15.8 C
New York
Sunday, September 25, 2022

Buy now

spot_img

Central Florida is preparing to house those fleeing Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
WhatsApp

By the time you read this, the first real pictures will be coming into focus. But we know, already, the words we will be using to describe Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona: Devastation. Destruction. Despair.

Displacement..

That puts a heavy burden on local officials, to prepare for a flood of people who may arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. And we see our leaders, community organizations and faith groups working hard, determined to meet that challenge.

Even before storm winds subsided, it seemed likely that Fiona could rival — or potentially exceed — the wreckage left by Hurricane Maria. That’s because the 2017 storm — which made landfall five years ago today — did so much damage that much of it is not repaired even today. That’s particularly true of Puerto Rico’s fragile power grid, which was being rebuilt with resiliency in mind but still considered quite vulnerable. Fiona wiped out power to the entire island, but by mid-Monday afternoon crews had already restored power to 100,000 customers.

Puerto Rico was also midway through big public-works projects meant to protect against the impact of massive rainfall and flooding. Within hours of Fiona’s official landfall, there were already reports of massive mudslides and areas that had been inundated by rainfall estimated at more than 20 inches.

If things play out the way officials expect, large portions of both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic may be uninhabitable at this point. That means hundreds of thousands may need to find someplace else to live, at least for awhile.

For many of them, Central Florida will be that place. And local leaders are already hard at work making sure that when storm refugees arrive, they will be greeted with all the warmth, kindness and generosity this community can muster.

That’s the correct attitude. Puerto Ricans — as many mainlanders tend to forget — are full citizens of the United States and deserve the humanitarian response and protection that is theirs by right. Dominicans are among our closest neighbors and also merit our support — along with the presumption that people who relocate here are doing so because their need is too great to allow them to remain.

Because, as we saw in the aftermath of Maria, many chose not to abandon their homes even though any structure resembling the word “home” had been swept away. They camped out in hastily erected shelters, even tattered tents for months on end, endless nights lit by battery-powered lanterns and meals cooked on portable grills.

Others, however, felt they had no choice. A U.S. Census reckoning of the diaspora completed in late 2018 estimates that about 4% of Puerto Rico’s population relocated. More than half of them chose Florida as their destination. And nearly half of those who chose Florida ended up in what the Census describes as the Orlando/Sanford/Kissimmee area. Local school rolls swelled by thousands of students. Social services were stretched to the limit.

In the long run, however, we also learned that Central Florida benefited from the influx of resilience and grit that has allowed Puerto Rico to survive and often thrive. Even those who intended to eventually return embraced life in Central Florida with gusto and determination. They filled the pews of churches as well as the coffers of tax collectors. Many started businesses, and some even ran for office. We are a stronger, better and happier place because of their presence.

Political Pulse

Weekly

Get latest updates political news from Central Florida and across the state.

In a series of meetings, conference calls and other planning sessions that started over the weekend, a broad cross-section of local leaders brought every scrap of information they could muster to the table. They know their task will be exacerbated by the area’s already crushing lack of affordable housing. Now is the time to consider getting creative, repurposing some of the millions of acres of square footage in office and retail space that lost tenants due to COVID. A sense of urgency that accelerates those conversions could benefit Central Florida in the long run.

Local government, community and faith leaders also know the success of their efforts rests largely on the open hearts and giving spirits of Central Floridians in all walks of life. Secure donation portals are being established (in the meantime, beware scammers) and appeals for cash donations and volunteers will soon go out. Some of us can’t afford to do much. But every donation, every act of personal kindness, every expression of kindness and solidarity will mean so much to people who have lost everything.

And it should be with a spirit of solidarity that we all offer to do what we can. Because Florida is more vulnerable to a big storm now than it has ever been before. There are more people crowded along increasingly fragile coastlines. More people skimping on property insurance because rates are rising so fast.

Next time, it could be us. And when it is our turn, it could be bad.

So say a prayer of thanks that this time, Central Florida escaped a hit. And let our welcome for our displaced neighbors — many of them fellow Americans — flow from these words: Comfort. Compassion. Caring.

They will repay our welcome, many times over.

The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Krys Fluker, Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. Contact us at [email protected]

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
WhatsApp

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

0FansLike
3,498FollowersFollow
0SubscribersSubscribe
- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles