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Sovereignty in the Age of Climate Change

In the era of climate change where warmer oceans are amplifying hurricane season, causing bigger storms to happen with increasing frequency it’s useful look back at Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was until last year, when Michael hit, the last Category 5 to make landfall on the mainland United States.

It’s hard to imagine that a place like South Florida with it’s well known natural hazard risk and location next to a major Air Force Base would be so socially vulnerable. The reaction to and recovery from Andrew was a major test of how this country with all its wealth and resources can handle even the expected in hurricane-prone areas.

I recently caught up with my Aunt Terry to get her survivor account of this experience. She had coincidentally just finished a local move from the house in Northern Florida she’d moved to in 1996 after leaving Homestead. Friends and family had already left. But it was the increased crime and failing schools—where Terry also taught—that forced them to move for the sake of her kids. Before Andrew they had never expected to move. “We had good jobs down there. We came up here with nothing I mean we had no jobs,” she said.

At 5am on Monday August 24th Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida 10 miles east of Homestead and 25 miles south of Miami. My family was from Homestead. They’d settled there after moving around often because my grandfather was in the Air Force.

Terry was born in Texas in 1956, “And so, I was four when we moved to the Philippines and then we moved to Homestead and that’s where dad retired in 1960… I could see it, the house all white, by the railroad tracks and a lot of water.”

And in 1960 Hurricane Donna hit. It was the last major hurricane, defined as anything above a Category 3, to strike South Florida before Andrew.

“Yeah, I think we were still moving in… mainly the storms then were just wind and a lot of rain,” Terry said. “That one most of what you had was the rain because we could put a boat out and you could canoe down the roads. And I mean there were some people that had motorboats, little small boats, that were going down the road. That’s how much water was in there.”

Andrew was a small and fast-moving storm so tracking it was especially difficult for the forecasting technology at the time. Even those around Homestead Air Force Base like Terry were surprised, “They were still having planes taking off… they were still open trying to get rid of all the planes and stuff and evacuated. But the people, we didn’t get an evacuation notice. That that was one thing that ticked everybody off. If they’d have said evacuate, we’d have been long gone and we wouldn’t have stayed in the houses.”

“But then all those tornadoes that were with it, that was, that’s what got us. We were sleeping. We didn’t know it was going to be that bad. We just redid our whole house two days before that stinking thing hit and what happened was our window got blown out in our bedroom. Then you started hearing this ‘flap flap flap flap flap.’ It was taking the shingles off the roof, so the roof was opening up.”

“When the limb or the branches, a huge like half a tree came through the bedroom window. Our first thing was, go get the kids because Liz was eight and Matt was 10 or 11. We got Liz and then the limb came right through the roof in her bedroom just as we had dragged her out. And we got Matt out of his room and went back to our bedroom, but the door had come off. So, then I tried to push Liz’s door up against her window so we could get back in it and get in her closet because she’s the only one that had a mattress.”

“Our idea was to wrap the mattress around and get in the closet because we all had waterbeds back then. We got in the closet and wrapped the mattress around and me and my husband John stood and we were holding it and he was in front leaning on it so the mattresses would stay around the kids and keep them safe.”

“I mean it’s pitch black you don’t know what’s happening. There was no idea you just heard this sound. I mean when they say the tornado sounds like a train on the tracks. That’s exactly what it sounds like coming through the house. And that’s when everything started blowing all to pieces and gone and walls and stuff. But when we finally got daylight and you can see stuff in the storm, after the first half when the eye of the storm passed over then you can see that our place where we were at was the only thing that was there. The back walls were gone.”

“We found our fish in a puddle down the street. But we couldn’t do anything with him.”

The recovery was a disorganized mess.

“You couldn’t drive in for a week. What came first was the Air Force and Army with their big helicopters. It was scary, like being in a war zone but just bringing stuff. And they were constantly passing over because there was a big field down the street.”

“It took a while to get the Red Cross and other people in there to help. The insurance companies could only come in the main roads US1 and we had to go meet them. Where we lived it was covered over and it took a week or two to clear it out with chain saws.”

“Red Cross was wonderful. When I got that first ice cube, because that’s all I wanted was something cold just give me an ice cube I don’t care about the water give me an ice cube.”

Non-Sovereign Revolutions? Thinking Across Puerto Rico & Hong Kong

Hong Kong and Puerto Rico seem worlds apart. But recent global protests show there are deep commonalities as people organize against austerity, inequality, and the legacy of colonialism.

That was the topic of a recent panel this month at the CUNY Graduate Center.

The panel featured five experts, two from Puerto Rico, two from Hong Kong, and one from Taiwan.

