As hurricane blows, dive bar toasts ‘Here’s to Wilmington!’
By JONATHAN DREW
Thursday, September 13
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — As Hurricane Florence blew into Wilmington, about two dozen locals gathered behind the boarded-up windows of a bar that’s survived its share of squalls and tempests. There they raised their glasses Thursday in a toast and a shout: “Here’s to Wilmington!”
The Barbary Coast, described as the oldest bar in this North Carolina city, has a time-honored custom of staying open in tropical storms.
“It’s a tradition. People would be mad if we weren’t open,” said owner Eli Ellsworth. “People are under a lot of stress. It’s therapy.”
Seated at the well-worn bar under a stamped metal ceiling at Thursday’s happy hour, Rick Bonney sipped on his fourth Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. He and his wife figured it was their last chance to get out before hunkering down for days. The center of the hurricane was predicted to barrel through the city sometime Friday.
“We were boarded up, watching TV and I said: ‘Let’s go see some humans because we’re going to be stuck inside for the next 48 hours,” he said. “You always know the Barbary is going to be open.”
The bar has initials carved into the wood and name plates bearing regulars’ names, such as the ones that read, “Jim Clark RIP” or “Boney Tony.” The jukebox playing the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band and Steve Miller Band, was loud enough to make people forget about the trees swaying outside. Several people brought their dogs.
At a booth, downtown resident Steven Harrington and two of his friends chased tequila shots with Tecate beer. On the walls around them were Pabst Blue Ribbon neon signs, old circular life preservers and a surf board. Seated next to him, Michael Ussery said he’d eaten two of the chocolate cupcakes donated by the bakery across the street before it shuttered for the storm.
“No one wants to be cooped up in their house for hours,” Harrington said.
A the same booth, Kathryn Cloniger-Kirk was hopeful that goodwill among strangers hunkering down together up and down the coast — whether in hotels, shelters or the occasional dive bar — would extend past the tense hours of dangerous weather.
“It would be nice after the storm for people to remember how we got along and continue to have that compassion,” she said.
It was about then that the bar erupted into the toast to the resilience of the Port City — and to the local watering hole.
Ellsworth, the owner, said the bar is 77 years old. He’s owned it for the last 11. He said he stocked up ahead of Florence and expects to sell as many as 480 Pabst Blue Ribbons before the storm departs — the bar’s flagship beer.
And beer, after all, is what really powers an establishment like his — not electricity: “If we lose power, we have candles,” he said.
As the wind blew increasingly hard outside, more people filed in for happy hour, and the mood seemed to rise on the trills of Jerry Garcia’s guitar in “Visions of Johanna” playing through the bar’s speakers.
As two journalists walked back out into the rain to leave, a woman in the doorway shouted after them, “Port City Strong!”
Follow Drew at www.twitter.com/JonathanLDrew
Florida opens up hotel rooms, ports to Florence evacuees
By MIKE SCHNEIDER
Friday, September 14
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — With Hurricane Florence barreling toward their home near Wilmington, North Carolina, Allison Hales Jordan and her husband boarded up their house, packed up their car and headed to Walt Disney World in Florida with their two teenage children.
“When we decided where to go, everybody was going west, but we decided we should go as far south as possible, which is weird since Florida gets hurricanes,” said Jordan who works as a preschool director in Burgaw, North Carolina.
Long accustomed to its residents evacuating north or to other parts of the state when hurricanes threaten, Florida was in the unusual position this week of accommodating diverted cruise ships and hotel-room seekers hoping to escape the wrath of Hurricane Florence, which made landfall Friday morning in North Carolina.
State emergency officials said Thursday they had no way of tracking how many residents from the Carolinas had escaped to Florida this week. But Florida hotels were offering special discounts for hurricane evacuees and Florida ports were opening their terminals to cruise ships making unexpected ports of call.
Port Canaveral along Florida’s Space Coast had two ships visiting unexpectedly when Hurricane Florence made it impossible to stop in Bermuda.
