Biden declares major disaster in Puerto Rico to energize Fiona recovery

President Joe Biden issued a major disaster declaration on Wednesday for Puerto Rico, unlocking additional federal assistance as island residents navigate the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi had asked the Biden administration on Tuesday for an expedited declaration, two days after Fiona pelted the island with heavy rainfall and knocked out its fragile power grid.

“This ensures that [Puerto Rico] will have access to additional help from FEMA to recover from the damage caused by” Fiona, the governor said in a tweet Wednesday, thanking the president and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Biden approved an emergency declaration on Sunday. But the major disaster declaration allows FEMA to directly help individuals pay for temporary housing and home repairs, provide low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and pay for other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the storm.

Federal funds are also now available to Puerto Rico on a cost-sharing basis for debris removal and emergency protective measures as well as hazard mitigation measures.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday asked the FEMA administrator to prepare for the federal government to cover all costs for emergency protective services conducted in Puerto Rico rather than asking the territory to bear any of the costs.

Puerto Rico’s “government doesn’t have the money to lay it out, and the people are suffering and they are our fellow citizens,” Schumer said on Tuesday.

Power outages continue to affect the island, with LUMA Energy, the private company managing Puerto Rico’s grid, saying it has restored power to 376,000 of its 1.5 million customers as of Wednesday morning.

“All across Puerto Rico, damage assessment, reenergization, and restoration efforts continue as LUMA, in coordination with [the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority], works around the clock to overcome the damages of Hurricane Fiona,” Abner Gómez, LUMA’s public safety manager, said in a statement Wednesday. “We are continuing critical initial aerial inspections of the island’s transmission system, clearing debris, processing repairs and restoring power to customers as quickly and safely as possible.”

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell is on the ground in Puerto Rico assessing damage alongside Pierluisi and coordinating emergency response with the governor’s administration.

“This storm is personal to FEMA,” she said at a press conference Wednesday. “We have hundreds of Puerto Rican employees and when Fiona impacted the island, she impacted FEMA too.”

But officials with a group of community organizations across Puerto Rico on Wednesday criticized the pace of the recovery and launched the Fiona Community Response Fund to raise money. They noted that many Puerto Rico residents still do not have basic services, including nearly two-thirds of residents who lack drinking water.

Floodwaters are still inundating new parts of the island, said José Díaz Pérez, who works with Casa Tallaboeña, a community organization that helps individuals living in neighborhoods in the community of Peñuelas. That community is in the southern part of Puerto Rico where the heaviest rainfall occurred. “Places that never got flooded before are now being flooded,” he said.

“It’s unbelievable that after Hurricane Maria, after these earthquakes, that we still have these same problems,” he said.

But Jose Reyes, the Puerto Rico adjutant general who commands the island’s Army and Air National Guard units, said Tuesday that he saw a “really big difference” in government preparations for Hurricane Maria in 2017 compared with those efforts ahead of Fiona.

“I see a very robust state-federal coordination prior and during the emergency,” he said. “And I see the results because it’s more expedited support for the people of Puerto Rico where it’s needed, more synchronized instead of stepping on somebody’s toes.”

A feud over whether and how to shift Puerto Rico toward wind, solar and other renewable power is one factor in the years of wrangling over the direction of the territory’s energy policies.

The American Red Cross said Wednesday during a news conference with FEMA officials that some residents were benefiting from an initiative that installed solar panels and battery systems at about 150 schools at a cost of $40 million after 2017’s Hurricane Maria. Now, after Fiona, more than 50 of these schools are being used as shelters.

Hurricane Fiona was a Category 1 storm when it dropped about 30 inches of rain on the southern part of Puerto Rico, although it has since intensified to a major Category 4 storm after battering the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos on its way toward Bermuda.

FEMA Assistant Administrator for Recovery Keith Turi said Wednesday that the agency does not have an official estimate of the damage in Puerto Rico yet. He also warned of “continuing hazards” on the island, including mud and rockslides, additional rainfall and extreme heat.

Jonathan Porter, chief meteorologist for AccuWeather, said that “the risk of additional slides will continue for the next several days …because the ground has been loosened.” Mudslides can cause major property and additional infrastructure damage and delay aid to people in need in remote areas, he added.

AccuWeather has projected the economic impact from Fiona on Puerto Rico to be about $10 billion, equivalent to 10 percent of the island’s GDP, an estimate that includes the effects of the power outage, job losses and loss of tourism.

But “I still don’t think we have a good sense of the impacts in some of the most rural areas,” Porter said.

Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center is monitoring a tropical wave near the southern Windward Islands that it says has a 90 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or stronger as it moves toward the west-northwestward in the next five days. It said the Air Force Reserve was beginning reconnaissance flights of the system, which will aid forecasters trying to assess whether it poses a potential threat to the U.S. or other countries.

“The good news for Puerto Rico is it looks like the threat from the next system is going to be well south of Puerto Rico,” Porter added.

Marcia Brown contributed to this report.

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  • 16 часов, 32 минуты назад 02.10.2022Energy & Environment
    ‘A character-altering event’: Officials reflect on Ian’s damage

    Hurricane Ian was a “character-altering event” for the state of Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio said Sunday, as state and federal officials reflected on the damage wrought over the course of the week.

    “Fort Myers Beach no longer exists,” Rubio (R-Fla.) said on ABC’s “This Week,” referring to one of the areas hardest hit by the storm. He added that when the town is rebuilt, “it’ll be something different. It was a slice of old Florida that you can’t recapture.”

    The death toll from the storm has grown to more than four dozen. Many homes are severely damaged or completely destroyed, particularly on the western coast of Florida where the storm made landfall, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said on CNN.

    In central Florida, some homes are “still underwater” as a result of flooding as the storm crossed the state, she said.

    Rubio characterized the federal response so far as “very positive, as it’s always been in the past.” President Joe Biden had multiple meetings with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, and plans to visit both Florida and Puerto Rico in the coming days, following successive devastating storms.

    The scope of the destruction led to discussion of a relief bill Sunday.

    “We do have to provide disaster aid,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And whether that’s for a hurricane, or whether that’s for flooding, or whether that’s for wildfires, we’ve got to do that.”

    Rubio, asked whether he would support a bill for relief bill including funding for seemingly unrelated projects, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” he would “fight against it having pork.”

    Congress is “capable” of passing a relief bill “without using it as a vehicle or a mechanism for people to load it up with stuff that’s unrelated to the storm,” Rubio said.

    The senator voted against relief for Northeastern states for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but defended that vote Sunday as against provisions in the bill that were not proximate enough to disaster relief.

    Scott, a former governor of Florida, avoided making judgment on the actions of local officials in Lee County, which did not send an evacuation order to its residents until Tuesday; several nearby jurisdictions issued evacuation orders Monday.

    “It’s something we’ll have to look at,” Scott said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” DeSantis has said those officials acted appropriately.

    Florida suffered massive flooding and widespread damage to infrastructure from Hurricane Ian, and the storm has left hundreds of thousands of people without power as it crossed nearly the entire state. It made landfall in Florida on Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, and hit the coast of South Carolina Friday as a Category 1 hurricane.

    Ian continued to climb the East Coast on Sunday, dropping rain far and wide. But both Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) and Gov. Roy Cooper (D-N.C.), speaking on Sunday morning shows, said their states had avoided the type of damage seen in Florida.

    “Certainly we have avoided the worst of it, and we sympathize with the people in Florida. We’ve offered help to them,” Cooper said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

  • 16 часов, 33 минуты назад 02.10.2022Energy & Environment
    Live near water? Get flood insurance, FEMA admin says after Ian.

    Anyone living near water should buy flood insurance, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said Sunday, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

    “If you live near water, or where it rains, it can certainly flood,” Criswell said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding: “Just because you’re not required to buy flood insurance doesn’t mean you don’t have the option to buy it.”

    Most people do not have federal flood insurance, prompting concerns of financial ruin, POLITICO previously reported. The storm has prompted questions about how people should best protect themselves and their property in disasters, whether through building codes, evacuations or insurance.

    Hurricane Ian caused widespread flooding across the state of Florida, with some homes “still underwater,” Criswell said. The death toll grew to more than four dozen over the weekend. Many died in Florida from drowning.

    Everyone should understand their risks for disaster, regardless of whether they live on the coast, inland or in “tornado alley,” Criswell said. Those rebuilding in Florida after Ian should also “make informed decisions about what their risk is” if they choose to rebuild in the same place.

