In 2004, Hurricane Charlie was the first storm in a string of deadly hurricanes that would ravage the state of Florida, leaving millions like myself without electricity for a month and exposing decades of faulty electrical infrastructure.
Every hurricane season I still hear the same question posed, “what happens when there’s another Charlie?”
I spent my Tuesday getting ready for Hurricane Ian like most Floridians – gathering sandbags, water bottles, gasoline, and non-perishables to prepare for the worst. Some Floridians who can afford it have gas-powered generators ready for hurricanes, as some power outages are to be expected, but most of us, especially renters, don’t.
I begged my sister to come stay with us at our apartment, to avoid the risk of flooding in her area. Her entire student housing complex was practically turned into a lake after the storm. In the parking lot, there are now entire cars submerged underwater, and students were evacuating their belongings on rubber boats and makeshift rafts.
Hundreds of students are now left homeless over the course of one night.
Within 24 hours, Hurricane Ian left 2.7 million homes across Florida without electricity. Lee and Charlotte counties have been knocked “off the grid” with 90% of homes suffering power outages. Lee County Electric Cooperative has shamelessly failed inspections on nearly one-fifth of all its distribution poles, maximizing profits at the expense of their customers. Now the residents of Lee County are paying the price.
Thousands of people in Southwest Florida and Orlando were forced to evacuate their homes, often by boat as their homes are flooded or surrounded by waist-deep brown water. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, due to excess water from the hurricane, at least a dozen wastewater treatment facilities in Florida were prompted to release raw or partially-treated wastewater.
This wastewater contains not just deadly bacteria and disease, but also high levels of nitrogen and phosphate. Florida is the biggest producer of phosphates for the U.S. Phosphate mining operations in Florida use unsafe open-air wastewater ponds, these ponds can hold hundreds of millions of gallons of waste containing radon, uranium, radium and other carcinogens that could now overflow into local rivers and lakes causing catastrophic levels of environmental damage.
Marine ecosystems are particularly vulnerable, with over a thousand manatees dying last year due to pollutants and algal blooms caused by runoffs.
During the pandemic, we saw how working people were forced to pay for the crisis. Corporations increased the cost of living to a degree where they could continue to make record profits while the working class faced record losses.
Amazon and Disney may donate some pocket change to the Florida Disaster Fund, but the staggering $30-50 billion estimated to rebuild the state will be paid for entirely by the working class. Florida already has the highest rent increases out of any state – this will likely skyrocket as landlords will offset the cost of repairing flood damages by increasing rent. They’ll worsen the housing crisis, while increasing their own profits.
Disney, Marriott, Hilton, and other billion-dollar companies are now sitting on completely empty luxury buildings that could be easily converted into affordable housing to rehome the flood victims, and end the housing crisis in Florida.
Working people should not be forced to pay for the disaster that the billionaire class set up! It was the irresponsible negligence of capitalists who knowingly built faulty equipment, committed environmentally unsafe practices, and bypassed all regulations to create the perfect storm of conditions for a disaster.
Instead of relying on the charity of the rich, we should be heavily taxing billionaire corporations like Disney and Publix to bring immediate disaster relief and repair damaged infrastructure.
Hurricane Ian came in a year of a series of freak weather events accelerated by climate change, which flooded the entirety of the nation of Pakistan. Hurricane Ian contained 10% more rain than anticipated and hit the Florida coast at a devastating Category 5 speed – this is directly linked to climate change, and we can expect more weather events like Ian in the future. Polluting corporations cannot be allowed to hasten the environmental destruction of our state while also benefiting from the disasters. These polluting companies must be taken from the capitalist class and brought under democratic public control to begin transitioning to safer environmental practices.
The capitalist system has proven itself to be wholly incapable of dealing with the environmental effects it has brought or the many humanitarian disasters that follow. A new system is required to replace it, a socialist one based on being able to meet people’s needs. The working class has the power to force this change through a militant mass movement of people in the streets, bringing together the renters, unions, and environmental struggles as a single force, unafraid to make bold demands and take on the parasitic billionaire class directly!