Devastation in Florida from Michael


Staff & Wire Reports

Debris from homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael block a road Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Mexico Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Debris from homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael block a road Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Mexico Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Images trickle out of Michael’s vast devastation


AP Media Writer

Friday, October 12

NEW YORK (AP) — The urgency of hurricane coverage with its colorful satellite maps and reporters standing in the wind is a television staple, but devastation in Hurricane Michael’s wake was so severe that it made images of some of the hardest-hit areas in Florida trickle out Thursday as slowly as if from a distant, third-world nation.

Broadcast news organizations faced a challenge in getting reporters to Mexico Beach, 40 miles east of the more populated Panama City, where wind and storm surge left behind a moonscape of damage. Roads were impassable and some reporters had been pulled out of the town in advance of the storm because of safety fears.

“We knew that was a bad place and our mission was to try to get there today,” said Michael Bass, CNN’s executive vice president of programming. A source’s cell phone footage of water rushing through the town, picking up houses and cars along the way, and an official’s anguished cell phone call on Wednesday gave hints about the damage.

Thursday’s coverage illustrated that there are still limits to technology and reportorial ingenuity in the face of a massive disaster. For several hours, television viewers following the story had the ominous sense that something was missing. Cable networks filled time with other stories, but even the sight of Kanye West meeting in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump seemed like a distraction.

By arranging a helicopter ride, CNN’s Brooke Baldwin broke through. The network aired aerial shots of the town and, shortly before noon, Baldwin landed to deliver reports. “When I tell you that all of Mexico Beach has been leveled, this is the truth,” Baldwin said, standing before a mound of debris.

With cell phone towers blown down, CNN had to use a satellite transmitter to get pictures out. It made for some blotchy pictures and malfunctions, and at one point she said she had to stand in one place to make sure the signal wasn’t lost.

CNN was also trying to get a reporter to Mexico Beach by boat. Another CNN reporter, Brian Todd, made it in by ground by Thursday afternoon.

“These are very brave people that we send out to do these things,” Bass said. “There’s a lot of danger to this area.”

Baldwin’s helicopter arrival made CNN’s rivals look flat-footed for a few hours. In one report MSNBC’s Kerry Sanders, standing in Panama City, pointed above him to a helicopter flying to more damaged areas.

“Mexico Beach is going to be the place that a lot of people talk about,” Sanders said.

ABC News’ Ginger Zee, who was in Mexico Beach during the storm on Wednesday, transmitted pictures and video of water rushing under the condominium building where she was staying. She stepped on a balcony a few hours later to show the aftermath. “It’s really wild to see,” she said.

The Weather Channel’s Stephanie Abrams was stationed 10 miles from Mexico Beach before the storm but reported that with what she was seeing on the satellite images, she didn’t think the house she was in would withstand the wind, said Nora Zimmet, the network’s programming chief. Abrams was told to get out of town. With a police escort, she tried beginning at 3 a.m. to get to Mexico Beach, but had to turn back. She finally made it later in the day.

“I applaud all of our media brethren for going out in the field and covering this,” Zimmet said. “No story is worth risking your life. We take calculated risks.”

Fox News Channel’s Mike Tobin similarly struck out before dawn for Mexico Beach from the Pensacola area and made it by 9 a.m. The lack of cell service meant he had to leave town to transmit reports, he said.

“It was a little hairy,” he said in an interview. “The biggest obstacle was all the power lines.”

NBC News’ Mariana Atencio filed a report on Instagram when she made it to Mexico Beach, describing what she had seen on the road in as like a war zone.

“There are chunks of the road which are completely gone,” she said. “Boats, cars, pancaked on top of houses.”

Drones proved to be the secret weapon of networks that could get them in place. They provided striking aerial footage of damage, in some cases sweeping inside damaged buildings. On his newscast, Fox’s Shepard Smith used a drone’s sweep over a canal in Mexico Beach and compared it to an earlier satellite image of the same area to show how many homes used to be there but no longer were. He described the pictures as “mind-altering.”

Fox’s Tobin said he’s seen more powerful and larger hurricanes, but none that combined the two traits like Michael. “I haven’t seen one with such miles and miles and miles of destruction as this one,” he said.

“You don’t want to lose track that so many lives have just been shattered,” he said.

Attorney General DeWine Offers Charitable Giving Tips After Hurricane Michael

October 12, 2018

(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today offered giving tips to Ohioans who want to help those affected by Hurricane Michael.

“Ohioans have always reached out to their neighbors in need with compassion and generosity. We’re confident that once again they’ll reach into their pockets to help those who were harmed by Hurricane Michael, and we encourage them to make sure that charitable solicitations are legitimate before they donate,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Unfortunately, scammers are quick to exploit those with good intentions and too often enrich themselves with contributions that were meant to assist victims.”