    The state needs to aggressively go after potential fraud in the insurance market, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

    In order to get insurance companies to do business in Florida, “you have to have stricter building codes … but then on top of that, you’ve got to make sure there’s no fraud,” Scott said.

    Strict building codes are also needed to help ensure people who choose to rebuild in desirable but vulnerable areas stay safe, Scott said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

    North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he is pushing people in his state to get flood insurance.

    “We know that particularly in these areas that are hit time and again that we’ve got to be more resilient,” Cooper said.

    Mobile manufactured housing — which has been criticized as unsafe in areas prone to natural disasters — can be “good for people to make sure that they have an affordable place to live,” Cooper said, asked whether it should be banned.

    “It’s sort of all of the above,” Scott said, asked about mobile manufactured housing on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

    Scott, a former governor of Florida, said he is concerned about costs because he “grew up in a poor family … You impact the poorest families every time you raise the cost of something. But you also want to keep people safe.”

  • 1 день, 18 часов назад 01.10.2022Energy & Environment
    Dozens dead from Ian, one of strongest, costliest U.S. storms

    CHARLESTON, S.C. — Rescuers searched for survivors among the ruins of Florida’s flooded homes from Hurricane Ian while authorities in South Carolina waited for daylight to assess damage from its strike there as the remnants of one of the strongest and costliest hurricanes to ever hit the U.S. continued to push north.

    The powerful storm terrorized millions of people for most of the week, battering western Cuba before raking across Florida from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, where it mustered enough strength for a final assault on South Carolina. Now weakened to a post-tropical cyclone, Ian was expected to move across central North Carolina on Saturday morning and reach south-central Virginia by the afternoon.

    At least 30 people were confirmed dead, including 27 people in Florida mostly from drowning but others from the storm’s tragic aftereffects. An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power, authorities said.

    Meanwhile, distraught residents waded through knee-high water Friday, salvaging what possessions they could from their flooded homes and loading them onto rafts and canoes.

    “I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don’t know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said after shuffling through her mostly destroyed Fort Myers apartment, the mud in her kitchen clinging to her purple sandals.

    In South Carolina, Ian’s center came ashore near Georgetown, a small community along the Winyah Bay about 60 miles north of historic Charleston. The storm washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two connected to the popular tourist town of Myrtle Beach.

    The storm’s winds were much weaker Friday than during Ian’s landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week. Authorities and volunteers there were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of what they just lived through.

    Anthony Rivera, 25, said he had to climb through the window of his first floor apartment during the storm to carry his grandmother and girlfriend to the second floor. As they hurried to escape the rising water, the storm surge had washed a boat right up next to his apartment.

    “That’s the scariest thing in the world because I can’t stop no boat,” he said. “I’m not Superman.”

    Even though Ian has long passed over Florida, new problems continued to arise. A 14-mile stretch of Interstate 75 was closed late Friday in both directions in the Port Charlotte area because of the massive mount of water swelling the Myakka River.

    The official death toll climbed throughout the day on Friday, with authorities warning it would likely rise much higher once crews made a more comprehensive sweep of the damage. Searches were aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said. He described one submerged home as an example.

    “The water was up over the rooftop, right, but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify that it appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many,” Guthrie said.

    The dead included a 68-year-old woman swept into the ocean by a wave and a 67-year-old man who who fell into rising water inside his home while awaiting rescue.

    Authorities also said a 22-year-old woman died after an ATV rollover from a road washout and a 71-year-old man suffered a fatal fall from a rooftop while putting up rain shutters. Another three people died in Cuba earlier in the week.

    In the Sarasota suburb of North Point, Florida, residents of the Country Club Ridge subdivision waded through waterlogged streets Friday. John Chihil solemnly towed a canoe and another small boat through the ankle-deep water.

    “There’s really not much to feel. It’s an act of God, you know?” he said. “I mean, that’s all you can do is pray and hope for a better day tomorrow.”

  • 1 день, 20 часов назад 01.10.2022Energy & Environment
    News The Buckshee

    Hurricane Ian is expected to financially ruin countless people in Florida whose homes were not covered by flood insurance when the storm inundated the region with powerful ocean surges and damaging downpours.

    The personal financial losses are a reflection of Ian’s intensity and the fact that millions of Americans nationwide haven’t bought flood insurance. The federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program — the dominant source of flood coverage in the U.S. — protects only a tiny fraction of homeowners, almost all of them in coastal areas.

