With Florence bearing down on the Carolinas, I’m getting a eerie sense of deja vu. The warnings are similar to those we heard before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.
The “probable” forecast path for Florence as of 5 p.m. Wednesday showed the storm shifting farther toward the southern North Carolina coast and the northern half of the South Carolina coast, with the forecast cone stretching into Georgia, western North Carolina and Tennessee, according to the NHC.
Once it makes landfall, the current forecast path shows the storm making a turn even farther south toward southern South Carolina and Georgia around Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center was reporting waves within the storm are 83 feet high, and rainfall projections for coastal North Carolina are in the 20 to 40 inch range.
The first projections of tornadoes have also been released, with the National Hurricane Center reporting “a few tornadoes are possible in eastern North Carolina beginning late Thursday morning.”
It’s a sign of the times that politicians are sounding apocalyptic in their statements. No elected official wants to be accused later of downplaying the threat:
“If you are told to evacuate and do not do so, you need to realize you are putting your life in danger,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said in a statement on Wednesday. “This storm is not to be taken lightly. The entire states of North and South Carolina could be heavily impacted by this storm. People do not live to tell the tale of surviving storm surge. It’s the most deadly part of the hurricane that comes in and it causes the most destruction.”
“We cannot stress this enough, Florence poses a very serious threat to people who live far away from the coast,” said a National Weather Service tweet late Tuesday. “Heavy and long-lasting rainfall could lead to catastrophic flooding in inland parts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.’
“This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast,” the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina said Tuesday evening, according to The Weather Channel and ABC News.
“My message is clear: Disaster is at the doorstep and is coming in,” N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said during a Wednesday morning press conference. “This may be a marathon — not a sprint.”
How many people will ignore those dire warnings and stick around anyway? If the residents’ response to Katrina is any guide, thousands will refuse to evacuate, expecting some governmental entity to take care of them.
There are a variety of reasons people won’t evacuate. Some will be too sick. Some will be caregivers unable to leave. Some won’t believe the warnings. Some are afraid to stay in the shelters. And some simply won’t care.
Recall that in New Orleans, the mayor and governor expected about 5,000 people to stay behind and be housed in the Superdome and convention center. More than 20,000 eventually stayed in those two venues, leading to charges that the federal government didn’t plan well enough for what was clearly a local problem that desperately needed a local solution. The panicked mayor and governor ended up making fantastical claims about the number of dead, the number of rapes, and babies being murdered and eaten — and the national media broadcast this nonsense as if it were fact.
But the problems with Katrina non-evacuees are likely to be repeated wherever the hurricane strikes because, at bottom, people will refuse to take care of themselves. The mayor of New Orleans requested that people going to the Superdome bring their own food and water. Virtually no one did.
Aid will be late arriving not because it isn’t prepositioned properly, but because when hurricane winds blow, trees and powerlines fall and block the roads. Rising water washes out bridges. The supplies must be placed outside the danger zone or those thousands of trucks full of relief supplies that are lining up on major roads to respond as I write this would be inundated as well.
Of course, none of this matters. Trump opponents are ready to pounce on whatever response there is to Florence. They no doubt already have the op-eds written, the speeches are being polished, and lines of attack are being coordinated. All that remains for the attacks to begin is for spaces detailing what went wrong to be filled in.
Politicizing tragedy — school shootings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters — is the most nauseating development in American political history. Using the dead to score political points is about as bad as it will ever get in America. It’s hard to imagine it getting worse.
I’m sure it will.