After a natural disaster or tragedy, some sham fundraisers try to take advantage of donors’ generosity. They make claims that seem legitimate and use names that sound reputable or similar to those of well-known, established organizations, but ultimately they keep most or all of the money they collect for themselves, without using it for the charitable causes they claim to support.

Signs of a potential charity scam include:

  • High-pressure tactics.
  • No details about how contributions will be used.
  • No written information about the charity, its mission, or how it operates.
  • Requests for payment to an individual, rather than an organization.
  • Someone who offers to pick up donations immediately.
  • Requests for donations via cash or gift card.
  • Callers who ask for donations but don’t identify themselves and won’t provide written information about the cause.
  • Some people who raise money after a natural disaster or tragedy have good intentions but lack the experience to properly handle donors’ contributions.
  • To help ensure donations are used as intended, donors should check requests before contributing. For example:
  • Don’t rely on a group’s name alone. Many sham charities have real-sounding names.
  • Don’t assume a charity recommendation you find online has been vetted, even if it’s posted by someone you know. Check it out yourself.
  • Research charities using the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and other resources.
  • Check an organization’s IRS Form 990, which is typically available on GuideStar, to find program descriptions, expenses, and other details.
  • Determine how you can best help. For example, a charity may prefer monetary donations rather than donated goods. Similarly, if you want to set up a fundraiser for a specific group, contact the organization in advance to determine how you can properly collect donations.
  • Be aware that some calls come from for-profit companies that are paid to collect donations. If you ask, these professional solicitors must tell you how much of your donation will go to the charity. They also are required to identify themselves.
  • When evaluating crowdfunding or online fundraising campaigns set up to help those impacted by the storm, keep additional considerations in mind. For example:
  • Determine which campaigns are supported by those close to the tragedy and which haven’t been vetted. In some cases, the person who sets up an online fundraiser may not have permission to do so or may not use the funds as promised.
  • Find out how your money will be used. For example, will it be used for a specific person or family, or will it be used for the greater community? Keep in mind that that giving money to an individual is different from donating to a charity. Your donation may not be tax deductible. Also determine whether you will be charged any fees for making the donation and what percentage of your donation will go to the cause itself.
  • Determine what the website will do (if anything) with your personal information. Be wary of websites that do not provide a privacy policy. Also, make sure the site is secure before entering your payment information or other sensitive details. Look for the “https” in the web address; the “s” indicates that it’s secure.

Those who suspect a charity scam or questionable charitable activity should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515. The Ohio Attorney General’s Charitable Law Section investigates suspected violations of the state’s charitable laws and pursues enforcement actions to protect Ohio donors.

The Conversation

Why doesn’t the U.S. bury its power lines?

October 12, 2018


Theodore J. Kury

Director of Energy Studies, University of Florida

Disclosure statement

Theodore Kury is the Director of Energy Studies at the University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Center, which is sponsored in part by the Florida electric and gas utilities and the Florida Public Service Commission, none of which has editorial control of any of the content the Center produces.


University of Florida provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

It is nearing the end of a highly destructive hurricane season in the United States. The devastation of Hurricane Florence in North and South Carolina caused more than 1.4 million customers to lose power and Hurricane Michael has cut service to an estimated 900,000 customers in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Soon, winter storms will bring wind and snow to much of the country

Anxious people everywhere worry about the impact these storms might have on their safety, comfort and convenience. Will they disrupt my commute to work? My children’s ride to school? My electricity service?

When it comes to electricity, people turn their attention to the power lines overhead and wonder if their electricity service might be more secure if those lines were buried underground. But having studied this question for utilities and regulators, I can say the answer is not that straightforward. Burying power lines, also called undergrounding, is expensive, requires the involvement of many stakeholders and might not solve the problem at all.

Where should ratepayer money go?

Electric utilities do not provide service for free, as everyone who opens their utility bill every month can attest. All of the costs of providing service are ultimately paid by the utility’s customers, so it is critical that every dollar spent on that service provides good value for those customers. Utility regulators in every state have the responsibility to ensure that utilities provide safe and reliable service at just and reasonable rates.

But what are customers willing to pay for ensuring reliability and mitigating risk? That’s complicated. Consider consumer choices in automobile insurance. Some consumers choose maximum insurance coverage through a zero deductible. Others blanch at the higher premiums zero deductibles bring and choose a higher deductible at lower premium cost.

To provide insurance for electricity service, regulators and utilities must aggregate the preferences of individual customers into a single standard for the grid. It’s a difficult task that requires a collaborative effort.

