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The Morning Dispatch: Hurricane Ian Pummels Florida
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The Morning Dispatch: Hurricane Ian Pummels Florida

'Ian is going to be a life-changing event,' one official said Wednesday.

Happy Thursday! If you’re looking for James Madison crystal flute content, you’re not going to find it here.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Hurricane Ian made landfall near Fort Myers, Florida, on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, bringing heavy winds, torrential downpours, and devastating storm surges to much of the peninsula’s west coast. Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm overnight, but heavy winds are forecast to reach central Florida today, and residents in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina are expected to face considerable flooding for the next several days.

  • The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday approved a “temporary and targeted” Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico, allowing a non-U.S. flagged BP vessel to deliver fuel to the island and address the “urgent and immediate needs” of Puerto Ricans recovering from Hurricane Fiona.

  • The Defense Department announced another $1.1 billion in security assistance for Ukraine on Wednesday, tapping into previously approved congressional aid to send Ukraine 18 HIMARs, 150 HMMWVs, 150 tactical vehicles, two radars for Unmanned Aerial Systems, and more. The United States has now sent Ukraine approximately $16 billion in military aid since Russia’s invasion in late February.

  • The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a bulletin on Wednesday urging any Americans remaining in Russia to depart the country “immediately” or risk being drafted for military service. “Russia may refuse to acknowledge dual nationals’ U.S. citizenship, deny their access to U.S. consular assistance, prevent their departure from Russia, and conscript dual nationals for military service,” the alert read.

  • South Korean and Japanese defense officials said yesterday that North Korea launched two additional short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday, just days after the country’s last missile test on Sunday. Vice President Kamala Harris, who is in the region after attending former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s funeral, visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea early this morning.

  • House Democrats released this week the text of the long-awaited bill banning members of Congress, judges, and senior government officials—as well as their spouses and dependent children—from trading stocks or holding investments in securities, commodities, or futures. The legislation faces long odds, but, if passed, it would force the aforementioned officials to either divest themselves of the assets or place them in a qualified blind trust. Ethics officials—including Obama administration ethics czar Walter Shaub—raised concerns, however, that the “qualified blind trust” language creates a potential loophole

Ian Makes Landfall

A satellite photo of Hurricane Ian taken Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images.)

Here’s what an intersection on Sanibel Island—near Fort Myers, Florida—looks like on a typical day, per Google Street View:

And here’s what that same intersection—about a mile from the oceanfront—looked like for 30 minutes yesterday as a storm surge from Hurricane Ian reached and eventually knocked out the traffic camera capturing footage:

Hurricane Ian made landfall slightly north of Sanibel yesterday afternoon as a Category 4 storm with winds of 150 miles per hour, just shy of a Category 5 rating. By this morning, it had diminished to a tropical storm, but it’s expected to keep dumping rain and causing storm surges as it crosses Florida’s peninsula and enters the southeast with heavy winds and rain this weekend.

Here’s the storm’s expected path as of Wednesday night:


As Ian neared Florida’s west coast yesterday, storm watchers warned it was gaining strength. “I’ve never seen so much lightning in an eye,” wrote Nick Underwood, who has flown through hurricanes for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for six years. Because lightning requires colliding ice particles, tropical storms and hurricanes usually don’t have much of it—but not Ian. “We were detecting lightning in the eye wall essentially every three seconds,” Chris Vagasky—a meteorologist at Vaisala, which runs a lightning detection network—told The Dispatch. “That’s really extreme lightning. It really speaks to the intensity of the storm.”

On the ground, that intensity translated into the wind peeling back rooftops and bulldozing ocean water inland, creating storm surges. Pre-landfall, the National Hurricane Center warned of “widespread, life-threatening, catastrophic” flooding, including the risk of flash flooding across most of the state’s peninsula, 12 to 18-foot deep storm surges in some areas, and potentially record-breaking river flooding that will stick around even after the worst of the storm subsides. It’s too soon to say conclusively how close the reality matches those forecasts—and parts of the state are still at risk of flooding today—but stormtides had already set records in several areas by Wednesday afternoon. In Naples, the water swelled to about 6 feet deep—50 percent higher than the city’s previous record—before the gauge stopped reporting data at about 1 p.m. Firefighters at one Naples station waded through about three feet of water.

More than 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate, but officials don’t know how many actually left. Some Cape Coral officials told the New York Times that as many as half of the city’s 205,000 residents may have ignored the mandatory evacuation issued Tuesday. No deaths had been reported as of Wednesday night, but that may change.

In several towns, emergency responders paused their efforts to wait out the surges. “We’re going to be out there, those calls for service, the people that are waiting and in need, we’re going to address that immediately,” Sheriff Carmine Marceno of Lee County—where Sanibel Island is located—said in a briefing Wednesday evening, noting reports of residents trapped in their homes. “It’s frustrating for me. … But we can’t compromise other lives, too.” Once rescues resumed, calls came swiftly. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office said East Naples deputies alone had performed 30 rescue missions yesterday. 

Officials looking to previous storms for hints at the damage Ian would cause likely took little comfort. Ian made landfall at about the same place and windspeed as 2004’s Hurricane Charley, a storm that killed 15 people and caused an estimated $16 billion in property damage. And it could have fit inside Ian’s eye. Charley also moved faster, giving it less time to dump rain and cause storm surges and lingering floods. In Fort Myers Beach, officials warned residents not to rush home until Saturday to allow time for damage and safety assessments.

