The Days After
The first few days following a major hurricane can be described in any number of ways, likely depending on how much the devastation has affected a person individually. Shock and sadness are a given as the loss sets in that our once daily lives in paradise are changed forever, perhaps, irreparably. It is easy to feel overwhelmed at the amount of clean up and repair in the days ahead, not even knowing where to start. And when our mind stops whirling like a cyclone from all that must be done, either common sense or survivalist tendencies kick in. It is this behavior that can either help, or make things worse.
There are two main things that those in the path of a hurricane, or the devastation of a hurricane, will need, gasoline and bottled water. The demand for both is an immediate switch that gets flipped, with the first words uttered by a weather forecaster, before suppliers have a chance to prepare. Artificial shortages are created, leading to panic of the possibility of not having what is needed. Someone with a calm demeanor can rationalize, that if we just purchase our goods at our normal rate, we should be able to get by until increased supplies arrive. Instead, supplies are empty of both within hours, and from there, supplies of both are not able to be kept up with. As the storm passes, all anyone knows is that there is no gas and no water. Lines form for hours at any gas station able to operate, and grocery stores, ration out water supplies as they become available. Then come the days after.
There are several behaviors that come forward in a time like this. First and most obvious, the curiosity of the devastation. As soon as you step outside of where you rode the storm out, you can see the immediate impact. But without power, cable, and wifi, we want to know just how bad it really got. This actually ends up being a bad decision for several reasons. One, with downed lines and trees, these dangers, especially if submerged in water, can be deadly. Second, “looky-loos” as they are called, often get in the way of rescue efforts, in worst cases, needing being rescued themselves. And of course, there is the unnecessary waste of gas just “riding around.”
Which of course, leads to the next issue, finding gas, or even an operating gas station. Relying on the “gas buddy” app could be misleading with people putting in false information. But the first thing you had to do was to find if a station was working, which if you saw a nearby traffic signal working, was an encouraging sign. Likewise, there would be a lengthy line of cars, many there for seven to ten hours, having hopes of being lucky to buy gas. It is inevitable that throughout this process, there would be at least one jackass somewhere, cutting into the line, causing authorities to respond as tempers flare.
Grocery stores, would open as soon as they could, if able to, usually with the help of a generator. But as good as sign as this was, anything in the store that was refrigerated would be tossed and unsellable. You would be able to buy bottled water as long as supplies lasted. I can tell you that as of today, four days after Ian, all shelves locally are still completely empty of fruit, vegetable, and dairy products. But as supplies come in, they will be gobbled up and hoarded by those afraid it may be too long before they get a chance to buy more. So this supply will remain near zero.
Traffic is a major safety concern, as many intersections no longer having operating traffic signals, with a six lane road intersection. It is a “courtesy” situation, everyone is expected to stop at each light that is not working. Six lanes of north and south traffic intersecting with six lanes of east and west traffic, all trusting each other to be courteous and take turns, until someone just says “fuck it” and ignores the unwritten respect. Then it becomes a free-for-all and then humans are placed in the intersection to direct traffic. This is another reason authorities do not want unnecessary vehicles on the road. But you know society, “I have a right to be on the road.”
There are several local businesses who may have been able to survive with little damage, enough to still be able to be open. Many will work to serve food to first responders and emergency workers. Others will try to prepare foods for locals, unable to cook or even have a place to stay. Unfortunately, there will be those who look at the open sanctuaries as an opportunity for “life as usual – ‘I’m out for a nice dinner” and end up being demeaning and disrespectful because the restaurant may not be able to offer a full meal, service may be slow, because workers still have their own mess to deal with damage wise back at home.
Finally, this is a heavy tourist area. And once the fall rolls around, along with hurricanes, so come all the vacationers, snowbirds, and seasonal homeowners. Things are bad enough for us as locals with the devastation and shortages, but curious or entitled travelers will soon arrive, compounding our problem. On social media pages, you can already see locals emploring everyone to stay away, at least for the the time being. If you need to come down, to check out property, and it must be done personally, fine. Plus, with groceries already at a minimum, gas in short supply, we do not need the thousands and thousands of visitors right at this moment compounding our needs. But the reality is most will come down to pick up their seasonal traditions of eating at coastline restaurants, boating excursions, and many more activities that make this such a great place to live.
But as I experienced with Irma five years ago, and the great everglade brush fire two years later, those here for recreation are not shy expressing their displeasure with having their fun times interrupted by inconvenience, expecting everything to be normal before they arrive. But the truth is, it will be a long time before anything is considered normal. And if that is how they want to spend this season, and they know this upfront, then fine. They have no right to complain how slow recovery is going, or how short supply things are, especially if they are adding to the problem.
Like I said, you can either stay out of the way, help, or add to the dilemma. It does not take long to see who is who.
Very good analysis of what happens, Paul.