We're still in the process of counting clan and seeing who needs what, but we fared better than the Gulf coast residents who faced Katrina, for which we are grateful. Unfortunately, many people did not evacuate, and damages and casualties are still being assessed, so that may change. Here's what we know this morning:
3.2 million people in Florida do not have power. This includes 90% of Dade County residents (approximately 1 million people.) FP&L is predicting it will take a minimum of four weeks to restore service to the affected areas.
Our friends are describing the damage as "unbelievably bad." Most of the pictures the media are showing are of high-rise buildings in the Fort Lauderdale downtown area and the Brickell Avenue financial district. What you're not seeing are the low-lying areas and neighborhoods, where up to 100% of the homes lost roofs, were damaged by falling trees, or are swamped by two to three feet of standing flood water.
Some big grocery stores are open and running on generators, but most are closed/damaged. Convenience stores and little neighborhood food stops are popular, but friends tell us several are price gouging. Canned and nonperishable food is flying off the shelves wherever it's sold. Ice and water are the top two requested items. Home improvement stores that can open are, but most are out of plywood, tarps, and generators.
Immediate need: Hundreds of thousands of elderly, fixed-income folks live in South Florida condominiums, apartments, and assisted living communities, and have no transportation other than city or community buses and jitneys. Many just aren't physically able to stand for hours in line for ice and food. They will also need comprehensive help with repairs, cleanup and simple but vital things like having their medications refilled.
There are also the language barriers. 45% of South Floridians -- the majority Hispanics and Haitians -- speak a language other than English at home. It's estimated that only 10% of those residents understand English well enough to communicate. Multi-lingual sources of information are absolutely essential. FEMA and Red Cross workers, here's a tip from a lifelong resident: if you can't make yourself understood, find a Hispanic kid to be your interpreter. Unless they're newly-arrived, they're bilingual and often trilingual.
Despite Governor Bush's assurances that Florida has a ten day surplus supply of fuel, pump shortages in South Florida are already widespread and people are getting ugly about what's available. If you go to help, make sure you fill up your tank before you cross the Palm Beach county line.
So many areas are inaccessible due to downed power lines and trees that if you are heading down it's best to confirm a drivable route in before you go. Also, for those hitting the road to bring supplies or pick up people, Dade county is under an 8pm to 6am curfew until further notice, and the police are making a point of stopping people with out-of-town plates to prevent looting.
**Update** On the hurricane relief links: Because the American Red Cross has not properly handled the funds they were given for the victims of Katrina, I no longer recommend making donations to that organization. I will post links to any worthy effort I hear of, but in the meantime, check out the Sun-Sentinel's How to Help page.