As the hurricane churned in the Atlantic and ripped through the Caribbean, telegraphs were flying to the mainland of the U.S. warning them of a huge storm. The people of South Florida, who at the time were largely farmers and cattle drivers, were unaware of the devastating force of nature heading for them.
The storm slammed into the peninsula, driving wind and rain north and causing a 20-foot storm surge in Lake Okeechobee. Cows were picked up and flung by the winds.
When the storm passed on in 1928, the Okeechobee hurricane would forever be in the history books as once of the most deadly hurricanes to ever hit the United States. People had stayed, mothers had clung to their children as the storm surge ripped them from their homes and destroyed their lives. Not a single person concluded that the storm was anything other than a freak of nature.
When the storm passed and the skies turned sunny again, South Florida rebuilt. They built dams, dykes, revised building practices, created early warning systems, and set up communication systems so that the human devastation they suffered would never need to be faced again.
89 years later, in the wake of Irma, we were warned. From Pensacola to the Keys, Floridians were told a week in advance that this storm was large and devastating. Over 6 million people evacuated, leaving their homes, fleeing their livelihoods and communities for their safety and the safety of their children.
But many stayed. Why? I stayed because I live in North Florida, in a house built after 1928, after Dora, after Andrew, and I live on the Westside of town on high ground. My children stayed because they are safer with me. As to why the 25,000 people stayed in the Keys, I have no words. Maybe they feel complacent or invincible, I don't know, but they can't say they weren't warned.
I'm a mother of 4, but I'm also a business owner. I spent the week setting up my hot dog cart at Cecil Commerce Center where I normally sell food a few days a week. I watched the National Guard roll in, and I was asked to come on Saturday by a commanding officer so his guys wouldn't need to eat MREs.
I have gotten to know these guys over the past five months, and they're like my kids, too. They're the ones going into the storm to rescue the people who stayed. They're the ones putting their lives in danger because 25,000 people in the Keys are facing an imminent threat of death and a storm surge of 10 feet. They don't get the choice to stay or go like we do.
I don't fault anyone for making the decision to stay — my own decision was made after countless forecasts and making a list of possibilities with my husband. We made our choice and I'm fine with it.
I'm not fine, however with Hollywood, the media, and the academic elite using this impending catastrophe to further divide us by politicizing the storm. To those people in 1928 or even Galveston years earlier, blaming hurricanes on fossil fuels or anthropogenic climate change would have sounded like something from a science fiction novel. Hurricanes have existed for as long as we've had oceans.
I've even seen social media posts blaming this storm on the president or the government, claiming they are making the storms hit minority-heavy areas. This kind of disturbed mental gymnastics must not be given a foothold.
It isn't Trump' s fault or NASA's fault or even the fault of people who drive big trucks and boats. Those people with the big trucks and boats are ready to come to the rescue. They stand ready to save all the mothers and fathers who made the decision to stay because they thought the storm was wobbling left or right, or because their home is solid, or they live on high ground, or because they're Floridians and this is our home.
After the storm passes and the sun shines, this will likely go into the history books and Floridians will rebuild again. We will make things better and stronger and learn from our failings. It's what we do, after all.
We in Florida know that regardless of how much you cut fossil fuel usage or recycle, no matter how strong you build your homes, no matter the president or the year, hurricanes will come. We know this, because we are Florida.