    Ian’s web of damage was unusually widespread as the hurricane drove storm surge onto coastal areas and triggered river overflows and flash flooding across inland Florida, where almost nobody has flood insurance.

    President Joe Biden declared nine counties disaster areas Thursday, making residents eligible for federal aid to pay for minor home repairs, short-term housing and other emergency costs.

    That leaves 1.3 million households at ground zero without federal flood coverage.

    In Hardee County, only 100 households have federal flood insurance — out of 8,000 households in the county.

    That’s a 1.3 percent coverage rate.

    Hardee has one of the lowest income levels of any Florida county, and 44 percent of its residents are Hispanic.

    “Ian could financially ruin thousands of families in Florida. There’s no better way to say it,” said Mark Friedlander of the Insurance Information Institute.

    Flood coverage is not included in homeowners’ insurance policies. That forces people to buy flood insurance separately, though almost no one who lives inland from a coastal area does. The vast majority of flood coverage in the U.S. is sold through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program. It is unclear how many people have flood policies through private insurers.

    People without flood insurance “could be devastated,” Friedlander said.

    At the same time, the damage caused by Ian’s 155 mph winds could plunge Florida’s private insurance market into deeper chaos, potentially forcing additional insurers into insolvency and triggering a surcharge on almost every insurance policy in the state.

    The Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded research group, estimates that Ian has caused at least $30 billion in damage. That would make it roughly the 12th-costliest U.S. disaster since 1980, according to NOAA records.

    Ian hit Florida as the state faces an insurance crisis. Policyholders there pay the nation’s highest property-insurance rates, and huge losses have forced six small Florida-based insurers into insolvency this year while others have stopped writing new policies.

    That has pushed homeowners into Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed insurer of last resort. The number of its policyholders has doubled in the past two years and recently passed 1 million for the first time since 2014 (Climatewire, Sept. 19).

    Insurer losses are due to a combination of extensive legal claims and huge payouts on policies in states such as Louisiana, which has faced two catastrophic storms since 2020.

    “Florida is already having a problem with [insurance] availability. It’s having a problem with affordability. And it’s having a problem with reliability when insurance companies are going insolvent,” said Nancy Watkins, a principal at Milliman actuarial consultants. “All three of the pillars of a sustainable market are under threat.”

    Friedlander said he expects Ian-related claims to drive several local insurance companies into bankruptcy, making it even harder and costlier for Florida homeowners to buy property coverage.

    “Many insurers have been on the financial edge for several years. This may push them over that cliff,” Friedlander said.

    The average property insurance rate in Florida is $4,231 — nearly triple the U.S. average of $1,544, according to the insurance institute.

    A major issue as Florida begins to recover is the extent to which damage was caused by wind or by water. The question has huge implications for property owners without federal flood coverage and for private insurers that could face billions of dollars in wind-damage claims.

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) danced around a question about whether Citizens insurance has enough money to pay Ian-related wind claims. Instead, he emphasized the storm’s damaging floods, which are usually covered by the federal government.

    “We are looking at a lot of flood claims,” DeSantis said, adding that Citizens should be able to pay Ian claims without charging a special assessment on its own policyholders, or on all insurance policies in the state except for medical and malpractice coverage.

    Watkins said disputes and litigation will arise when property insurers like Citizens deny claims because they say damage was caused by flooding — which they don’t cover.

    “In a litigious environment like Florida, that could be a perfect storm on top of a perfect storm,” Watkins said.

    Records from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation show that insurance companies denied roughly 30 percent of the nearly 1 million claims filed after Hurricane Irma swept across the state in 2017.

    The denial rate in Florida for Hurricane Matthew in 2016 was roughly 40 percent.

    Citizens has $13.6 billion in reserves and has projected paying 225,000 claims from Ian worth a total of $3.8 billion.

    The good news for Florida is that it has more federal flood insurance policies than any other state — at about 20 percent of households. That’s second only to Louisiana. Nationwide, only about 4 percent of properties are covered through FEMA’s flood insurance program.

    But the bad news is that flood coverage varies widely across Florida — and among the counties that have faced the worst damage from Ian.

    In the nine counties that Biden declared a disaster, coverage rates for flood damage range from 1.3 percent in Hardee County and 3.2 percent in DeSoto County to 67 percent in Collier County, which is in the state’s southwest corner and is one of Florida’s richest counties.

