The record-setting 2017 hurricane season extended its streak this weekend, as Hurricane Nate made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River, packing sustained winds of 85 miles per hour. Nate's winds were far less powerful at landfall than Hurricane Maria, the killer storm that crippled Puerto Rico a few weeks ago, and the storm is significantly smaller and faster-moving than Hurricane Harvey, which brought devastating floods to Houston in August when it stalled over the Texas coast for days. Still, no hurricane can be ignored, and Nate was expected to knock out power to a significant portion of Alabama and Mississippi, and to bring flash flood risk as far inland as western North Carolina. Storm surge flooding was expected to occur in coastal Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle.
"In the coastal cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Ala., officials issued curfews and ordered mandatory evacuations in low-lying areas, including all beachfront condos and duplexes," reported The New York Times (see: "Hurricane Nate Makes Landfall on the Gulf Coast," by Jess Bidgood and John Schwartz). "Streets normally filled with traffic were desolate, drubbed by the rain, and beaches were empty except for whipping red flags. Gas stations ran out of fuel."
The latest storm will test the resources of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) already stretched thin by three major hurricanes in two months. "The federal flood insurance program is on track to run out of money to pay claims during the week of Oct. 23," PBS reported last week (see: "Trump administration asks Congress for $29 billion in disaster aid," by Andrew Taylor/Associated Press). "[White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney] said more than 20,000 federal workers have been deployed by various agencies to help in the hurricane recovery effort. The 'burn rate' of almost $200 million a day is requiring an infusion of cash into FEMA coffers."
Hard-hit Puerto Rico is facing years of hard recovery, starting with the daunting task of restoring electrical power. Two weeks after the storm, only 11% of the island's power customers had electricity, the Wall Street Journal reported (see: "Puerto Rico’s Power Restoration Slowed by Miles of Downed Lines," by Arian Campo-Flores). Tesla and Solar City founder Elon Musk was in talks with Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Roselli via Twitter about the possibility of remaking the island's power grid using disaster-resilient photovoltaic and battery "microgrid" technology (a solution Tesla has achieved on a smaller scale on the Pacific island of T'au in American Samoa — see this report from National Geographic: "How a Pacific Island Changed From Diesel to 100% Solar Power," by Daniel Lin).
And Alphabet (Google's parent company) was floating a proposal to restore Puerto Rico's cell phone and internet service using high-altitude balloon cell servers. Wired has this report (see: "Google’s Sister Company Wants to Fly Its Massive Balloons Over Puerto Rico to Restore Internet," by April Glaser).
Puerto Rico's recovery is hampered by the inherent difficulty of bringing aid to an island, and of the residents' limited ability to move to unaffected areas. But even on the mainland, recovery for storm-hit areas of Texas and Florida promised to be slow and difficult. Construction labor was in tight supply before the summer's disastrous storms; now, the shortage in Florida and Texas is critical. The Washington Post had this report (see: "Companies can’t find workers to rebuild after Harvey and Irma," by Danielle Pacquette). Charles "Chuck" Mason Jr., president of Mason Construction in Beaumont, Tex., told the paper, “This is going to be the biggest demand probably ever in this area for the housing trade. And there’s a severe shortage of qualified workers.”
"Mason Jr., 67, is having trouble hiring just one more carpenter to help clean up the area’s petroleum plants," the paper reported. "He’s looking for an extra 25."