New York-based Norwegian Escape and its 4,200 passengers stopped at the port Tuesday. Royal Caribbean’s Baltimore-based Grandeur of the Seas and its 2,000 passengers was diverted to Port Canaveral on Wednesday and was set to leave on Friday. Passengers on both ships took excursions to theme parks in Orlando, local beaches and the nearby Kennedy Space Center.
The reversal in fortunes in a state that was ravaged by Hurricane Irma last year and threatened by Hurricane Matthew the previous year wasn’t lost on Port Canaveral CEO John Murray.
“For the last two years, we’ve had our ships going to other ports, but this year it’s just the opposite for us,” Murray said.
Hotelier Harris Rosen was offering steep discounts at his nine hotels in the Orlando area for Hurricane Florence evacuees. The prices ranged from $59 to $79 a night, depending on the hotel, and all pets were welcome. Rosen has been offering the hurricane discounts for decades, but they typically are used by Floridians escaping the coasts.
“I get more hugs and kisses during hurricane season,” Rosen said.
From a monorail heading to the Magic Kingdom, Jordan said by telephone that it was weird going to “the most magical place on Earth” when she didn’t know what was in store from Hurricane Florence.
“I feel guilty but we’re trying to make the best of the situation,” Jordan said. “We’re trying to find some Disney magic, even when we don’t know what we are going to find when we go back and we don’t know when we will go back home. We’re here even though are hearts are in North Carolina.”
Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP .
For the latest on Hurricane Florence, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes
What is flood insurance and why the system is broken: 6 questions answered
September 12, 2018
Robert W. Klein
Director, Center for RMI Research, Associate Professor, Risk Management and Insurance, Georgia State University
Robert W. Klein does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Georgia State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Editor’s note: Homeowners generally rely on insurance provided by the federal government to cover the costs of rebuilding their lives after a flood. We asked an insurance expert to explain the government program and its challenges.
1. What is flood insurance?
Homeowners’ insurance does not cover damage to a home caused by flooding. A homeowner must have a separate policy to cover flood-related losses, defined as water traveling along or under the ground.
Most such policies are underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The program was established in 1968 to address the lack of availability of flood insurance in the private market and reduce demand for federal disaster assistance. It also contains provisions intended to reduce flood risk.
The National Flood Insurance Program’s activities are funded largely by the premiums and fees paid by its policyholders, supplemented by a little from the federal budget to help pay for flood risk mapping. Because the program serves the public interest, some believe that more of its funding for flood risk management should be borne by taxpayers.
Homeowners can purchase a federal flood policy directly from the program or through a private insurer. Separately, some private insurers sell their own flood policies on a limited basis for properties that are overcharged by the government’s program.
2. How many homeowners have flood insurance?
It is difficult to determine exactly how many homeowners have flood insurance.
The National Flood Insurance Program had just over 5 million policies in force as of May 31. Of these policies, approximately 69 percent were on single-family homes and 21 percent on condo units. There is no source on how many private flood policies are in force, but my sense is that it is comparatively small.
In recent years, the number of such policies has been dropping across the country over concerns about the cost and an underestimation of the risks. Some of the counties hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, for example, such as Harris (which includes Houston), have experienced significant declines.
A more revealing – and more difficult to ascertain – stat is the share of homeowners in a disaster area who actually have flood insurance. In Harris County, for example, experts estimate that only about 15 percent of homeowners were insured for floods – though the percentage is likely higher in areas near coastlines.
Real estate data company CoreLogic estimated that approximately 75 percent of flood losses from Harvey were uninsured, a figure that rises to about 80 percent for Hurricane Irma.
3. Why do people at great risk forgo insurance?
A number of factors affect a homeowner’s decision to buy flood insurance – or not.
People who perceive that their exposure to floods is high are more likely to buy it, all other things equal. While a mandatory purchase requirement is intended to force owners of mortgaged homes in areas at high risk of flooding to buy insurance, it’s estimated that only about half of them do.