The purpose of the event, according to organizer Wilfred Chan, was to “hopefully get toward some kind of shared vocabulary, or even interesting new avenues for inquiry.”

The panel positioned itself as part of a larger global discussion about building frameworks for community, political futures, and consciousness raising.

“As activists we should really think about in what ways a community is born,” said panelist Dr. Wen Liu, a professor of gender studies at SUNY-Albany. “It happens through action, through practice, through care.”

“How to rethink that whole global system is the question,” panelist and CUNY anthropology professor Dr. Yarimar Bonilla said. “To decolonize the decolonization movement.”

Hong Kong and Puerto Rico are both former outposts of global colonial powers that were later annexed by different rising global powers. Hong Kong became rich, and more unequal, thanks to its strategic position as a nexus of global capital. The city currently functions as an interface with China as it reemerges as an economic superpower.

At the same time, Puerto Rico’s diminished strategic importance to capitalist interests throughout the 19th and 20th centuries led to its current precaritized and pauperized state.

The comparison is noteworthy because Hong Kong has long been held up as a model for others to follow for prosperity and freedom.

“In Puerto Rico, we’re told we should be more like Hong Kong in terms of wooing more financial capital and of having a stronger economic base,” Dr. Bonilla said.

The impetus behind the event was the newly formed Lausan Collective. Organized on WhatsApp in July in the wake of the Hong Kong protests, the group came together to talk and create space for perspectives that were largely absent in mainstream discourses around the city’s political unrest.

“There’s a simplification about what’s happening that tends to reinforce a lot of the binaries of East vs. West, or freedom vs. democracy,” Chan told the audience. “And these stories are more complicated than what you often see on the front page of the newspaper.”

The panelists noted how online left-wing discourse around the Hong Kong protests is often disappointing and wrapped in dated binaries, like the “tankie narratives” – that Hong Kong protesters are just another Color Revolution backed by the U.S. – that lead to a loss of solidarity with leftists around the world.

Meanwhile, the protests in Puerto Rico are often ignored or forgotten, perhaps due to its poverty or because of its current status as part of the United States, even if that status is unsettled.

In addition to expanding the discourse around Hong Kong, Lausan Collective seeks to connect with and form solidarity with other oppressed and colonized peoples around the world.

Questions raised during the panel included:

What does it mean for different sites to erupt in protests at the same time? Can we think about similarities in terms of their methods, practices, or challenges? And also, in the way questions of sovereignty and possibilities are being articulated?

What happens when you are a place that doesn’t have nation-state sovereignty?  How do you imagine your future? What kind of ideals or models can you look to? What statehood means? What is the nation? What is a state?

What can a people do? How can they cope in a space where sovereignty will not necessarily liberate them?

“What I’ve written about before is the search for a non-sovereign future, which does not mean a search for a future without sovereignty, but a search for something other than the Western model of sovereignty,”  Bonilla said.

With emerging movements, clearly articulated political ideology is often absent. To catch a glimpse of the possibilities or potential futures, Bonilla says we need to look for “emerging structure of feeling.”

This means not only asking why people are mobilizing, but also looking at art, music, dance, memes, any form of cultural expression. 

For example, panelist Jun Pang brought up the protest slogan “Restore Hong Kong.” Pang – a researcher based in Geneva but who’s worked for various Hong Kong NGOs around migrants’ and women’s rights – raised the question, what does “restore” mean in the context of Hong Kong’s history?

“We can’t be talking about restoring our British colonial history because that was also an oppressive regime,” Pang said. “But then also the word restore gestures towards more than just colonial nostalgia and more than our desire to return to a period before the protests. It’s also a response to grief, loss, and also a posture of hope in response to previous disappointments and unrealized possibilities.”

Even if a movement fails, it’s important to remember it created new possibilities and socialities, the panelists said. In Puerto Rico, it’s currently unclear how they will move forward after successfully removing the governor. Protests still rage in Hong Kong, but what follows if protesters’ demands are met is unknown.

And that’s okay.

“There is also another form of power within, that was built on the streets [of Puerto Rico] in July,” said panelist philosophy professor Dr. Rocío Zambrana. “This power of interrupting. This power of saying no. And without necessarily knowing just yet what political future is available.”

Watch the entire conversation recorded live here:

LIVE: Non-Sovereign Revolutions? Thinking Across Puerto Rico and Hong Kong at CUNY Graduate Center!

Posted by Lausan 流傘 on Thursday, December 5, 2019

Hurricane Andrew Survivor Profile

In the era of climate change where warmer oceans are amplifying hurricane season, causing bigger storms to happen with increasing frequency, it’s useful to look back at Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Andrew was the last Category 5 to make landfall on the mainland United States before Hurricane Michael in 2018.