The state of Florida’s reaction in the wake of the 2004-2005 hurricane seasons provides a model for this type of cooperative effort. Utilities, regulators and government officials meet every year to address the efficacy of Florida’s storm hardening efforts and discuss how these efforts should evolve, including the selective undergrounding of power lines. This collaborative effort has resulted in the refinement of utility “vegetation management practices” – selective pruning of trees and bushes to avoid contact with power lines and transformers – in the state as well as a simulation model to assess the economic costs and benefits of undergrounding power lines.

Nationally, roughly 25 percent of new distribution and transmission lines are built underground, according to a 2012 industry study. Some European countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, have made significant commitments to undergrounding.

Burying power lines costs roughly US $1 million per mile, but the geography or population density of the service area can halve this cost or triple it. In the wake of a statewide ice storm in December 2002, the North Carolina Utilities Commission and the electric utilities explored the feasibility of burying the state’s distribution lines underground and concluded that the project would take 25 years to complete and increase electricity rates by 125 percent. The project was never begun, as the price increase was not seen as reasonable for consumers.

A 2010 engineering study for the Public Service Commission on undergrounding a portion of the electricity system in the District of Columbia found that costs increased rapidly as utilities try to underground more of their service territory. The study concluded that a strategic $1.1 billion (in 2006 dollars) investment would improve the reliability for 65 percent of the customers in the utility’s service territory, but an additional $4.7 billion would be required to improve service for the remaining 35 percent of customers in outlying areas. So, over 80 percent of the costs for the project would be required to benefit a little more than one third of the customers. The Mayor’s Power Line Undergrounding Task Force ultimately recommended a $1 billion hardening project that would increase customer bills by 3.23 percent on average after seven years.

Shifting risk

In addition to the capital cost, undergrounding may make routine maintenance of the system more difficult, and thus more expensive, because of reduced accessibility to power lines. This may also make it more difficult to repair the system when outages do occur, prolonging the duration of each outage. Utility regulators and distribution utilities must weigh this cost against the costs of repairing and maintaining the electricity system in its overhead state.

Electricity service is valuable. A 2009 study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated an economic cost of $10.60 for an eight-hour interruption in electricity service to the average residential customer. For an average small commercial or industrial customer the cost grew to $5,195, and to almost $70,000 for an average medium to large commercial or industrial customer. The economic benefits of storm hardening, therefore, are significant.

Beyond the economic value of undergrounding, one could consider other benefits, such as aesthetic ones, which may be more difficult to quantify. The safety of the electricity grid is also a concern. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection recently concluded that high winds and above-ground power lines were the cause of the Cascade Fire of October 2017. But all costs and benefits must be considered to ensure value for the customer’s investment.

In terms of reliability, it is not correct to say that burying power lines protects them from storm damage. It simply shifts the risk of damage from one type of storm effect to another.

For example, it is true that undergrounding can mitigate damage from wind events such as flying debris, falling trees and limbs, and collected ice and snow. But alternatives, such as proper vegetation management practices, replacing wood poles with steel, concrete or composite ones, or reinforcing utility poles with guy wires, may be nearly as effective in mitigating storm damage and may cost less.

Also, undergrounding power lines may make them more susceptible to damage from corrosive storm surge and flooding from rainfall or melting ice and snow. Areas with greater vulnerability to storm surge and flooding will confront systems that are less reliable (and at greater cost) as a result of undergrounding.

So, the relocation of some power lines underground may provide a cost-effective strategy to mitigate the risk of damage to elements of a utility’s infrastructure. But these cases should be evaluated individually by the local distribution utility and its regulator. Otherwise consumers will end up spending more for their electricity service, and getting less.

This is an update to an article originally published September 12, 2017.

Nevada Senate race could test Kavanaugh impact


Associated Press

Friday, October 12

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Many Republicans are breathing easier this week, confident that the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination fired up their voters.

Dean Heller isn’t one of them. Facing a female challenger in a state gradually becoming more Democratic, the senator and longtime fixture in Nevada politics has long been one of the few GOP incumbents at risk of losing their seat this year.

Now, in the final weeks of the campaign, he’s got a full-scale gender politics fight on his hands, infused with a stoked debate over abortion rights that will test whether the Supreme Court showdown will help or hurt the GOP’s effort to maintain control of the Senate.

He’s facing freshman congresswoman Jacky Rosen, who blasted Kavanaugh and railed on Heller’s characterization of sexual misconduct allegations against him as “smears” and a hiccup in the confirmation process.

Heller, who voted last week to confirm Kavanaugh, “never had any intention of being an independent voice on this Supreme Court nominee,” Rosen said after the vote. “Voters will hold Senator Heller accountable for becoming just another rubber stamp.”

