm, brought flooding to already soaked areas like Vero Beach, leaving many homes and businesses underwater. Palm Beach was especially hard hit; half a million people there were without power.
In some areas, boats and docks were tossed ashore. Crews worked to repair downed power lines across much of the state.
Toppled trees and dangling street lights created further hazards, while debris still stacked from previous storms was strewn among the latest wreckage.
DR. JON AGWUNOBI: There are hazards that include water and debris.
There are hazards related to the fact that people will be climbing on roofs and ladders and quite a number of falls have occurred as a result.
JEFFREY BROWN: President Bush has declared a major disaster area in 26 of Florida’s 67 counties.
In St. Lucie County, buildings under repair after Hurricane Frances were further pummeled by Jeanne.
FLORIDA RESIDENT: Jeanne, she took it all. She just took it all.
JEFFREY BROWN: In this senior citizen trailer park, Frances destroyed nearly half of the 96 homes; Jeanne ripped apart 35 more.
FLORIDA RESIDENT: We have 50 years of collecting Christmas ornaments. They’re all gone.
JEFFREY BROWN: This afternoon, Florida Governor Jeb Bush asked for patience.
GOV. JEB BUSH: We’ve got a massive effort ahead of us, and we have strained resources that will be coming. But people are going to have to be patient.
We don’t have as many utility crews in the state, but we have three million people without power, at least.
JEFFREY BROWN: The insurance tally from Hurricane Jeanne is expected to run into the billions.
That’s in addition to damage estimates totaling $12 billion from Hurricanes Charley and Frances.
JEFFREY BROWN: We get more on the relief efforts in Florida now from Michael Brown, the director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He’s in Orlando this evening.
Mr. Brown, welcome. What are the most urgent issues your people are dealing with now?
MICHAEL BROWN: Well, Jeff, it’s been a very interesting situation down here because, as you know, we started responding initially to Hurricane Charley almost six weeks ago, and then got into the process… we were actually doing recovery.
And because of the other hurricanes we’ve now had to move back out away from response and away from recovery, so it’s been kind of a start/stop effort over the past six, seven weeks.
JEFFREY BROWN: So the serial impact of one after another is having a real effect on how you do the relief work?
MICHAEL BROWN: It absolutely is. What you do in emergency management is we first have a response to the disaster.
And that’s when we bring in the medical teams, the urban search- and-rescue teams and the people that try to do the life-saving and life-sustaining efforts.
And then once you finish that phase, you move really into the recovery phase, where you start trying to rebuild homes, put tarps on roofs, make certain that power is restored.
And what’s happening is that natural process is being interrupted because of these hurricanes that keep coming after… one after the other.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what’s the status in terms of resources, in terms of having enough workers on the ground, enough food in place for people?
MICHAEL BROWN: Actually let me give you a little perspective because right now right now we have over 800 trucks containing water, ice, meals ready to eat. We have almost 5,000 people just in Florida working this disaster.
That does not count all of the disaster relief efforts we have going on right now where the remnants of these hurricanes are causing just as much devastation through areas like North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia.
These hurricanes have had a very broad, serious impact all through the coastal areas up through the Appalachians, all along the eastern seaboard.
JEFFREY BROWN: Many people have worried about a so-called “fatigue factor” for residents in Florida so that perhaps they might not respond when ordered or asked to evacuate, for example. Have you seen this fatigue factor?
MICHAEL BROWN: I have. And in fact, we’ve gone from one extreme to the other. Last April at the National Hurricane Conference, I expressed my concerns about hurricane amnesia.
Right now, I’m seeing hurricane fatigue. You can just see it in people’s faces, where they’re just tired, they’re worn out — not just in the victims, but in all of the workers down here responding to these also. But I can just guarantee the American public that FEMA is here.
We’re going to stay here. The entire FEMA family is determined to do everything they can to help these disaster victims.
JEFFREY BROWN: So what happens though with that psychology of that fatigue factor? How do you as a relief agency step in and help people psychologically?
MICHAEL BROWN: Well, much like we did after Sept. 11, we’re coming with a very broad array of programs to provide crisis counseling, not just to the victims, but also to make certain that we’re taking care of our employees.
Crisis counseling is so important to make certain that people understand that what they’re feeling is absolutely a valid feeling, that they are frustrated, they are tired, and to be able to deal with those emotions enables them to get up and really kind of start rebuilding their lives.
JEFFREY BROWN: And what about… you mentioned for the relief workers as well where they have to, as you said, stop and start and stop again.
How do you deal with the psychological impact of that?
MICHAEL BROWN: Well, I’m making certain that they understand that, you know, what they’re dealing with are people that are suffering, and that those individuals are looking to us to make certain that on behalf of the entire country we’re providing them everything we can to help them rebuild their lives.
And once you provide that motivation to the FEMA folks and they understand what their mission is and kind of get reinvigorated, they’re willing to go out and really suck it up and continue to work as hard as they can for these victims.
JEFFREY BROWN: I realize that we’re still in the midst of all this, but are you able now to look longer term given the spate of all this hurricane activity to see whether there’s any potential policy impacts in terms of development or future preparedness for hurricanes?