    “There are going to be a lot of folks without flood coverage,” said Carolyn Kousky, a leading expert on flood insurance and associate vice president for economics and policy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “If you don’t have insurance, economic recovery from these events is really hard.”

    Some parts of Florida suffered huge flooding and are not among the nine counties that Biden declared a disaster.

    Orlando, which is Florida’s third-largest city, experienced up to 15 inches of rain and saw flash floods, according to the National Weather Service. The city has 130,000 households.

    Yet records show that only 2,039 buildings are covered by federal flood insurance.

    That’s a coverage rate of 1.5 percent.

    Inland flooding caused by Ian “highlights the fact that as climate is changing storm patterns, we’re seeing lots of flooding away from the coasts from stalled hurricanes and intense precipitation,” Kousky said. “Lots of areas are at risk of flooding.”

    People without flood insurance will have to rely on FEMA aid, which is capped at $72,000 but usually results in payments of less than $10,000.

    When flash flooding devastated eastern Kentucky in July and August, only about 2 percent of the households in the flooded area had flood insurance (Climatewire, Aug. 9).

    FEMA has given $73 million in disaster aid to 7,800 Kentucky residents — an average of about $9,350 each.

  • 2 дня, 8 часов назад 01.10.2022Energy & Environment
    4 things holding back restoration of Florida’s electric grid

    The restoration of power in Florida after Hurricane Ian faces a host of obstacles, including floodwaters and wreckage blocking crews from getting to the hardest-hit areas.

    It’s also up against history: The state’s utilities have spent years trying to make their electric systems more resilient to extreme weather, only to see Ian’s 150 mph winds and 12-foot storm surge destroy much of what they built.

    More than 1.6 million Florida customers remained without power Friday evening, after Ian had washed ashore in South Carolina. Blackouts hit more than 300,000 customers in the Carolinas.

    Utility companies still have no estimate of how long it will take to put the lights back on for all those Floridians. Duke Energy Florida said, for example, that wind was still too strong Thursday to deploy bucket trucks to help work on power lines.

    Here are four things to know as Florida works to recover from the Category 4 hurricane:

    If any state is best prepared for hurricanes, it’s arguably Florida.

    The peninsula-shaped state juts out into warm waters with the Atlantic Ocean on its east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west, making it a prime target for tropical storms and hurricanes spinning off the coast of Africa.

    That means Florida, and those in charge of its infrastructure, have had plenty of experience in prepping for storms and cleaning up after them.

    “Florida, because of the nature of the weather that they see, has a lot of experience with this, and as a result, is particularly well prepared,” said Scott Aaronson, a senior vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, the trade group for the nation’s investor-owned electric utilities.

    It took a few hard lessons, however, before the state and its power companies began to make significant changes.

    Back-to-back hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 pummeled Florida, drawing the ire of lawmakers.

    That led state utility regulators to require electric companies to come up with storm-hardening plans that included a more succinct schedule for vegetation management and shoring up areas around hospitals, schools and other critical infrastructure. In some areas, that also meant burying power lines.

    FPL is the state’s largest electric company, serving almost all of Florida’s east coast, much of the southwest and the Panhandle.

    During a period roughly from 2005 to 2015, the utility, among others in the state, worked to replace wooden poles with concrete ones, buried power lines underground and made sure that its infrastructure was “one of the most resilient grids in America,” Garner said.

    Eric Silagy, FPL’s chief executive, said earlier this week it is “indisputable” that the billions of dollars the company has spent on grid hardening since hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 has paid off “significantly” (Energywire, Sept. 28).

    Then came Hurricane Irma. The Category 4 storm plowed through Florida in 2017, leaving millions without power. The storm also led to 12 deaths at a South Florida nursing home after it lost air conditioning.

    FPL alone initially reported 2 million customer outages from Irma, and a spokesperson said the restoration would be the most complex in history for the company and the country (Energywire, Sept. 11, 2017).

    The outcry led state lawmakers to file a number of bills aimed at making the grid more resilient and promoting clean-energy policies designed to keep the lights on during natural disasters. But few of those proposals gained traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

    And as the storms become more intense, the utilities’ improvements haven’t been enough. Electricity officials have stressed this week that it is impossible to have a hurricane-proof power grid.

