By Michelle Allen
St. Petersburg, FL— After work on Wednesday, September 6th, I found myself trying to keep my cat from escaping his makeshift cardboard carrier. Fastened together with duct tape, it was highly inadequate for containing a bundle of distressed claws, whiskers and meows — but I had to use it.
Why? Because as it turns out, I’m not the only cat owner that realizes only when disaster strikes that they should have invested in a carrier — for the rare situation that they would need to transport their cats across the state to find shelter. I learned that I wasn’t alone when encountering a cat carrier depleted Petco in a frenzy after hearing that my town in Florida was in the path for one of the strongest hurricanes to date: Irma.
In the end, I got lucky. Many of us got lucky, actually and avoided the worst of the storm. Most of us in St. Petersburg decided to evacuate our homes in search of safety and refuge from the landfall of the longest sustained winds (185 mph) for a record-breaking 37 hours. We left early enough to miss the traffic and gas shortages that hindered others from leaving. My parents graciously took us in at their home just north of Atlanta, Georgia, and we settled down into the strange world of waiting to see if the life, home, and community we’ve spent years building was completely and arbitrarily destroyed by a natural disaster. It was a feeling of helplessness, anxiety and frustration that I never felt before, and never hope to again.
As we waited, glued to the television, living off of the hourly updates, I thought about the broader implications of this series of storms. As an Organizer for Food & Water Watch, I spend my time thinking about climate change, but this was the first time I felt its effects firsthand. We know hurricanes will continue to get stronger as more fossil fuels are pumped and mined out of the ground and subsequently burned. We’ve already known climate change was deadly, but now it’s really starting to hit close to home. I hope these disasters will show our legislators that we need to act swiftly to curb the worst impacts of our warming world. We need to get off fossil fuels entirely, and we can’t wait another second to do it.
“We’ve already known climate change was deadly, but now it’s really starting to hit close to home.”
When we returned post-storm, we didn’t know what to expect. In retrospect, we faced minimal damage. But when I saw my broken front door awning and the blown off remnants of the roof of my office, I felt a bubble of resentment boil up inside of me. How can our elected officials, the people who have taken an oath to preserve, protect and defend the constituents of America, continue to so blatantly ignore the biggest threat to humanity?
In the end, parts of the Florida Keys were completely destroyed, Miami-Dade sustained major flooding, and Collier and Lee counties in the southwestern region of the state are still reeling from wind and flood damage. In our efforts to ban fracking in Florida, I work closely with people in each of these regions of the state. My friends and colleagues who have spent the past few years dedicating their hearts and souls to fighting to protect Florida’s water are now facing water-caused damage to their homes and communities. The irony is not lost on us.
The conditions in some of the hardest hit areas are horrendous. Residents in Collier County have dealt with not only flooding and weeks without power but also the revolting, inhumane experience of sewage seeping into the streets and throughout their communities. Electric water pumps stopped working while the power was out, leaving residents in a dire public health situation.
After a hurricane, we expect there to be some disruption in the bustling tourism scene we rely on economically, but we can bounce back from that. Families who lost their loved ones will never be able to bounce back back from that heartbreak. Irma’s death toll has so far reached at least 50 people in Florida. It will take months in some cities to make a full recovery from the hurricane. Those who lost family members will never fully recover.
“Those who lost family members from Irma will never fully recover.”
We teamed up with the Everyday Hero Project and OperationFloat last weekend to deliver supplies to donation centers in Naples, Everglades City, and Miami. We delivered hundreds of bags of much needed equipment like water, food, baby supplies, bedding, and clothing to help Hurricane Irma victims recover. While delivering supplies in Everglades City, I witnessed the worst of the destruction.
The entire contents of people’s destroyed homes were just piled up along the curb, waiting to be picked up and carried away. Everything from refrigerators to couches to children’s bikes, and all of the things that used to make up bedrooms and childhood memories, sat sopping wet, ruined from the flooding and strong winds. It was like driving around in another country, some place far less fortunate than us, but it was only a couple hours south of where I live in a U.S. vacation destination.
As we opened up the bags of clothes we brought to donate in Everglades City and sorted them in various boxes, people came to accept the things that would help them recuperate from losing everything. I wish there was more I could do to help. I’ll plan to continue to fight as hard as I can to force our legislators to honor the destruction we saw from Irma and the future destruction we’ll surely face in the coming months and years from climate change: by banning fracking. The only thing that we can do now is to make urgent, bold and aggressive moves to get off fossil fuels and focus on rebuilding our nation with 100% clean, renewable energy. That is where the recovery from this disaster ultimately lies.