One reason might be that 43 percent of homeowners incorrectly believe that their homeowners’ insurance covers them for flood losses.
Other factors also come into play, such as a lack of information, the difficulty of calculating flood risk and the expectation that the government will provide disaster assistance that will fully cover a homeowner’s uninsured flood losses – which is in fact rarely the case.
4. What does flood insurance cover?
With a National Flood Insurance Program policy, a homeowner can purchase coverage on a dwelling up to US$250,000 and the contents of a home up to $100,000. It does not cover costs associated with “loss of use” of a home.
These limits have been in effect since 1994 and are no longer high enough to account for the increase in the replacement cost of homes and the actual cash value of their contents. As a result, some homeowners buy additional flood protection from private insurers to make up any shortfall.
5. Why is the federal program underwater?
The National Flood Insurance Program has faced considerable criticism over its underwriting and pricing of policies, which have resulted in a substantial debt. Essentially, its premiums are not high enough to cover how much it pays out on claims and its other costs.
Part of the problem is that about 20 percent of the properties the program insures pay a subsidized rate. But many other National Flood Insurance Program policyholders are also paying premiums substantially less than what it costs to insure them because the rates do not adequately account for the catastrophic losses incurred during years when more major storms than normal strike, such as Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Sandy in 2012.
To show how much single storms can cost, the National Flood Insurance Program paid out $8.7 billion to cover Harvey-related flood losses, $16.3 billion for Katrina and $8.8 billion for Sandy.
These inadequate rates also exacerbate the moral hazard created by flood insurance. People are more likely to buy, build or rebuild homes in flood-prone areas and have diminished incentives to invest in flood risk mitigation, such as by elevating their home, if they can buy insurance at below-cost rates.
Although Congress forgave $16 billion in debt last year, the National Flood Insurance Program still owed $20.5 billion to the U.S. Treasury as of February.
Hurricane Florence and other storms that may follow will substantially increase this debt – and may require more forgiveness.
6. What can be done to fix the program?
Legislative efforts to reform the National Flood Insurance Program to put it on firmer fiscal footing have produced mixed results.
The Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 made a number of changes to the program, such as increasing premiums, to make it “more financially stable.” While that would have gone a long way to restore its fiscal solvency, an outcry from homeowners in high-risk areas led to the 2014 Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which limited or rescinded many of the Biggert-Waters rate increases.
Currently, there is a bill in Congress that would fix some but not all of the problems with the program, such as by making it easier for private companies to sell their own policies and tightening the rules for properties that suffer repetitive losses.
But its prospects are dim to opposition from legislators concerned about some of its changes, particularly its rate increases and the repetitive loss provision.
Fundamentally, the program millions of Americans rely on to help them rebuild their lives after a devastating flood needs to be fixed. Its dire financial straits could be resolved by either making taxpayers foot more of the bill or increasing premiums closer to full-cost rates for most homeowners, while also raising total coverage levels.
At the same time, I believe the government needs to do more to convince or compel more at-risk homeowners to buy flood insurance – which would be harder to do if it were to raise rates. To me, this suggests that increasing taxpayer support for the the program will have to be part of the solution so that pricey premiums don’t become a deterrent to someone buying insurance.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Sept. 7, 2017
Want to help after hurricanes? Give cash, not diapers
September 13, 2018
Researcher in international law and humanitarian response, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Harvard University
Julia Brooks does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Some companies and community groups didn’t wait for Hurricane Florence to make landfall before organizing donation drives.
But as a researcher with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, an interdisciplinary center at Harvard University dedicated to relieving human suffering in wartime and disasters by analyzing and improving the way professionals and communities respond to emergencies, I wish they would have.
I’ve studied dozens of disasters, from Hurricane Maria and Superstorm Sandy to the South Asian tsunami and one thing is clear: In-kind donations of items such as food, clothing, toiletries and diapers are often the last thing that is needed in disaster-affected areas.
Delivering things that people need on the ground simply doesn’t help disaster-struck communities as much as giving them – and relief organizations – money to buy what they need. What’s more, truckloads of blue jeans and cases of Lunchables can actually interfere with official relief efforts.
