Chip Fulghum: Back-to-back storms leave vulnerable communities with even more anguish

As hurricane season closes, residents across Florida are recovering from the one-two punch delivered by Hurricane Ian, one of the worst storms in state history, and Hurricane Nicole, whose wind and rains pounded an already injured East Coast.

In the case of Hurricane Ian, widespread flooding and wind damage displaced thousands across the state. In all, the economic damage is estimated at $67 billion. It will be one of the costliest storms in Florida’s history.

After this hurricane season, Floridians living on fixed incomes were left with an exacerbated housing crisis, economic turmoil and mental anguish — all of which will last for years to come, just like the recovery process.

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For many who have survived a hurricane, this scenario is all too familiar. Some residents who weathered Hurricane Ida, Irma, Delta or Maria are still living in temporary or damaged housing months and years after these storms devastated their communities. Year after year, they continue to experience devastating storms.

When disasters impact a significant amount of housing, communities struggle to meet housing needs. Residents are left in limbo, living in substandard housing and teetering on the edge of experiencing homelessness. They continue to experience trauma, hindering their ability to recover. As a result, Floridians, especially in rural communities, can lose hope and feel left behind — as we saw with Hurricane Michael in 2018.

One of those individuals was Claudia Porter, whose house suffered structural damage from Hurricane Irma. Endeavors, a Texas firm that provides disaster case management with a satellite office in Jacksonville, in partnership with RISE Orange County and LIFT JAX restored her house and provided long-term case management to connect her to critical services. Before Endeavors’ help, she lived in hazardous conditions for over five years.

A disaster relief team from Jacksonville-based Florida Baptist Convention prepares meals for Hurricane Ian victims in Southwest Florida.
A disaster relief team from Jacksonville-based Florida Baptist Convention prepares meals for Hurricane Ian victims in Southwest Florida.

Stronger hurricanes, severe droughts, wildfires and other extreme weather events are affecting our most vulnerable populations, particularly rural communities that already face social and economic hardships.

Rural communities typically have limited capacity and must overcome barriers to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. They are isolated, located further from emergency services, have aging infrastructure and fewer assets and resources to deploy before or after a natural disaster.

Higher poverty levels, elderly and minority populations in rural communities also increase social vulnerability. Communities with greater social vulnerability are disproportionally affected by extreme weather or natural disasters.

These socially vulnerable communities are usually in low-lying areas, flood plains and coastal wetlands. Historic segregation and growing economic inequality have pushed low-income and minority communities into these flood-prone areas. Populations environmentally and socially vulnerable to flooding are disproportionately minorities. Over 19 million people live in high flood-risk areas clustered in rural Southern states.

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For these individuals at risk, long-term recovery should not only rebuild housing but also improve infrastructure to lessen the likelihood of future loss. However, the funding process can be convoluted and traumatic for people who need assistance. Survivors relive painful memories. Those without internet access, transportation or who speak a foreign language may not be able to access help.

Federal dollars are a lifeline for communities recovering from a disaster. To supplement immediate disaster-relief efforts, long-term recovery funds are provided to disaster relief agencies like Endeavors, that deploy resources and provide long-term disaster case management services.

But more funding and resources are needed — from both federal and state sources —to bridge capacity gaps to help rural communities recover. These long-term funding mechanisms and efforts will provide hope to communities that desperately need us and further our impact.

God willing, we are done for the year when it comes to hurricanes, but long-term recovery efforts are just starting. We stand ready to help those in need. It is our hope that the communities and residents like Claudia, will not lose faith in a brighter future — because from help, comes hope.


Chip Fulghum is president and COO of Endeavors, a Texas firm that provides disaster case management with a satellite office in Jacksonville.

This guest column is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Times-Union. We welcome a diversity of opinions

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Back-to-back storms leave vulnerable communities with more anguish