A Kuwaiti student in the eye of Irma

Salman Al-Mutawa

Some Kuwait Times readers may already know that I am currently studying my master’s degree in Florida, and yes, I am still here during Hurricane Irma. I thought it would be best to break off the studying abroad routine and give a first-hand account of the hurricane. It is happening right outside my window as I am writing this editorial.

Four days before the hurricane, the city of Miami received notice that Irma will be a category 5 hurricane. My roommate and I decided to leave Miami and head to Orlando, where we will have a couple of more days to see where the Hurricane is headed. I am currently in an Orlando resort that it fully prepped for the hurricane. I received many phone calls from the embassy of Kuwait and worried individuals offering their aid, and I would like to thank everyone who has reached out. I would also like to describe the reality of the situation.

Hurricane Irma is a large, category 5 hurricane capable of mass destruction. It is currently leaving Miami after flooding the downtown area and Brickell. It is now making its way towards northern Florida with the eye aimed at Tampa. It will flood the beaches and leave empty batches of dry land in the middle of the sea as a result of a phenomenon called “Storm Surge”. This is when the strong winds from the hurricane literally push the water from inside the ocean onto land.

This is the most dangerous side effect of a hurricane, and it is what caused the bulk of the deaths during hurricane Katrina. The second most dangerous side effect is not the winds, it is the items that the winds carry and fling into the air. Small rocks can become speeding bullets and trees can fly like birds in the sky. Electric wires can be torn off their posts and fall into puddles formed by the hurricane in its aftermath. Stepping in these puddles can be dangerous and is ill advised. This is the reality of the situation.

HOWEVER, all of this being said, national TV does overhype the situation for two main reasons: ratings and safety. It is in the best interest of the state of Florida to evacuate as many individuals as possible. For those who are more stubborn, it is better to try and scare them into leaving. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the city of Miami and state of Florida had a painful reminder of what weak infrastructure could result in. Post 1992, most buildings in Miami were built to be hurricane-proof. National news does not touch on this aspect but the local news does. I have watched both national and local news channels report on the hurricane. Local news projects a calm, caring effect, releasing information that will keep the inhabitants of the area safe and secure. National news however, has decided to mix the aforementioned tactic with fear-mongering.

Buildings in Miami and major Florida cities are generally up to hurricane-proof standards. Florida governor Rick Scott and the Florida government have released and continue to release the best guidelines for staying safe during the hurricane and have been very effective in communicating these guidelines. Hurricane Irma usually spends around 12-15 hours on top of a city until it moves on. Currently, the majority of people who were harmed by the hurricane are people who are acting stupid- walking outside to take pictures or even going into the beach for a swim. All others in dangerous areas have been evacuated and are currently in shelters. Evacuees have plenty of food and water and are mostly enjoying watching the weather outside their hurricane-proof windows because the electric grids have been shut off for safety.

I would not go as far as to say that there is no reason to worry, but I would like to communicate that all the precautions have been implemented and all Kuwaiti students have evacuated or are in safe secure buildings. All in all, this is a wonderful- and dangerous- learning experience for all of us. It is also a not-so-friendly reminder of our fragility and our need to remain calm and humble during this age of deadly weather forecasts.

By Salman Al-Mutawa


This article was published on 11/09/2017