    “A storm like this is devastating, and it’s going to impact thousands and thousands of people,” Garner said.

    Hurricane Michael, which slammed into Florida’s Panhandle a year after Irma, prompted a new effort by Florida’s electric companies to make their grids more resilient to natural disasters. For FPL, that has meant continuing to replace any remaining wooden poles with steel or concrete ones and working on cheaper ways to bury more of its distribution system.

    Now worries are emerging about the supply of critical electrical components.

    Electric companies maintain what’s known in the industry as a “storm stock” — hundreds of thousands of poles, transformers and other supplies as they plan for major storms. The increase in intensity of hurricanes is just one reason the industry has raised concerns about a “misalignment” of supply and demand, EEI’s Aaronson said (Energywire, Aug. 22).

    A host of factors added to concerns about the supply chain, he said — including investments in the clean energy transition, labor issues, inflation, the war in Ukraine and the recovery from the pandemic.

    The average lead time to procure distribution transformers jumped from roughly two to three months to a year between 2020 and 2022, according to municipal power providers that are members of the American Public Power Association.

    “What we’re hearing from our members is that when faced with a major outage event, things get tight,” said Tobias Sellier, an APPA spokesperson. “When you look at multiple events, it gets really concerning.”

    Indeed, one-quarter of the public power utilities that responded to APPA’s survey reported “high risk” of running out of stock of at least one voltage class of transformers.

    “With the long lead times we’re seeing, the concern is that even with sharing (resources), eventually the stock will run out before these long-lead orders come in,” Sellier said.

    Florida’s electric companies said Ian’s flying debris, tornadoes, life-threatening storm surge and floods created significant challenges in repairing and rebuilding the grid.

    Gov. Ron DeSantis said this week that crews would be clearing debris and trees from roadways to allow utility trucks to pass through so they could get to restoration sites quickly.

    In addition to wind, flooding in Central Florida also has been a challenge, said Duke Energy Florida, which supplies electricity to St. Petersburg and much of central and northwestern Florida.

    Tampa Electric Co. said downed trees and debris presented obstacles in some places.

    Electric companies began restoring electricity, when possible, even as Ian’s winds were building Tuesday and continued after the storm made landfall Wednesday. Thursday was the first day it was safe to begin assessing damage to power plants, solar arrays and the rest of the power grid, however.

    Heavy rain and flooding as well as the continued threat of tornadoes are “still challenges that we’re still grappling with across the state,” FPL’s Garner said Thursday.

    Ian’s damage was catastrophic in some parts of Florida.

    Along the coast in Fort Myers, homes and businesses were ripped off their foundations and reduced to rubble, and fires were burning in some of the wreckage. A section of a causeway leading to Sanibel Island, where more than 6,000 people normally live, collapsed into the water and left the community cut off.

    As it surged inland, the storm dumped more than a foot of rain into areas that had already been saturated, leading to heavy flooding as far inland as Orlando, more than 100 miles from the landfall site on the Gulf Coast.

    The National Weather Service said Ian was tied with other storms as the fifth-strongest hurricane to hit the U.S., and the data firm RMS said flooding tied to the storm will likely set records.

    Tidal gauges near Naples recorded their highest levels in the 50 years that data has been collected, RMS said.

    The Peace River reached a record-high level near the town of Zolfo Springs, which is more than 50 miles inland, and the water was still rising in some areas, said Jeff Waters, a staff product manager at RMS.

    “A lot of these rivers haven’t even crested yet, and some of them are already at records,” he said in an interview.

    Waters cautioned that it’s difficult to tell if climate change is driving a trend of busy hurricane seasons in recent years. Ian’s damage, though, fits with what scientists have predicted for a warmer world: stronger and wetter hurricanes, though not necessarily more of them.

    “This business about very, very heavy rain is something we’ve expected to see because of climate change,” said Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We’ll see more storms like Ian.”

    The storm could give Florida a chance to build a more resilient grid, said Christopher Burgess, a researcher at RMI, the clean energy firm formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute.

    Utility companies could incorporate more solar power and batteries onto their systems, which can be turned on more quickly after a shutdown, he said. And they could divide the grid into smaller segments, which will allow them to bring homes and businesses back online faster.

    The Inflation Reduction Act passed this year by Congress, H.R. 5376 (117), includes billions of dollars in funding for renewable energy and upgrades to electric transmission systems around the country.

