How Well Did South Florida Respond To Hurricane Dorian?

Sep 9, 2019

Hurricane Dorian spared South Florida from the worst of the winds, rain and storm surge. There were no mass evacuations. Power outages were few. But there was plenty of anxiety.

South Florida Roundup's host Tom Hudson was joined by The Miami Herald’s Nancy Ancrum, the Sun Sentinel’s Rosemary O’Hara and the Palm Beach Post’s Rick Christie. The three publications, along with WLRN,  have teamed up to address the threat of higher seas to South Florida in the  award-winning Invading Sea  project. 

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: How did South Florida local emergency management agencies and officials do in preparation?

ROSEMARY O'HARA: It was a great exercise that their response was measured. One of the big differences was that there was a hesitation to call for evacuation orders in that this storm was so slow-moving that they really watched closely. With [Hurricane] Irma, we had the largest evacuation in state history. Six million people left their homes and they went to shelters that weren't really equipped to handle them. They got stuck on highways in these huge traffic jams. Gas stations that didn't have the supplies, and a lesson was learned from that.

HUDSON: Early forecasts, of course, had Palm Beach County right in the cone of concern. You guys were in the thick of it and I know there was a lot of internal debate about when do you activate, when you don't activate.

How do you kind of manage this and play essentially really what was a poker game with Hurricane Dorian? And believing those early forecasts and as they became more and more confident with the forecasters that the storm would take that turn to the north-northwest as it came out of the northern Bahamas. Your assessment of the Palm Beach response?

RICK CHRISTIE: Sticking with the poker theme, I think they won this hand. They did pretty well; they were smart enough to kind of follow the state's lead on this and try not to overreact. I thought when they did finally put in the mandatory evacuations for our coastal zones that it was the right thing to do at the time.

The only thing that was kind of strange in Palm Beach County for our government was that it sort of went dark for like a day. They stopped doing news conferences whereas Martin and I believe Indian River were. so that was kind of a strange thing that had people scratching their heads.

HUDSON: The resiliency projects that we've seen put in place, any sense of a test from Dorian?

O'HARA: We saw King Tide flooding in Fort Lauderdale. I mean the storm didn't come and we saw buses and cars stalled and water near the Las Olas neighborhood. Yet Fort Lauderdale has put these back-flow pumps to keep the sea level out from the storm system. But we are at risk. In our area, this Fiveash water treatment plant is being held together by, what the mayor calls, spit and chewing gum. It is not capable of withstanding a Category 5 storm.

We still don't know just how hardened the power system was. FPL was pre-staged in more locations to ensure that you got your power back but they were still telling us it was going to go out. We really need to pay attention to the foundation on which we're built because part of it is crumbling because of rising seas.