It’s hard to imagine that a place like South Florida, with it’s well-known natural hazard risk and location next to a major Air Force Base, would be so socially vulnerable. But the reaction to and recovery from Andrew was a major test of how this country with all its wealth and resources can handle even the expected in hurricane-prone areas.

I recently caught up with my Aunt Terry to get her survivor account of this experience. She moved to Gainesville after Andrew. But the move wasn’t because of the hurricane. It was because of the increased crime and failing schools, schools where Terry worked as a teacher. Before Andrew, Terry thought she would live the rest of her life in South Florida. “We had good jobs down there. We came up here with nothing. I mean we had no jobs,” she said.

At 5 a.m. on Monday August 24, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida 10 miles east of Homestead and 25 miles south of Miami. My family was from Homestead. They’d settled there after a lot of moving around because my grandfather was in the Air Force.

Terry was born in Texas in 1956. “I was four when we moved to the Philippines and then we moved to Homestead and that’s where dad retired in 1960 … I could see it, the house all white, by the railroad tracks and a lot of water.”

In 1960, Hurricane Donna hit. It was the last major hurricane, defined as anything above a Category 3, to strike South Florida before Andrew.

“Yeah, I think we were still moving in … mainly the storms then were just wind and a lot of rain,” Terry said of Donna. “That one most of what you had was the rain because we could put a boat out and you could canoe down the roads. And I mean there were some people that had motorboats, little small boats, that were going down the road. That’s how much water was in there.”

Andrew was a small and fast-moving storm so tracking it was difficult for the forecasting technology at the time. Even those around Homestead Air Force Base like Terry were surprised. “They were still having planes taking off… they were still open trying to get rid of all the planes and stuff and evacuated. But the people, we didn’t get an evacuation notice. That was one thing that ticked everybody off. If they’d have said evacuate, we’d have been long gone and we wouldn’t have stayed in the houses.”

Andrew wasn’t just one storm. It resulted in multiple tornadoes.

“All those tornadoes that were with it, that’s what got us. We were sleeping. We didn’t know it was going to be that bad. We just redid our whole house two days before that stinking thing hit and what happened was our window got blown out in our bedroom. Then you started hearing this ‘flap flap flap flap flap.’ It was taking the shingles off the roof, so the roof was opening up.”

As the night wore on, trees uprooted and infrastructure crumbled.

“A huge, like, half a tree came through the bedroom window. Our first thing was, go get the kids because Liz was 8 and Matt was 10 or 11. We got Liz and then the limb came right through the roof in her bedroom just as we had dragged her out. And we got Matt out of his room and went back to our bedroom, but the door had come off. So, then I tried to push Liz’s door up against her window so we could get back in it and get in her closet because she’s the only one that had a mattress.

“Our idea was to wrap the mattress around and get in the closet because we all had waterbeds back then. We got in the closet and wrapped the mattress around us. And me and my husband John stood and we were holding it and he was in front leaning on it so the mattress would stay around the kids and keep them safe.

“It’s pitch black you don’t know what’s happening. There was no idea, you just heard this sound. I mean when they say the tornado sounds like a train on the tracks. That’s exactly what it sounds like coming through the house. And that’s when everything started blowing all to pieces and gone and walls and stuff. But when we finally got daylight and you can see stuff in the storm, after the first half when the eye of the storm passed over then you can see that our place where we were at was the only thing that was there. The back walls were gone.”

Even one of family pets wasn’t spared. “We found our fish in a puddle down the street. But we couldn’t do anything with him.”

The recovery was a disorganized mess, according to Terry.

It took a while for Red Cross to get to people in need.

“When I got that first ice cube, because that’s all I wanted was something cold. Just give me an ice cube, I don’t care about the water, give me an ice cube.”

It took a week or two just to clear out the area with chain saws. Air Force and Army helicopters constantly hovered above because there was a large field down the street from her home. No one could get in or out of the area because of the wreckage in the streets. Contractors stole money for repairs that never happened. People’s belongings were stolen in shelters and off the street.

“It was scary, like being in a war zone.”

Climate Change Is Accelerating

 

Disaster is most visible at the margins. As climate change accelerates, Puerto Rico functions as a harbinger of what’s to come, much like it and the rest of the Caribbean have throughout modern history. 