She’s betting her message will resonate with a broad swath of suburban women who are angry with Trump, especially in the aftermath of Kavanaugh’s confirmation following allegations of sexual assault.

For most Republicans this year, supporting Trump and Kavanaugh make for good politics. GOP candidates in North Dakota and Missouri have made inroads by arguing the Democratic incumbents, who opposed the pick, are out of step with voters in these Republican-leaning states who overwhelmingly support Trump and his Supreme Court pick.

But Nevada is different. Heller is the only Republican up for re-election this year in a state carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. And though the state is often up for grabs by both parties, the urbanization of the Las Vegas area and the swelling number of Latino and Asian voters are shifting Nevada to the left.

Keenly mindful of Heller’s bind, Rosen frequently showcases his conflicting positions. On Kavanaugh, she blasted his support for an FBI investigation while simultaneously pledging to confirm him. On health care, an issue that Democrats think will hold special resonance with voters this year, she slams him for opposing legislation that would have repealed the 2010 health care law only to author a measure a few months later scrapping the overhaul.

“He is guilty of one of the biggest broken promises,” Rosen said in an interview.

Rosen’s arguments, Heller’s campaign says, are aimed at distracting voters from her light record in the House, where she’s served in the minority for less than two years.

“Jacky Rosen is doing everything she possibly can to distract Nevadans from the fact that she has done zero in Congress,” Heller spokesman Keith Schipper said, echoing Heller in his campaign’s ads.

There’s a dose of irony in the attacks on Heller as being too close to Trump. Heller was a target of the president’s consternation after initially opposing efforts to repeal the health care law. Seated alongside Heller at the White House in the summer of 2017, Trump not-so-subtly threatened the senator in a room full of his GOP peers.

“Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump remarked, insinuating the possibility that he would back a primary challenger.

Since then, the two have made peace, in part through Heller’s work writing provisions of the 2017 tax cuts. Trump has campaigned for Heller in Nevada twice and plans another stop before the Nov. 6 election.

“Your incredible senator, Dean Heller, is going to be with us all the time,” the president said at a rally last month.

Heller, who has been on the raucous Nevada political scene for 24 years, is viewed as an affable personality. But he’s been less visible in the state this year than Rosen, in part because the Senate has been in session more than the House. A campaign aide said Heller’s schedule was still taking shape, but that he planned to participate in a debate with Rosen on Oct. 19.

Beyond running as a Republican in a gradually Democratic trending state, he faces other challenges, including his residency near Reno, in the northern part of the state. Most voters live in the Las Vegas area, where he can’t lose too badly if he wants to win.

Rosen has hurdles of her own. She lacks Heller’s name recognition and has had to fight with little active assistance from Harry Reid, the former Senate Democratic leader and longtime Nevada power broker. Though Reid helped recruit Rosen to run, and has authored email fundraising solicitations for her, he has been absent from the public political fight as he battles pancreatic cancer.

Still, Rosen has had help from rising Democratic women. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a potential 2020 presidential contender, lauded Rosen in June at the Nevada Democratic convention and headlined a fundraiser for her that evening.

Another potential Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, recently spoke to a Nevada Democratic women’s group to promote Rosen and condemn Kavanaugh

As Election Day nears, Rosen is working feverishly to solidify a coalition of African Americans, women and immigrants, including Latinos who hold sway in Las Vegas’ powerful Culinary Union.

She began a recent weekend morning at breakfast with the wives of a dozen pastors who lead some of the most active African American churches in Las Vegas. Over a plate of fried catfish, grits and hash browns, Rosen listened to concerns from the black community, including what can be done for faith-based charities for women.

“We help the homeless women on very limited resources,” said Carmen West, who works with her husband at a church in suburban north Las Vegas. “It would be good to know that we have someone in a position of power and authority to help us help those people.”

Rosen responded with a message of solidarity.

“We are strong together when we form those friendships and those bonds,” she said, slapping the table. “Amen to that, sisters. Women, women, women.”

She later dashed through blocks of Spanish mission-style homes to speak at University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Asian student conference before driving past the strip’s gleaming entertainment monuments to events in the historically black Westside. There, she heard from mothers who expressed concern about police shootings and the safety of young African Americans.

“Every day, it’s just a constant worry about his safety,” said Tracy West, who is unrelated to Carmen, referring to her son attending graduate school in Ohio as a dozen women listened, nibbled on crostini and sipped wine.

Sitting straight and focused on West, Rosen responded: “Some changes only come about through, I think, friendship and trust.”

Debris from homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael block a road Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Mexico Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara) from homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael block a road Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Mexico Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Staff & Wire Reports