If you want to do the greatest good, send money.
What’s wrong with in-kind donations
As humanitarian workers and volunteers have witnessed after disasters like Haiti’s 2010 earthquake and Southeast Asia’s Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, disaster relief efforts repeatedly provide lessons in good intentions gone wrong.
At best, in-kind donations augment official efforts and provide the locals with some additional comfort, especially when those donations come from nearby. When various levels of government failed to meet the needs of Hurricane Katrina victims, for example, community, faith-based and private sector organizations stepped in to fill many of the gaps.
How can in-kind donations cause more harm than good? Donated goods raise the cost of the response cycle: from collecting, sorting, packaging and shipping bulky items across long distances to, upon arrival, reception, sorting, warehousing and distribution.
Delivering this aid is tough in disaster areas since transportation infrastructure, such as airports, seaports, roads and bridges, are likely to be, if not damaged or incapacitated by the initial disaster, already clogged by the surge of incoming first responders, relief shipments and equipment.
This is especially the case in places like the Outer Banks, a string of barrier islands off North Carolina’s coast, where the challenges of bringing relief goods in, and distributing them to people who need supplies, are heightened by geography.
At worst, disaster zones become dumping grounds for inappropriate goods that delay actual relief efforts and harm local economies.
After the 2004 South Asian tsunami, shipping containers full of ill-suited items such as used high-heeled shoes, ski gear and expired medications poured into the affected countries. This junk clogged ports and roads, polluting already ravaged areas and diverting personnel, trucks and storage facilities from actual relief efforts.
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, many untrained and uninvited American volunteers bringing unnecessary goods ended up needing assistance themselves.
In-kind donations often not only fail to help those in actual need but cause congestion, tie up resources and further hurt local economies when dumped on the market, as research from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies determined.
Research confirms that a significant portion of aid dispatched to disaster areas is “non-priority,” inappropriate or useless.
One study led by José Holguín-Veras, a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute expert on humanitarian logistics, found that 50 percent to 70 percent of the goods that arrive during these emergencies should never have been sent and interfere with recovery efforts. After the 2011 Joplin, Missouri, tornado and the Tōhoku, Japan, earthquake, for example, excessive donations of clothing and blankets tied up relief personnel.
Relief workers consider these well-meaning but inconvenient donations as a “second-tier disaster” due to the disruption they cause.
What else can you do?
Instead of shipping your hand-me-downs, donate money to trusted and established organizations with extensive experience and expertise – and local ties.
Give to groups that make it clear where the money will go. Choose relief efforts that will procure supplies near the disaster area, which will help the local economy recover. You can also consult organizations like Charity Navigator that evaluate charities’ financial performance.
Many humanitarian aid organizations themselves have increasingly adopted cash-based approaches in recent years, though money remains a small share of overall humanitarian aid worldwide.
Evaluations of the effectiveness of such programs vary and are context-dependent. Nonetheless, emerging evidence suggests that disbursing cash is often the best way to help people in disaster zones get the food and shelter they need.
What’s more, the World Food Program and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees say that people affected by disasters tend to prefer cash over in-kind aid due to the dignity, control and flexibility it gives them.
There are a few notable exceptions to this advice on avoiding in-kind donations.
If you live in or near the affected area, it is helpful to consider dropping the specific items victims are requesting at local food banks, shelters and other community organizations. Just make sure that the items won’t perish by the time they can be distributed. For areas in Hurricane Florence’s path, for instance, the Red Cross has requested blood donations.
Charity is a virtue. Particularly when disaster strikes, the urge to help is admirable. Yet this impulse should be channeled to do the greatest good. So please, if you would like to help from afar, let the professionals procure goods and services. Instead, donate money and listen to what people on the ground say they need.
And don’t stop giving after the disaster stops making headlines. A full recovery will take time and support long after the emergency responders and camera crews have moved on.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Sept. 4, 2017.