Before Charley hit Central Florida I expected Bush would make political hay over the aftermath. Photo-op on the rubble, bullhorn-assisted speech – all the trimings. Now I’m not so sure.
The effects of Charley are sure to impact the eceonomy. Lost jobs, lower producivity, and a reduction in tax revenues are just a few of the consequences of the hurricane’s damage. As days without power turn to weeks in the hot sun the anger of 600,000 Floridians may focus on the brothers Bush.
[P]atience and civility were both in danger of becoming casualties as well.
Charlotte sheriff’s Maj. John Davenport said hundreds of National Guard troops and law enforcement officers from across the state are bracing for the worst. Looting has been held to a minimum so far, Davenport said. But he is worried about domestic violence, vigilante justice and neighborhood disputes spiraling out of control.
At one point Monday, law enforcement officers used a taser to subdue a man who was determined to cross a bridge onto Fort Myers Beach, even though the area is still closed.
Three officers pulled the man from his minivan, which carried three children, prompting a bystander to yell, “Leave him alone, man, he’s frustrated.”
Charley’s 145 mph winds peeled away the veneer of civilization and left behind a far different world.
While federal officials have rushed to provide assistance, actual help from the government seems elusive at times. Dozens of people visited a FEMA station that opened Monday in Port Charlotte, where each one got a slip of paper with a toll-free phone number. They were told to call and talk with a counselor.
The catch: Few victims have working phones. Cellular service is spotty at best. Those who did manage to get through said they were put on hold for more than an hour.
“We were told we were going to get a check right away,” said Charles Romano, 77, visibly frustrated. “As you can see, FEMA didn’t do nothin’ for us.”
Some of the people who showed up at the FEMA office expected far more from their government. “Is this where they are giving out the free generators?” Steve Barker asked. “They said on the radio if we come to FEMA they give you a generator.”
The answer was no, a crushing blow for Barker, whose Port Charlotte home is sheltering three families, despite having no power and no water. Ron Marion, hobbling along on a walker, went to the FEMA center to get food, water, anything for the 31 elderly and mentally disabled residents at a Punta Gorda assisted living center where he is the property manager.
He got the slip of paper, too. Afterward Marion sat in the sun, smoking a cigarette and fuming.
“When you try to call, you can’t get through,” he said. “When you call the Sheriff’s Office, they say, “Call FEMA.’ Why are they sending us to FEMA when they can’t do anything?”
Claims for unemployment are likely to shoot sky-high, thanks to Charley. Susan Pareigis, director of Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation, said early estimates show 120,000 people will be left jobless. Pareigis said her office was setting up an unemployment office for people to file for benefits, but the checks could take three to four weeks.
Even before the AWI office opened, there was a line of people waiting to fill out claim forms. Cheri Foley, who stood in line holding her 10-month-old daughter, said Charley had cost her her job with an architectural and drafting firm. The office is damaged and there’s no power – and every day’s mail brings more bad news.
“Everything’s kind of in limbo now,” she said. “But the bills keep coming in.”
Bob Kunst, who ran against Jeb for the governorship in 2002, knows thast the past is prologue:
When we had Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the first Bush came down for his ´photo op´ and with Elizabeth Dole doing ´fund-raising´ for the Red Cross, she was declaring 300 food kitchens, which didn´t exist for the 180,000 homeless in Miami-Dade County then. 82,000 businesses were destroyed and so were 28,000 homes, and 700,000 had to be evacuated, and 80,000 in shelters, and perhaps 50 dead and over $26.5 Billions in damage, while Bush and Dole played politics.
Nobody was in the mood for being politically exploited and lied to, when so many were suffering. As I write this, history is repeating itself, with “W” and Jeb playing ´politics´ again with 12,000 homeless, hundreds of homes destroyed, with Hurricane Charley and $5 billions (not Jeb´s $15 Billions) in destruction.
It took years for the public to calm down, but every hurricane season, any sane person is watching with trepidation the tracks of every hurricane coming near us. To trivialize any of this is to step on the deepest feelings and fears for any of us who have gone through this. The Bush gang could care less about any of it.
To ´capitalize´ on it or ´politicize´ any of this for personal gain, is unforgivable, but we wouldn´t expect anything less from the Bush family.
Kerry won´t come to Fla., and is urging his followers to help those in need. A good move. Before Bush arrives, Kerry has 47% to Bush´s 42% with Nader getting 4%.
Bush is playing with fire on this issue, if the services and emergencies aren´t there.