Hurricane-hit Florida makes slow moves toward recovery

Damaged house boats in the Florida Keys are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 12 September 2017

Hurricane-hit Florida makes slow moves toward recovery

MIAMI: Aid rushed in to hurricane-scarred Florida early Tuesday as officials pieced together the scope of Irma’s destructive path and displaced residents awaited word on hard-hit areas including the Florida Keys.
It was difficult to get detailed information on the condition of island chain where Irma first came ashore over the weekend because communication and access were all but cut off by the storm’s arrival as a Category 4 hurricane.
But after flying over the Keys Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott gave this assessment: “It’s devastating.”
Authorities were letting residents and business owners to return to Upper Keys islands close to the mainland Tuesday morning, but people from the Lower Keys faced a longer wait.
Elsewhere, areas such as Tampa Bay had braced for the worst but emerged with what appeared to be only modest damage. Early Tuesday, the remnants of Irma were blowing through Alabama and Mississippi after drenching Georgia.
A Navy aircraft carrier was due to anchor off Key West to help in search-and-rescue efforts. Drinking water supplies in the Keys were cut off, fuel was running low and all three hospitals in the island chain were shuttered. The governor described overturned mobile homes, washed-ashore boats and rampant flood damage.
Key West resident Laura Keeney waited in a Miami hotel until it was safe to return home, and she was anxious to hear more about her apartment complex. Her building manager told her there was flooding there, but further updates were hard to come by because power and cell phone service have been down on the island.
“They told me there is definitely water in the downstairs apartment, which is me,” said Keeney, who works as a concierge at the Hyatt in Key West.
A stunning 13 million Florida residents were without electricity — two-thirds of the third-largest state’s residents — as tropical heat returned across the peninsula following the storm. In a parting blow to the state, the storm caused record flooding in the Jacksonville area that forced dozens of rescues. It also caused flooding and outages in Georgia and South Carolina as it moved inland Monday.
Six deaths in Florida have been blamed on Irma, along with three in Georgia and one in South Carolina. At least 35 people were killed in the Caribbean.
A tornado spun off by Irma was reported on the Georgia coast Monday , and firefighters inland had to rescue several people after trees fell on their homes. A tropical storm warning was issued for the first time ever in Atlanta, and school was canceled in communities around the state. More than 1.5 million customers were without power Monday night in Georgia.
More than 180,000 people huddled in shelters in the Sunshine State and officials warned it could take weeks for electricity to be restored to everyone.
The governor said it was way too early to put a dollar estimate on the damage.
During its march up Florida’s west coast, Irma swamped homes, uprooted trees and flooded streets.
Around the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, where Irma rolled through early Monday, damage appeared modest. And the governor said damage on the southwest coast, including in Naples and Fort Myers, was not as bad as feared.
Still, Scott predicted that recovery could take a long time in many areas.
“I know for our entire state, especially the Keys, it’s going to be a long road,” he said.
He said the Navy dispatched the USS Iwo Jima, USS New York and the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to help with relief efforts.
The Keys are linked by 42 bridges that have to be checked for safety before motorists can be allowed in, officials said. The governor said the route also needs to be cleared of debris and sand, but should be usable fairly quickly.
In the Jacksonville area, close to the Georgia line, storm surge brought some of the worst flooding ever seen there, with at least 46 people pulled from swamped homes.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office warned residents along the St. Johns River to “Get out NOW” on Monday as floodwaters rose.
Paul Johnson and Shonda Brecheen spent Sunday night in a house they were remodeling in the San Marco neighborhood of Jacksonville after working late on a remodeling project. Jonhson woke up Monday morning, looked out the window and saw boats passing by where cars used to drive in the neighborhood near the river.
The managed to push his truck through standing water to a nearby parking lot to dry out, but he’s worried about damage to the swamped vehicle.
“I’m 32, I’ve lived here most of my life, and I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said.


Taliban aim to sign deal with US by end of month

Updated 18 January 2020

Taliban aim to sign deal with US by end of month

  • Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence
  • The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year

KABUL: The Taliban are aiming to reach a withdrawal agreement with the US by the end of January and are prepared to “scale down” military operations ahead of signing the deal, according to their chief spokesman.
The statement by Suhail Shaheen to Pakistani daily Dawn comes as the group and the US held discussions in Doha this week, after insurgent sources told AFP they had offered to initiate a brief cease-fire.
“We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States,” Shaheen told Dawn in a report published Saturday.
He added that the Taliban were “optimistic” a deal with Washington could be signed before the end of the month and that the reduction in fighting across the country would also include the targeting of Afghan forces.
“It’s now a matter of days,” said the spokesman.
Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave the country in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight.
The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process “dead,” citing Taliban violence.
Talks were later restarted between the two sides in December in Qatar, but were paused again following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, which is run by the US.
Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to militants — and would ultimately have to be given final approval by Trump.
The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason cited for the US invasion more than 18 years ago.
A deal would hopefully pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.
Many observers agree that the war can no longer be won militarily, and that the only route to a lasting peace in Afghanistan is for an agreement between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime, raising fears that fighting will continue regardless of any deal ironed out with the Americans.

Related