If you’re brainstorming a powerful opening image for a post-apocalyptic movie in Orlando, the waterlogged Eola Park scene will definitely be a contender.
As we wrote Monday night, notifications from the city of Orlando were piling up, warning that excessive water use would strain an already overburdened sewage system. This is after a breach over the weekend resulted in sewage seeping into lakes and streets in three different parts of Orlando. Elsewhere in Osceola County, voluntary evacuations are taking place in parts of the county as water levels continue to rise. This is not an autopsy case of Hurricane Ian. Just because the rain has stopped, that doesn’t mean the storm is over in Central Florida just yet.
The aforementioned Ian made landfall in Florida on Wednesday afternoon, September 28, as a Category 4 storm, and its ever-changing path settled into southwest Florida, tearing up Fort Myers and Cape Coral as it made its way toward central Florida. Soon Orlando and the surrounding counties felt the effects of Ian. The storm continued over our area all night and into the next day, dumping between 14 and 20 inches of rain and hitting Orlando with high winds before eventually moving north on Thursday.
Although Ian had “weakened” it greatly (due to a tropical storm) by the time it reached us, the flooding and the damage it did was astounding. Lake Eola Park flooded, swans gliding happily along submerged paths where previously they could only move. Lake Davis and Lake Cherokee have nearly become one of the super lakes. The interstate rapids along I-4 have turned into rivers. All parks and the airport were closed, even when parts of the Universal Orlando Resort were underwater. Near the UCF, residents of nearby apartment buildings have been photographed using air mattresses as rafts, trying to save their properties from flooding. A historic flood occurred in Osceola County and Seminole County, and it did not subside. The water is still rising in the downtown Sanford Riverwalk.
And about a week later, we’re still in the thick of it. Large sections of Central Florida deal with flood waters. Many Orlando residents still lack power. Parts of the main roads remain closed. Drive through neighborhoods, fallen trees, and debris everywhere you look.
Even with all this, Central Florida came down relatively easily compared to Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, parts of which were completely destroyed by the storm. Preliminary estimates indicate that Hurricane Ian caused damage estimated at 40 billion dollars. The death toll due to Ian currently exceeds 100, and thousands are still missing. These numbers will undoubtedly rise.
The country is likely heading for a property insurance crisis. More than 222,000 insurance claims have been filed in the state due to the storm so far, with insured losses estimated at $1.61 billion. State Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier last week issued an emergency order temporarily barring property insurers from dropping clients in Ian’s wake. The order suspended cancellation policies for at least two months. This will not be enough.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – who, as a congresswoman, voted against funding Hurricane Sandy relief (saying that “this ‘put it on a credit card mentality’ is part of the reason we find ourselves with nearly $17 trillion in debt”) Submit a petition to President Biden for federal assistance. Biden quickly declared a major disaster for the state. Congress duly passed a bill that included an emergency $18.8 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, money that would go largely to Florida’s recovery efforts. Every Florida Republican in the House voted against it, as did Rick Scott and Marco Rubio when she got to the Senate.
The bill was approved anyway, and now residents of several counties in Florida — including Orange, Osceola and Seminole — are eligible for FEMA relief funds.
DeSantis, who is currently under fire for a “failed” Lee County evacuation, early on called Ian “a 500-year flood event.” Like many of the things he says, this one will inevitably prove wrong. Hurricane Ian and its aftermath are climate changes taken from large and conscious predictions of what we can expect in Florida as temperatures gradually rise.
Here in Orlando, people are working hard on repairs and cleanups and dealing with the past week. Cleaning will take a lot of time, a lot of hard work and a lot of money. And while there may be glimmers of hope—supply drives, mutual aid, community clean-up efforts—this will take a lot of money and a lot of will from local leaders. The real work is just the beginning.