Housing, food, electricity still in short supply for many after Hurricane Ian

More than a week after Hurricane Ian's landfall, search efforts for the missing or dead are still ongoing in some of the hardest hit communities in southwestern Florida. Chessa Latifi is a senior program advisor with Project Hope, a nonprofit that provides relief during disasters and health crises. She joined William Brangham to discuss the recovery.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    More than a week after Hurricane Ian blasted through Florida, there are still many questions surrounding recovery, relief and rebuilding.

    William Brangham continues our coverage.

  • William Brangham:

    Amna, search efforts for the missing or dead are still ongoing in some of the hardest-hit communities in Southwestern Florida.

    Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno made that clear this afternoon.

  • Carmine Marceno, Lee County, Florida, Sheriff:

    This search could go on for a month. It could go on for a length of time. When there's no one there, the searches are happening. We checked over 3,500 twice, OK? We're wrapping up very, very soon.

    And I realized their frustration, OK? As soon as possible, I want to be back to the new norm. And I want that information out there. We got to get — we got to get through this as soon as possible, working around the clock.

  • William Brangham:

    And whilst the situation has improved, for many housing, food, and electricity are still in short supply.

    Chessa Latifi is a senior program adviser with Project HOPE, which is an international nonprofit that provides relief during disasters and health crises.

    Chessa, thank you so much for joining us. I see you're obviously on the road there in the backseat of a car. Can you just give us a sense of how things are in the places that you're working right now?

  • Chessa Latifi, Project HOPE:

    Yes, absolutely. Thanks for having us.

    We have been seeing so much. The areas that we have really been working in are, the more marginalized communities that were really lacking resources even prior to Hurricane Ian and are currently still lacking resources, these areas still do not have water. They still do not have electricity. These homes that were destroyed are — the way that I keep saying this is, it's the three little pigs metaphor.

    Your house was made of brick, your house was fine. But if it was made of straw and stick, it's gone. And so these are the people that we're seeing that need the most support, the ones that didn't have much to begin with.

  • William Brangham:

    And can you tell us a little bit about some of those people? I know you're interacting with them one on one. What are you hearing? What are their situations like?

  • Chessa Latifi:

    I met a gentleman named James yesterday who's — his home was — it was — when I say it was completely demolished, there was nothing there that was left.

    I spoke to him and his brother pretty extensively. And the hurricane had ripped the roof off and then tore the walls apart on his home. The first thing he said to is that "I can't find my false teeth," right?

    And so just basic dignity, he didn't have anymore. And then, worse, he didn't have his glucometer, he didn't have his insulin, and he'd been without that since the hurricane hit a week ago.

    We were able to provide him with basic hygiene items and point him in the direction of the mobile clinic that we're supporting down the street, as well as a glucometer and strips to be able to test his insulin. But he needs a lot more than just that.

  • William Brangham:

    And for people like that, is it that there aren't shelters or clinics that are available for them to go to or they're choosing not to go? What's the hangup there?

  • Chessa Latifi:

    They can't access them. They just can't access them.

    When their homes are destroyed, their cars were destroyed, if they had a car. And they're a little bit in a more remote area of where the hurricane has hit. And so just the accessibility to either the major shelters or distribution points or clinics or — it's just not there.

    And so they're just — they keep telling us, we're just waiting for help. We're waiting for help.

  • William Brangham:

    And is it your sense that that help is there? I mean, we hear these reports from the local county officials, from the governor, from mayors, from FEMA.

    Is that your sense that authorities are doing everything they can to help these people?

  • Chessa Latifi:

    I do think that they're doing everything that they can. And there is so much centralized support, right? If you're able to access those resources, they do exist.

    But outside of those central resources, it's just not there.

  • William Brangham:

    And so what are — going forward, you mentioned this one man's sort of striking example. What are the more pressing needs for the broader population that you're working with?

  • Chessa Latifi:

    Health care is going to be really, really important, right?

    You see a high level of noncommunicable disease, so diabetes and hypertension. And so I think a lot of people think about the acute needs that may be injury or trauma and an event like this, but it's going to be these long-term needs. And I can't tell you how many people we have spoken to today and yesterday that still don't have their insulin and haven't had that for days, which is just a very, very dangerous situation.

    Basic hygiene items, water, right? The water supply has been disrupted. You cannot drink the drinking water, if you even have access to the drinking water. A lot of the communities that we are in have well water. And so it undrinkable. And so these are — that is — also has the potential to spread disease.

    One of the areas that we're working in right now, there are families that are sleeping in their homes without roofs, right. And so the children are covered in just mosquito bites everywhere. It's supposed to rain this weekend. There's a lot of despair out here.

  • William Brangham:

    I know, from your background, that you have traveled all over the world and responded to crises in a lot of different countries under a lot of different awful circumstances.

    How does this stack up in comparison?

  • Chessa Latifi:

    The — how this is different is the level of poverty and how isolated these people are.

    I have never seen anything like this. I have — I have worked all over the world. And they're just so isolated. And the storm has managed to isolate them even more. And there's so much help going out to so many communities, but these marginalized communities are not seeing much of it, if any at all.

    There's so many times that we have come to communities with basic hygiene items, and they will say, you're the first ones. You're the first ones that have been here, which is amazing, considering how many people have descended onto Florida to help.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, that is Chessa Latifi of Project HOPE.

    Thank you so much for your time.

  • Chessa Latifi:

    Thanks for having me.

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