For me the indelible images of Maria are San Juan Mayor Cruz speaking in front of pallets of canned beans while Trump tweeted about NFL players, the junk food FEMA was distributing to survivors, endless video of the chef Jose Andres cooking and delivering meals, Trump tossing paper towels, and a VR Mark Zuckerberg high fiving while touring the destruction virtually

Hurricane Harvey a month earlier in Houston had its flooded, choppy highways. Irma in Miami a week and a half earlier turned the roads around the condos in downtown Miami into rivers and caused cranes to collapse

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 as a Category 4 it was still recovering from Hurricane Irma which passed less than 100 miles to the north as a Category 5 two weeks earlier. After Nate hit Mississippi in October, 2017 would be the first time since 2005 that four hurricanes made U.S. landfall in one hurricane season.

My mom grew up in South Florida, in her lifetime there was a major hurricane every generation, or about every 25 to 30 years. Donna hit in 1960. Andrew hit in 1992. But the 2004 and 2005 seasons seemed like the first indications of a new normal. Storms hit one after another. Then a decade of calm until 12 years later when Irma hit Miami in 2017. 

In September Bloomberg wrote about a woman living in the Florida Keys two years after Hurricane Irma in very similar circumstances to those in post-Maria Puerto Rico. In it they note, “By the end of the century, 13 million Americans will need to move just because of rising sea levels, at a cost of $1 million each.” Survivors in Florida’s panhandle are also struggling a year after Michael in 2018 became the first Category 5 to make U.S. landfall since Andrew in 1992, the fourth on record. This year Category 5 Dorian would come very close to hitting Florida from the Atlantic side.

In 2005, four days before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast as a monster Category 5 storm, it crossed South Florida as a Category 1. The destruction was mild, knocking out power to large parts of South Florida. 

Six Florida summer days without air conditioning is miserable. But when everyone is going through it, it doesn’t seem so bad. There are a lot of BBQs. Hurricane season is about the only time Floridians come together as neighbors. 

In 2004, when a record four major hurricanes hit the state, FEMA gave out vouchers for generators, so many Floridians were prepared for Katrina. Low-wattage needs were taken care of: food in refrigerators stayed fresh, lights turned on, you could turn on your TV to watch the news. Generators buzzed around the neighborhood as residents watched Katrina hit New Orleans.

Two months later Wilma hit and it was a different story. The destruction was far worse. Supplies were already short from Katrina, so hours-long lines were the norm. Whether you got supplies after waiting in line was pure chance. Thankfully, Wilma was followed by a cold front so you could open the windows and sleep in comfort for a few days. For three long weeks the streetlights on my block were dark. Cable and internet didn’t work. 

Our homeowners insurance from USAA gave us a check for $16,000 and said that though they were no longer writing new policies, we were grandfathered in. It was the first time my mom had ever had to file a windstorm claim since buying her first home in the ‘70s. Shortly after all the national insurers pulled out of the state.

Fourteen years later, in September 2019, I find myself helping my father-in-law look for condo insurance. As Dorian hovered over the Bahamas, GEICO told me they weren’t writing policies until the storm passed. When the storm finally did pass, GEICO said none of its partners would be writing new policies. 

Currently, the only national insurer writing homeowners insurance policies in Florida is State Farm. The rest are a slew of no-name private companies that only write policies in Florida, and Citizens, the state’s publicly owned insurer.

Citizens was established as the insurer of last resort when the insurance market collapsed after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Its rates are expensive and coverage is paltry. It’s now the largest insurer in the state and often the only option.

A recent study says, “thousands of Florida homes — valued at a combined $3.38 billion — were built in zones at risk for inundation by 2050, only 30 years from now…which is about the amount of time that’s on a mortgage if you bought a house today.”

Spencer Glendon, of the Woods Hole Research Center says, “No one should be lending for 30 years in most of Florida. During that time frame, insurance will disappear and terminal values — future resale income — will shrink. I tell my parents that it’s fine to rent in Florida, but it’s insane to own or to lend.” A report covering this story noted, “Insurability is the main issue. Thirty-year mortgages come with the condition that a borrower have insurance, which is renewed annually. But insurers can choose to stop offering insurance at any time, or make prices prohibitively expensive, which would cause a homeowner to violate their debt. Eventually, lenders would be forced to stop lending, causing prices to plummet.”

Full List of Atlantic Category 5 Hurricanes

The list to the left doesn’t include 2019 which had Dorian and Lorenzo, a rare extratropical hurricane that hit Ireland and the U.K. That made a record fourth year in a row the Atlantic had one Category 5. And only the fifth year on record with more than one. 

Climate change is accelerating and the disaster is heading towards the middle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monsters of the Atlantic The Basin s Category 5 Hurricanes The Weather Channel-

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