Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thinking About Clean Up

I have been watching the recovery of Key West from Irma with some interest. Federal money has been made available and Governor Rick Scott, a man with ambitions in the Senate after he is termed out of the Governor's office, has responded to this weather crisis with alacrity and surefootedness. He reminds me of Jeb Bush after Wilma and I don't mean that in a  bad way.
For working people this disruption means loss of wages, loss of possessions including cars which are generally rated the second most expensive object most people will buy in their lives. So they come together on social media and they sloganeer. Strength is the theme and I find it rather unfortunate that strength is not a facet of unity in this period of reconstruction.


City leaders have not been on the streets of the city they represent. They all with the exception of Mayor Cates and the city manager who bunkered down in the new hurricane proof city hall, the rest seem to have fled the city they swore to serve. I have not seen one bigwig come by the police station to thank those of us who did stay, indeed who overrode the city manager who lost his nerve the Saturday before the storm and wanted the fire and police departments to evacuate on military aircraft. An offer the employees rejected and whose mutiny showed up Monroe County for the flabby failures they proved to be. People asked me why I stayed and the answer was because I signed up to volunteer for a major hurricane and I kept my word. If you look at the hurricane devastation in the Caribbean prior to Irma's arrival in the Keys only a handful of people died. We weren't going to be killed we were just going to be made uncomfortable. And so it was. 
The Monroe County lack of leadership and preparation left most of the islands without police protection and their stupidity telling the world and not putting a roadblock at Florida City created appalling vandalism and looting scenarios that have not happened previously and I hope will never happen again. We certainly need a new Sheriff, not  man who plays Sheriff for the TV cameras. By contrast I was very proud of Chief Donie Lee who was steadfast in the crisis, kept us  together and worked the plan and had officers on the streets right before and immediately after the storm. WE were all well looked after and treated with dignity and patience during the most fearsome moments of the storm. The Chief made it easy to volunteer to stay.
And in the week after the storm cleared I had time to reflect on the glaring absence of the organs of leadership in Key West. The newspaper played no leading role in any part of the storm.  Making it's news available for free might have helped as a gesture especially as people like me with a paper subscription don't get access to the digital paper even when I haven't seen a  paper in my driveway for two weeks... Plus the Citizen needs to wake up to the fact that digital news breaks more than once a day especially in an event like Wilma. The newspaper was blown into insignificance by people talking to each other on Facebook. Anyone who thinks Facebook is irrelevant needs to be stuck in the dark without cell phone or water for four days to meditate on the ability to simply reach out by phone with friends and family. I'll never criticize Facebook or the people who use it again. The newspaper? I'm thinking of abandoning my subscription as they clearly don't get the modern world.  
Then there are the people who have made fortunes milking the cow that is tourist Key West. The people who sell the working people the "Key West Strong" people down the river every opportunity they get. Nowhere in this city was a developer to be seen offering shelter or food or even something as simple as a free concert with hamburgers to raise morale after the event. You'd think in a  town where a beer and a bit of music constitute a happening some of the multi millionaire bar owners could have brought some unity and fun to a street corner on Duval. Not a bit of it. I'm sure they'll tout the Key West Strong thing when there are cameras to watch and tourists to applaud but right now in a dark smelly town with groups of locals sweating bricks to clean up there's not one piece of relaxation away from the crisis. Not one, not for a moment. Gee.

As for the millionaire class who will no doubt be petitioning FEMA for every dollar they can scrounge all I can imagine is that they see huge opportunities for change in this fearful landscape of ravaging winds and upturned trailers. I have no doubt Irma will help pave the way to remove cheap housing on Stock Island and replace it with vacation homes for the wealthy and large hurricane proof resorts like the beachside. These are the people nowhere to be seen with money, encouragement or sweat equity on the streets of the city that made them rich. Key West Strong indeed. Ky West exploited continues into a whole new chapter.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Non-Survivable Event

Donie Lee, Chief of Police of the City of Key West burst into the communications center and asked tersely:
"Is everyone awake?" Without waiting for a reply from Nick or myself, night dispatchers on duty and hopefully awake, he  moved on out and went office to office to awaken the sleeping cops. This was it. This was what the Weather Channel called a "non-survivable event." We were face to face with it.
Me at the back. Kristi Nick and Keith, left to right, the only Irma dispatchers in all Monroe County.
Well, if Nick and I weren't awake we sure were now, no doubt. Kristi and Keith, our daytime relief appeared in pajamas rubbing their eyes, their hair adrift in imitation of the Road Runner's crest, and asked what was up. "Damned if I know. Adam One just told everyone to wake up." Adam in police radio talk means 'Administrator' in our agency, and you can't get a higher rank than ONe. Officer Wiseman our newest recruit is Paul 97, the newest patrolman in the agency. He wasn't one of the 18 officers who volunteered to stay behind and face off against Irma, then rated Category Five, the highest category of hurricane just as Adam One is our police top dog.
Adam One at work in the Emergency Operations Center at the police station

Adam One got all 18 officers, k9 Benji, four dispatchers and our Public Information Officer Alyson Crean in the room and announced the eye of the storm was about to reach land and he wasn't sure the building would hold. We were to prepare to evacuate the police station.
Key West PD communications center during a lull. Adam One center conferring with Keith and Kristi

Golly we said to each other, as we civilians tried to figure out what to pack for immediate flight to "safety." For the officers it was easy as they stuffed backpacks, put on helmets and stood around Like Donie's Praetorian Guard while us lot looked despairingly at our already minuscule pile of personal belongings and wondered what we were supposed to pare down to.