MICHAEL BROWN: Absolutely. In fact, we started that almost from the very beginning. FEMA has a very good internal process called RAMP, where we go through and look at all the remedial action items that we think need to be done.
And then through a very formalized process, we follow those action items to make certain that institutionally we make the change, that we follow the change, make sure whether it’s a policy change or a regulatory change, whatever it is that makes us respond better and recover better, that we institutionalize those within the government agency.
JEFFREY BROWN: Okay. Michael Brown, director of FEMA, thank you very much.
MICHAEL BROWN: Thank you. My pleasure.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, why all these hurricanes? Gerry Bell studies hurricane activity for NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Welcome to you.
So, is there a simple answer to the simple question why? Why is this happening?
GERRY BELL: Well, this has been a very active hurricane season. It’s been the most active since 1995. If we look at what’s happened since 1995, we’ve had eight out of the ten years have been above normal hurricane seasons.
So this increased activity that we’re seeing this year is really reflecting this overall increase in activity that we’ve seen since 1995.
JEFFREY BROWN: Okay. That begs the next question. Why the increase since 1995.
GERRY BELL: Well, hurricane activity is interesting in that it fluctuates on time scales of several decades. We know weather patterns vary from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year. Well, they also vary on time scales of decades.
Atlantic hurricane activity is one of those areas. And it turns out that since 1995, we have gone back into this active hurricane period. Now since these periods tend to last for 20, 25 years or so, it’s very likely that we will continue seeing this increased hurricane activity for perhaps another decade or more.
JEFFREY BROWN: Some people in thinking about what the factors are that go into creating one of these periods, people are asking about global climate change, other factors. What factors do you see?
GERRY BELL: Well, a lot of work has been done in the last decade or so trying to understand these climate fluctuations that occur on time scales of several decades.
And a lot of work done at NOAA in the last recent years has really shed quite a bit of light on that. It turns out that these what we call multi-decadal fluctuations in hurricane activity are really linked to fluctuations and tropical rainfall patterns over the Amazon Basin and over Western Africa.
JEFFREY BROWN: Amazon, Africa, Florida hurricanes. So this is in the… we’re all connected category.
GERRY BELL: Well it turns out that when you have major monsoon regions such as the Amazon Basin and Western Africa, those circulations extend well across the Atlantic and, in fact, control much of the weather that we see over the tropical Atlantic on the seasonal time scale.
Well, when these tropical rainfall patterns fluctuate, so does the hurricane activity. So, for instance, since 1995 we’ve had suppressed rainfall in the Amazon Basin and an overall enhanced monsoon over Western Africa.
This has produced wind and air pressure patterns over across the tropical Atlantic that have favored very active hurricane seasons.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. And then this begs the next question, which is do we know why these changes happen in Africa and in the Amazon?
GERRY BELL: No we don’t.
JEFFREY BROWN: That’s as far as we can go.
GERRY BELL: That’s as far as we can as far as the atmospheric data we have good atmospheric data back to about 1949. That only gets us a couple of cycles in the several-decade periods.
However, we have sea surface temperature data going way back into the 1800s where we see these same cycles, we see the oceanic counterpart of these cycles going way back in the 1800s so we actually have several cycles that gives us confidence to know that we’re in another one of them right now.
JEFFREY BROWN: When we talk about the cycles like the one we’re in now, are we talking both about the number of hurricanes and the intensity because that’s what we keep hearing about is these are major hurricanes, category 3 and 4.
GERRY BELL: We’re talking about numbers and intensity. Major… active hurricane seasons are unique in that they feature a lot of hurricanes forming in the tropical Atlantic. That’s the area from Africa Westward and includes the Caribbean Sea.
When we have a lot of hurricanes down there, that is what defines an active season. In an inactive season we will hardly have any activity down there. This year we have a lot of activity down there as we have since 1995.
JEFFREY BROWN: What about the growth of forecasting, your ability to know what’s coming because a lot of… we see all these evacuations of millions of people. And those are based on the forecasts. How is that developed?
GERRY BELL: Well, the forecasts have improved significantly as far as look at track forecasts of individual hurricanes. In fact, they’ve improved to the point where two years ago the hurricane center started putting out track forecasts out to five days instead of three days.
And that gives more lead time for coastal communities because with the increasing populations in these communities, they need an ever- increasingly large lead time in order to evacuate. Another area where there’s been a tremendous amount of research and gain involved is in the seasonal hurricane predictions. NOAA began its seasonal hurricane predictions in 1998.
That was at that… that was based on our improved understanding of how these climate fluctuations on time scales of decades are really controlling the wind and pressure patterns over the Atlantic so as to make either an active hurricane decade or an inactive hurricane decade.
JEFFREY BROWN: So it’s a dangerous period for hurricanes but it’s… it sounds like an exciting period for hurricane research.
GERRY BELL: That’s right; exciting period in terms of climate research throughout the globe. Our understanding of global climate patterns has just improved tremendously. And based on that understanding we’re now able to apply this information to making, for instance, seasonal hurricane forecasts, seasonal winter weather forecasts with much more confidence than we ever could have before.
JEFFREY BROWN: Dr. Gerry Bell, thank you for joining us.
GERRY BELL: Okay. Thank you.