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We are about to see a collision between two disasters in Louisiana and perhaps in Houston. These are areas with a high incidence of the COVID-19 pandemic and now with the hurricane winds of Laura, now listed as a Category 4 hurricane. “Before Marco and Laura even registered as tropical disturbances in the Atlantic Ocean, scientists cautioned that major storms could lead to the spread of more COVID-19 infections.

New research by scientists from Columbia University and the Union of Concerned Scientists found that fierce storms ranked as Category 3 or higher could result in thousands of new COVID-19 infections. The scientists modeled an infection scenario by retracing the evacuation routes of the 2.3 million southeastern Floridians who fled Hurricane Irma in 2017. That same number of evacuees on the move today could prompt as many as 61,000 new cases of COVID-19, the study found.”

Louisiana has a lot of COVID-19 cases, and Houston is a major city which is just coming off of a major spread of the disease. But now residents in those areas are being told to evacuate. But evacuate where and how? It the population crowds certain routes, or takes shelter in similar places, the clumping together is likely to spread the disease, as the new research shows.

It is very possible that hurricane Laura and COVID-19 may give Trump and the Republicans a stunning political blow.

A focused look at the predicted route of Hurricane Laura shows that it will go through many areas with high populations. Just along the Texas and Louisiana coasts, Laura is threatening 600,000 homes worth $125 billion. Inland, it will pass through Arkansas and then over Nashville, Louisville, Richmond, Philadelphia Washington, DC, New York, Providence and Boston. As it goes inland, the strength of the storm is likely to decrease, but it could still have considerable strength even when it reaches the East Coast. The Republican Convention will fortunately be over before the storm reaches where it was.

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But consider the reaction of the people in the affected areas. First, we don’t know whether the federal government is ready to contribute substantial resources to help alleviate the impact. By August 26, “President Donald Trump has now amended the emergency declarations for both Texas and Louisiana ahead of the landfall of Hurricane Laura.” But there is every possibility that Laura will spread wind disaster beyond those two states, and mixing the storm with COVID-19 is an entirely new problem. Moreover, FEMA continues to be occupied with problems stemming from wildfires in California. This combination may prove disastrous for Trump.

“Hurricane Katrina . . . was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history during the late summer of 2005. In addition to showing the determination and courage of the victims and first responders – etched deep into the nation's consciousness – Katrina also illustrated the perils that presidents face when they fail to deal with such calamities in a timely and efficient way, as George W. Bush discovered [over] a decade ago.” Bush was on vacation and didn’t react in a timely way to Katrina. Trump is presently occupied with the Republican National Convention and may likewise fail to react to Laura.

It is difficult to predict if the storm will cause a horrible spread of COVID-19, although it may do that. If this result is caused by inattention to the storm, coupled with Trump’s mismanagement in the early days of COVID-19, he could well lose the backing of his political base. Those who support him are in the very areas where the storm (and, perhaps, the spread of COVID-19) will be located.

One should pay attention to whether first responders in the storm area start contracting the pandemic disease. That would be a clear signal that the storm plus the pandemic area wreaking havoc. While the first responders and the doctors may do their best, FEMA is a vital participant in avoiding a real disaster. One doesn’t know if the federal agency is on top of its game or not. Last April, FEMA, “the coordinator of the government’s coronavirus response, entered the crisis with thousands of unfilled positions and the leadership of its parent department singularly focused on immigration.” On August 10 it was reported that “President Trump made plans Saturday to help pay for a new round of unemployment benefits by siphoning money from Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funds.” If FEMA has been sucked dry through the loss of its disaster funds, it will be weakened at a moment when its services are desperately needed.

michael hertz

In other words, it is very possible that Laura and COVID-19 may give Trump and the Republicans a stunning political blow. It is sad to think that many will suffer because of their ineptitude and carelessness.

Michael T. Hertz