The call out board with frequently needed phone numbers posted non electronically

Everything about Hurricane Irma has been a learning curve and I have suffered through a dozen storms in my 13 years as a Key West dispatcher. Wilma was ghastly not least because communications never really broke down and I took 911 calls during the storm from people facing being drowned in their own homes and I had followed Katrina's New Orleans ravages a few weeks prior. One woman on Catherine Street called to say she was in her bath tub and could see stars  as her home disintegrated around her. Those are the moments that try the soul of a 911 call taker.

Briefing room with Adam One's pledge to the community we protect in large letters on the wall

Irma was different. As though coordinated, all civilized functions ceased even before the main body of the storm came ashore. We lost Internet phone and electrical service all at once and the water stopped flowing shortly thereafter. The only service we could provide was to receive 911 calls from any landline telephone in the county. Even the police radio system collapsed. When all forms of communication vanish the telecommunicator's job becomes something less than useful. We sorted out the handheld radios. assembled pen and paper and returned to dispatching 1970s  style, hoping phone service might return.
Officer Chaustit, a chef in a former life, kept us fed, though not everyone loved his native scrapple

My first 911 call was from a guy on Industrial Road in Big Pine Key, 30 miles away and far out of our four mile jurisdiction. He was reporting a fire in a trailer and propane tanks exploding. Sorry about that, I said.Aren't you sending someone? No I said. No one to send even if the winds hadn't been so powerful. Monroe County Sheriff's department had fled leaving behind just six deputies to patrol a county 120 miles long and half a mile wide. The jail was empty, their communications center had shut down Saturday morning before the storm, leaving us in Key West as the sole dispatchers for communities we couldn't spell never mind find on the map (had we had one). The county fire department high tailed with the deputies and then they had the kindness to let every crook in Miami know there was no police service in the Keys and no check point to keep them out.We were shocked when we heard that Saturday afternoon before communications collapsed. We're here we said, indignant that we 23 were forgotten.

Police dogs are literate and quite well educated it turns out

So there we were, having told a fearful Key West city manager who ordered us to evacuate we were staying alongside our friends the firefighters and paramedics to protect our town and help clean up afterwards. Right now "afterwards" seemed a tenuous concept as we listened to the winds howl and bang against our building which stood an excellent chance of imploding. We'd seen what had happened in the Caribbean a few days earlier...
Key West Fire Department integrated the ambulances into its service last year

We sat and listened as the sun came up, or at least as pitch black night became gray and wet and fuzzy we sat some more as the wind continued to knock and bang with increasing ferocity as the wind reached fever pitch. Now or never I thought as the palms outside the 155 mph reinforced (God, I hope so!) windowpanes shook like demented pogo sticks. In the parking lot lumps of tree appeared out of the gloom and shot across the asphalt at 130 miles per hour, something none of us had ever seen before. Nick said he saw a palm frond levitate by magic and suddenly fly off horizontally like a feathery cannonball. This is Hogwarts! The air outside the station was gray like a thick fog, the water droplets blown into mist, such that we couldn't see fifty feet outside the windows. It was like being in a spaceship hurtling through some fragmented asteroid belt. We collectively held our breaths and waited and waited for the windowpanes to crack or the roof to come off.
 Peak winds and heavy rain of the non-survivable event

Screw this I said to myself, I'm knackered. I dug the t-shirt and shorts I used as sleeping gear out of Officer Sealey's bug-out pack unravelling ammunition and energy bars from my clothes and slipped out of communications to my cot in the prisoner interview room. The generator hadn't missed a beat so the air was cool and my little monastic cell was windowless and thus dark and no one was cracking stupid jokes outside my door as they were glued to the windows watching the wind.
 Interview Room #3 All the comforts of home including a plug to charge my phone

I was so tired I feel asleep instantly. When I awoke around lunchtime winds were a modest Category Two, the roof was still on and everyone was outside photographing the trees in winds that normally would have freaked them out. I shuffled off to look for lunch. Surviving the non-survivable gives a man an appetite.
That's what my Vespa and I, at home on Cudjoe Key think of The Weather Channel's alarm mongering

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Key West Streets - Irma

This  the 600 block of William Street. This looks bad...
 This is where the damage happened and the house is the worst damaged in Key West. Talk about scapegoat poor buggers:

 There's tons of debris still in the streets:
 Which deosn't stop people driving like there's no trash in the streets at all.
 Smurf Village seems to have done amazingly well. I'd never have given those homes a chance in a Category Four.
 Trees and fences everywhere. Homes mostly okay.
 



They say tourists will be allowed back October 20th. Or first or something.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Downtown After

Simonton Beach, a sailboat dragged up and part of another. In the background you can see boats on the beach at Sunset Key. Piss off the rich people with any luck.
The parking lot is a trash dump. Too much garbage too little time...
 Check it out:
 A food delivery. Nothing is open yet. Nothing.
 It's in the water too.
 Airing out Alonzo's which lost its A in the sign above.
 The marinas around Key West are looking pretty good on the whole, the boats that stayed seemed to have mostly done okay.
 The Galleon is still there:


 The bg tourist bars are buttoned up tight. No food or drink for locals, no jobs no nothing and these places make a fortune milking Key West:


 The tree ate Willie T's, the most damage of any on Duval and it doesn't appear fatal.
Overall not much structural damage in Old Town .