CRISTINA OSMENA: How DeSantis’ Florida handles a hurricane

Today (I am writing this on October 19) marks the twenty-first day after Hurricane Ian hit Florida and, more notably, the barrier island I consider home. This audience is no stranger to storms and post-storm damage and neither am I. However, I have not seen a recovery quite like this.

The bridge connecting my barrier island to the rest of the county was destroyed in three places, washed away by a 12-18 foot storm surge or 150 mile-per-hour winds. The day after the hurricane passed through, islanders were expecting to get the functionality of the bridge back in a year. Then Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis decided to make it a priority just like he prioritized reconnecting neighboring Pine Island. As a result, at 11am Eastern Time today, the causeway to Sanibel was declared open for civilian use (meaning residents with passes). That is two days earlier than what they previously estimated, which was more than a week earlier than the end of month estimate before that. All this is surprisingly sooner than the one year everyone was saying it was going to take when the storm died down and sections of the bridge were found missing or severely damaged.

Accessing our island by bridge instead of boat makes it far easier to visit, repair, and restore our homes. Before today, the only means of travelling there was by private boat in which the passenger had to wade through water and travel home on foot. It really is reminiscent of the Philippines. Just as importantly, neighbors bring with them a measure of safety. That’s because Florida is a second amendment state. As a household without guns, we rely on our gun-owning neighbors to provide the threat to potential looters or otherwise. Since the island has been evacuated of residents, looting has picked up, something that I had not even heard of during pre-hurricane times. Neighbors watch out for each other in these communities. Without them, criminals have been emboldened, despite the presence of additional police officers.

The local electric cooperative is busy re-erecting power distribution poles and plans to have power feeding into the island in four days. Water is now pressurized. For a state that charges no individual income taxes (there are other kinds of taxes, of course), this kind of responsiveness is astonishing.

I credit Florida’s governor for much of this recovery. Ron DeSantis is motivated to perform well following a high-profile storm if he wants to come across as a good chief executive should he run for United States President in 2024. Indeed, it has worked. He reserved crews from neighboring states ahead of the storm in order to respond quickly after it passed. The Biden administration deserves credit as well. The local government, what I assumed was a sleepy small-city government, has stepped up to the plate and kept the residents informed and organized. They have also been busy with road clearing and debris management.

It is a lot of detail on the recovery post hurricane Ian, but it drives home the point that a government that prioritizes safety and infrastructure is the best government. Compare this response to the rolling brown-outs in California that happen during normal times.