Hurricane Michael is on track to create an especially dreadful situation for Florida’s poorest. The Category 4 storm is set to make landfall in northwest Florida, a region of the state that has never seen the hurricane conditions Michael is bringing.
It’s also among the state’s poorest regions. Counties that have already received President Donald Trump-approved emergency declarations—Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, Franklin, and more—suffer from some of the highest poverty rates in the state, anywhere from 17 to 32 percent. The state’s overall poverty rate sits at 14 percent, per the U.S. Census.
In Franklin County, with a poverty rate of 23 percent, only one highway exists, according to local news WGRZ. Seated largely within 100 feet of the coast, the highway could disappear as storm surge rolls through. Any people left behind in these communities will be stranded.
That’s just one area. Outside Tallahassee, which is situated right in the path of the storm, rural towns dot the landscape. In Madison County, the poorest county in the state, most residents live in mobile homes, County Commissioner Alston Kelley told WGRZ. In fact, Florida had among the highest shipments of mobile homes in 2017.
Mobile homes and hurricanes don’t mix. Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm at landfall, ruined most of these homes when it struck Florida’s southwestern coast in 2004. The level of damage to these homes depended on their age and whether they met housing codes, according to a 2005 report that looked at the damage. But they are definitely not somewhere to be when the storm strikes even if many are built to “withstand hurricane-force winds,” as the Florida Manufactured Housing Association notes online.
Science has yet to show any connection between Michael and climate change, but we know that climate change is expected to worsen the impacts of hurricanes, especially storm surge which is getting a boost from rising sea levels. Florida’s Gulf Coast has seen 8 to 9 inches of sea level rise ove the last century, resulting in more sunny-day flooding.
Across the country, the poorest counties are expected to incur the most damage as the climate warms—with economic damages ranging from 2 to nearly 20 percent of the county income, according to a Science study from last year. Florida’s Union County, for instance, is projected to see these damages from climate change eat up 30 percent of its annual income by century’s end. It happens to be squarely in Michael’s path.
Mandatory evacuations are in place across 13 counties in Florida, but not everybody can or will leave. Vulnerable communities are notorious for skipping evacuation, often because have no choice. Transportation costs money, whether it’s gas for a car or a ticket for a flight. Plus, not all jobs are down for employees to take time off because their lives are in danger. These are realities for people who live paycheck to paycheck.
Those uniquely vulnerable to this storm aren’t limited to Florida. Hurricane Florence hit nearly a month ago, and the Carolinas are still cleaning up its mess. Now, they must brace for potential remnants of Hurricane Michael, too. The National Hurricane Center is projecting about 4 to 6 inches of rain to fall on some parts of the states.
Will they ever catch a break?
I don’t know, but unless we do something about climate change, I doubt it. I do know that the fallout of this storm is going to be bad, very fucking bad.
Correction: Hurricane Charley was a Category 4 storm when it struck Florida, not a Category 3 as previously stated.