    “We’re going to be able to redesign the grid, put all kinds of other options in the grid,” Burgess said.

    The drumbeat of stronger hurricanes should be a wake-up call, even for states like Florida that have a history of preparing for storms, said Alison Silverstein, a former staffer at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who studies grid issues.

    Companies and governments should assess their vulnerabilities over a 20- to 40-year period and plan for the worst, she said.

    “The stakes aren’t just about dollars here, they’re about human lives and misery and societal and economic well-being, and the cost of additional climate change preparation and mitigation pales next to the costs of failing to do so,” Silverstein said in email.

    This report includes material from The Associated Press.

  • 2 дня, 18 часов назад 30.09.2022Energy & Environment
    Ian inflicts staggering losses on Florida’s growth machine

    Hurricane Ian could be the storm that chills entire swaths of Florida’s growth-at-any-cost real estate market.

    From Fort Myers Beach, where Ian leveled beachfront homes, to communities near Orlando, where residents were rescued from waist-deep waters by airboat, the wreckage left behind by the Category 4 hurricane revealed enormous gaps in the state’s homeowner safety net.

    Now, people forced to rebuild their lives will encounter a combination of soaring insurance premiums, construction costs and interest rates — along with the fact that many of the homes inundated by Ian didn’t even have flood insurance. That means the recovery from Ian might look different from past disasters, financial analysts and flood insurance professionals said.

    “No pun intended: This is the perfect storm,” said Chris Brown, executive director of the disaster policy group SmarterSafer Coalition.

    The price tag from Ian’s destruction will easily reach the tens of billions of dollars, insurance experts say. Early projections from after Ian’s landfall showed overall insured losses alone topping $30 billion, said Mark Friedlander, a spokesperson with the Insurance Information Institute. Much of that will be from flooding, said RMS, an analytics firm that’s part of credit-rating agency Moody’s.

    “Just because you’re not in a ‘flood zone’ does not mean that you’re not at risk of a catastrophic event like this,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said during a briefing Wednesday. “This is an issue we’re going to have to deal with.”

    “You’re looking at a storm that’s changed the character of a significant part of our state,” DeSantis added Thursday. He described the hurricane as a “500-year flood event.”

    Lack of flood insurance coverage will make rebuilding more costly. While Floridians are more insured than any other state against deluges, just 18 percent of homeowners have coverage through the federally run National Flood Insurance Program. Those federal policies also only cover up to $250,000 in damage — far below the Realtor.com-listed median home sale price of $387,500 in Lee County, where Ian made landfall — and do not include living expenses, which can pile up after disasters.

    “These families have no financial protection from flood losses,” Friedlander said of the 80-plus percent of Floridians without flood insurance. “Many families, perhaps thousands of families, will be devastated.”

    President Joe Biden said Thursday that the federal government would try to ease the financial burden by offering up to $75,000 for home repairs. FEMA will also provide recovery assistance.

    Yet to make matters worse, many Floridians dropped federal flood insurance before the storm. The number of Florida policies declined nearly 3 percent, roughly 48,000 homes, after the Federal Emergency Management Agency rolled out a new pricing system in October meant to more accurately price the dangers, said Matthew Eby, president of the First Street Foundation, which analyzes flood risk. Many premiums in Florida rose, and the data suggest homeowners ditched coverage.

    Other residents may have thought they didn’t need flood insurance, because of outdated FEMA flood maps that don’t account for future climate change. People with federally backed mortgages are required to purchase flood insurance if they live in the 100-year floodplain. Purchasing flood insurance outside of that area is optional, though those areas still face flood risk — one-quarter of claims come from outside the 100-year floodplain, according to FEMA.

    FEMA’s maps also often don’t incorporate the emerging science about the link between climate change and more intense hurricanes. Some scientists believe that warmed ocean waters caused Ian and previous hurricanes, such as Harvey in 2017, to rapidly accelerate before landfall and bring torrents of rainfall in areas further inland. There, the storms encountered people who were less likely to have bought flood insurance than people living on the coasts or in the 100-year floodplain.

    A rapid analysis by climate scientists found that climate change probably increased Ian’s extreme rain rates by 10 percent compared with a world without human-caused, planet-warming gases.

    “[Flood insurance requirements] miss a whole subset of properties,” Eby said. “Hurricanes are not what they used to be. They intensify much more rapidly.”

