Jamaicans in Florida safe as ruthless Ian leaves untold damage
In this image from video, rescuers evacuate residents of North Port, Florida, on Friday, September 30, 2022. (Photo: AP)

FLORIDA, home to tens of thousands of Jamaicans, was last week hit by what President Joe Biden called one of the worst storms to affect America when Hurricane Ian landed in Fort Myers, in the so-called Sunshine State, as a powerful Category 4 storm.

It left a path of death and destruction before moving to North Carolina where it did further damage.

The death toll up to Saturday morning was estimated at 30, with officials expecting this number to rise when the flood waters recede and proper assessments are carried out, but so far no Jamaican has been identified among the dead or seriously injured.

"From reports received and assessments carried out so far, Jamaicans seem to have fared well," Jamaica's Consul General to the Southern United States Oliver Mair told the Jamaica Observer Saturday morning. He said one report was received when a tree damaged the roof of a Jamaican woman in Palm Beach, while a 95-year-old woman in Port Charlotte, on whose behalf a call was received from Jamaica to express concern about her welfare, was given assistance by neighbours.

He said, however, that while the reports are good so far, checks will continue to be made to ensure that all Jamaicans are properly accounted for.

Nora Blake, who had made the call to the consul general on behalf of a friend for her 95-year-old aunt, told the Sunday Observer that she was happy Mair was able to make contact and get someone to evacuate and take care of her.

For attorney Michelle Fanger, a Jamaican lawyer who resides in Jacksonville, Florida, all went well in her community apart from a tree that fell on a neighbour's house and another on a car. There were mostly broken tree branches around but things, she said, were "back to normal" Saturday.

But Fanger was concerned about one of her clients in North Port who experienced flooding and a damaged roof and has not been able to return to work since the passage of the hurricane.

Clinton Thomas of Deltona, a community near Daytona Beach, said 90 per cent of Jamaicans were fine but cannot leave their homes as water on the road was knee-high up to Saturday, and most people were without electricity. Luckily, a number own generators. But despite not being affected like most, Thomas said: "it is bad".

He sent the Sunday Observer a photo of a house in a lower section of Deltona with water up to window height, and another of a car sitting in a ditch because of what he said was the earth giving way.

Dawn Bloomfield, president of the Caribbean American Cultural Group Inc, located in Port Saint Lucie, said Jamaicans in that area are very grateful to be have been spared the wrath of Hurricane Ian.

"I know it is a difficult couple of days for our neighbouring communities in the path of Hurricane Ian, and our hearts are with those who are affected by the storm's devastating impact," Bloomfield told the Sunday Observer.

Most of the Jamaican population in Florida reside in Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, and according to Mair, checks were made about the safety of Jamaicans before Ian made landfall in Florida.

An Associated Press (AP) report Saturday said Hurricane Ian has likely caused "well over US$100 billion'' in damage, including US$63 billion in privately insured losses, according to the disaster modeling firm Karen Clark & Co which regularly issues flash catastrophe estimates. If those numbers are borne out, that would make Ian at least the fourth-costliest hurricane in US history.

Another AP report said Hurricane Ian underscored the vulnerability of the nation's barrier islands and the increasing costs of people living on the thin strips of land that parallel the coast. As hurricanes become more destructive, experts question whether such exposed communities can keep rebuilding in the face of climate change.

"This is a Hurricane Katrina-scale event where you're having to rebuild everything, including the infrastructure," said Jesse M Keenan, a real estate professor at Tulane University's School of Architecture. "We can't build back everything to what it was — we can't afford that."

Ian slammed into south-west Florida as a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday with among the highest windspeeds in US history — in nearly the same spot where Hurricane Charley, also a Category 4, caused major damage in 2004.

The latest storm has initiated a new cycle of damage and repair on Sanibel that's played out on many other barrier islands, from the New Jersey shore and North Carolina's outer banks to a ribbon of land along the Louisiana coast, said the report.

Barrier islands were never an ideal place for development, experts say. They typically form as waves deposit sediment off the mainland, and they move based on weather patterns and other ocean forces. Some even disappear.

Building on the islands and holding them in place with beach replenishment programmes just makes them more vulnerable to destruction because they can no longer move, according to experts.

"They move at the whims of the storms," said Anna Linhoss, a professor of biosystems engineering at Auburn University. "And if you build on them, you're just waiting for a storm to take them away."

After devastating parts Florida, Ian made landfall again in South Carolina where Pawleys Island was among the hardest hit places. Friday's winds and rains broke apart the barrier island's main pier, one of several in the state to crumble and wash away, AP reported.

In this image made from video, Aimee Bowden, 42 — who was evacuated from the flooded town of North Port, Florida, on Friday, September 30, 2022, along with her husband and 13-year-old son. (Photo: AP)
Elvis Padron, 40, and Mia Padron, eight, were evacuated from the flooded town of North Port, Florida, on Friday, September 30, 2022. (Photo: AP)
A car is submerged in flood waters in North Port, Florida, on Friday, September 30, 2022. (Photo: AP)
MAIR... from reports so far, and assessments, Jamaicans seem to have fared well.
Pete Sankey

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