Photo: Flooding after Hurricane Ian’s impact. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard
Hurricane Ian has caused enormous damage throughout Florida, smashing into the state as a Category 4 storm with winds reaching 150 miles per hour. While the exact death toll is still to be determined, Ian has clearly caused major loss of life. The sheriff of hard-hit Lee County said this morning, “I definitely know fatalities are in the hundreds.” Joe Biden today warned that, “This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.” The storm struck Florida after ripping across Cuba, and now is set to hit Georgia and South Carolina.
This tragic loss of life could have been avoided. While the government may issue evacuation orders, who in reality makes it out of the path of the storm reflects the extreme inequality that exists in society. Many workers were pressured by their bosses not to evacuate and to continue to come into work almost right up to the moment that Ian made landfall. Securing alternative housing for an indefinite period of time is a huge financial burden on workers, as is finding transportation out of the disaster zone.
In Fort Myers — one of the areas most badly affected — authorities refused to evacuate the Lee County jail. This wanton disregard for the lives of incarcerated people reflects the anti-worker and racist attitudes of state and local officials and is typical of the entire prison system.
In short, when a hurricane approaches, you are on your own to make it to safety. This everyone-for-themselves model of hurricane response is a perfect encapsulation of the incompetence and moral bankruptcy of the U.S. capitalist system. And it has deadly consequences.
Rescue efforts are currently underway. It is standard practice for authorities in Florida and throughout the country to prioritize the protection of the property of the rich over saving the lives of the poor, especially Black and Latino workers. This must not repeat itself in the wake of Ian.
And the aftermath of major storms like these are often the occasion of other forms of injustice. Far-right Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stated today, “You’re looking at a storm that’s changed the character of a significant part of our state … this is going to require years of effort to be able to rebuild and to come back.” But in whose interests will this rebuilding be carried out?
Without a doubt, the damage to infrastructure is enormous. Over 2.6 million power outages have been reported, and critical pieces of equipment related to the electrical grid have been destroyed. In the hardest-hit counties, the lights are out for 90 to 100 percent of customers.
Countless homes have been rendered uninhabitable by Ian’s impact. Only 18.5 percent of homes in the counties that issued evacuation orders are covered by the National Flood Insurance Program. Residents fear that assistance from FEMA will be inadequate and slow to arrive, something that happens repeatedly in major disasters like these.
A boil water notice was issued in Lee County where Fort Myers is located because of damage to a water distribution pipeline. Considering the decrepit state of the United States’ water infrastructure, there is no telling how long this may take to fix.
Completely unconcerned with human suffering, to many capitalists this devastation represents an opportunity to profit. In addition to money from government contracts to carry out reconstruction efforts, the devastated areas could be rebuilt in the interests of the rich. Affordable housing could be replaced by luxury condos and expensive commercial properties that would be a massive source of income for their owners. Critical infrastructure may be neglected long enough that many working-class residents never come back.
Struggle is the only way to prevent this from coming to pass and to secure life-saving relief from the government in the short term.