    Some of the counties hardest hit by Ian underscore the issue. First Street Foundation estimated that more than 50,087 properties in Charlotte County — the jurisdiction that includes Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda — are at risk for flooding, but they are not among the 102,675 properties in FEMA’s 100-year floodplain. That means the federal maps missed a third of the properties they should have included.

    In Lee County, home to Sanibel and Fort Myers, 48,587 properties outside FEMA’s 100-year floodplain should be considered flood-prone.

    Florida, however, might be better prepared than other states, said Laura Lightbody, who directs the Pew Charitable Trusts’ flood-prepared communities initiative. Many counties there incorporate new climate data into their floodplain maps, she said. Its post-Andrew building codes, designed with hurricanes in mind, are considered best-in-class — their performance “will certainly be studied,” she added. Florida has more flood insurance policies than any other state.

    Yet the heavy rainfall from Ian that lashed inland communities in Florida, akin to the downpours that swamped Houston during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, offers a cautionary note about the expanding reach of floods.

    “The fear is that’s what is going to play out here: That the rain from Hurricane Ian is going to most impact communities that are either inland or traditionally not impacted by the hurricane events that typically impact Florida — and who typically don’t carry flood insurance,” Lightbody said.

    Neptune Flood, a private flood insurance company with 130,000 policyholders, saw four times the number of people requesting flood insurance policies compared with its normal level on Monday as Ian traveled northward. About half of its sales are not in the 100-year floodplain, and uptake usually spikes after disasters, said Trevor Burgess, the firm’s CEO. So do premiums.

    Burgess said flood coverage has gotten more expensive over Neptune’s five years of existence given new data points showing increasing severity and frequency from flooding. He expects that trend to continue, which will prompt rethinking about whether it is wise to rebuild or live in the floodplain.

    “Developers, consumers will start to ask the question, ‘Does it really make sense to pay $5,000 or $8,000 or $10,000 a year for flood insurance? Or should we build higher? Or should we build more inland?’” he said. “And that over time we will have less building in these coastal, high-hazard areas.”

    Florida already was in poor shape for this type of storm. Six homeowners’ property insurers reached insolvency this year, the most since Hurricane Andrew pushed droves of them out of the state in 1992, the Insurance Information Institute’s Friedlander said. The state has 27 other companies on its watch list. Ian could push more to the brink, he said.

    The dearth of private property insurance in Florida means many homeowners have no choice but to buy their homeowners’ and wind-storm policies from the state-created Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the insurer of last resort that explicitly does not cover flood damage. Many homeowners complain that Citizens’ policies are barely affordable.

    Those pressures, Friedlander said, are forcing some homeowners to sell their homes. Rising real estate and materials prices also mean many homeowners will find that the insurance payout for replacing their home is inadequate, he said.

    “Eventually this is going to catch up with the market and cause values of homes to decline,” Friedlander said.

    Southwest Florida real estate boomed over the last two years as more people flocked to the coast, where the median sales price fetches $327,100, a nearly 19 percent increase from August 2021, according to Rocket Homes.

    Still, signals appearing in disaster-prone communities nationwide may show a reversal is coming, said Dave Burt, CEO of the investment research firm DeltaTerra Capital. Year over year, home sales have declined 19 percent through May in the United States’ 100-year floodplain and 22 percent in wildfire-prone areas, compared with a 15-percent average decline across the country. He said much of that is owed to steeper insurance rates and improved perceptions of the risks that climate change poses to housing.

    Taken together, rising insurance costs and higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve’s inflation-fighting push means fewer investors could be willing to buy and flip flooded properties, Burt said, removing a major off-ramp for homeowners from past disasters. That could deepen the spiral, he said.

    “There’s probably going to be a lot of strategic defaults,” Burt said. “They’re going to migrate. They’re going to leave.”

    When Burt’s firm ran an analysis last year of metropolitan areas at greatest risk to a disaster-fueled repricing that depressed home values, the Cape Coral and Fort Myers, Fla., metro area in Lee County topped the list. As insurance costs rise, home values are likelier to fall, which could send ripples throughout markets, he said.

    “In the past, what we’ve seen is economies and importantly real estate markets have been able to absorb these types of events,” Burt said. That’s because past disasters have not changed people’s long-term expectations for ownership costs, he added. “I think that might change this time around.”

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