“Ian is going to be a life-changing event,” Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light, predicted at a news conference. By 11 p.m. Wednesday, reported more than 2 million Floridian households were without electricity. Silagy said the company likely won’t be able to repair some of the damage, instead rebuilding parts of the power infrastructure altogether. The company has deployed about 19,000 workers in the state.

State and federal officials are also responding to the storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has 1,300 workers, 110,000 gallons of fuel, and 18,000 pounds of propane, plus generators, ambulances, and other disaster response equipment ready in the state. President Joe Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may end up rivals in the 2024 presidential election, but as the storm bore down on Florida they paused political barbs in favor of getting prepared. Biden said Wednesday night he’d given DeSantis “every single thing” requested for emergency response, and DeSantis has expressed gratitude for the help, telling Fox News his sense is that “the administration wants to help.” DeSantis also thanked 26 states for offering assistance. “[Ian’s] going to rank as one of the top-five hurricanes to ever hit the Florida peninsula,” DeSantis said. “The fact is, there’s going to be damage throughout the entire state.”

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais warned of significant devastation: “I’m sad to tell you that, while we don’t know the full extent of the damage to Lee County right now, we are beginning to get a sense that our community has been, in some respects, decimated.”

Worth Your Time

  • A few years back, The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance unearthed a copy of journalist Edward R. Murrow’s 1954 radio broadcast from the day after he flew into the eye of Hurricane Edna aboard a modified bomber aircraft. It’s freshly relevant today. “Suddenly, there was a hole in the cloud, maybe a quarter of a mile across, and at the bottom there was foam. It was like looking down a deep well with a huge egg beater churning up milk at the bottom. We flew on,” Murrow recounted. “And then began the real search for the eye of the hurricane. There were sudden changes in temperature. More rain. Radar reported, the engineer reported. The navigator wanted to know if anybody could see surface wind. The radar scope didn’t show anything. We were bounced around a little. The skipper said, ‘There’s a storm around here somewhere, let’s go find it.’” Murrow learned a lesson that day. “The eye of a hurricane is an excellent place to reflect upon the puniness of man and his work,” he said. “If an adequate definition of humility is ever written, it’s likely to be done in the eye of a hurricane.”

  • Anne van der Bijl—a Dutch Christian known as Brother Andrew who smuggled Bibles into closed Communist countries, often hiding them in his car but once floating 1 million into China on a custom-built barge—has died at age 94. “No one knows how many Bibles van der Bijl took into Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, East Germany, Bulgaria, and other Soviet-bloc countries in the decade before the success of [his autobiography] God’s Smuggler forced him into the role of figurehead and fundraiser,” Daniel Silliman writes for Christianity Today. “Estimates have ranged into the millions. A Dutch joke popular in the late 1960s said, ‘What will the Russians find if they arrive first at the moon? Brother Andrew with a load of Bibles.’ Van der Bijl, for his part, did not keep track and did not think the exact number was important. ‘I don’t care about statistics,’ he said in a 2005 interview. ‘We don’t count. … But God is the perfect bookkeeper. He knows.’”

  • If you’re having trouble keeping track of the towns and cities featured in news about the war in Ukraine, this interactive Financial Times story combines satellite imagery, maps, and ground-level video to provide an overview of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and the general state of the war. “The Ukrainian offensive was so swift and unexpected, and the damage done to their target’s communication systems so great, that Russia’s retreat was chaotic,” the reporters—Henry Foy, Sam Joiner, Sam Learner and Caroline Nevitt—write. “Weaponry and sensitive technology was discarded in the hurry to fall back, and soldiers, faced with a rapid onslaught and no support from their rear, fled for their lives. In some camps the advancing Ukrainians found meals still set out on canteen tables. In purported recordings of phone calls made by Russian soldiers during the retreat, obtained and released by the Ukrainian ministry of defense, speakers detail a collapse in morale, military difficulties and grim predictions of what could lie ahead.”

Something Unfortunate

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • The Department of Homeland Security finally approved a Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico last night. Was it Scott’s latest Capitolism (🔒) that pushed the agency over the edge? “A U.S. law blocked the immediate delivery of U.S. energy to a hurricane-ravaged U.S. location that desperately needs it,” he writes. “If it were Arkansans or Vermonters yet again suffering from this law and begging for relief therefrom, and if it were truck-fulls of diesel idling at their borders, would the law still be in force?”

  • Free speech needs more than the protection of law, David writes in Wednesday’s French Press (🔒)—it needs cultural support. “The cancellations that ‘stick’—the attacks that truly make people afraid–come not from the left against the right or the right against the left, but rather from within,” he writes. “When your own tribe casts you out, that’s the greatest pain.”

  • From the United States to Italy, Jonah argues in yesterday’s G-File, there’s nothing “new” about New Right—it’s warmed over Pat Buchananism. “If these populist, corporatist, nationalist, ultramontane, oh-so-European ideas succeed in replacing conservatism as we once knew it, they will be called conservatism,” he writes. “But as Friedrich Hayek argued, this conservatism will be ‘Old World conservatism,’ because the conservative in America is necessarily a defender of the liberal tradition of the founding.”

  • On the site today, Paul Miller argues that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought the world to its most dangerous nuclear moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis, while Charlotte Lawson writes about the Russian men fleeing the country to avoid conscription under Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization. Then there’s Nick Catoggio on Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s chances of breaking into the 2024 presidential conversation, Audrey Fahlberg on how much Democrats’ massive fundraising advantage in the Senate this year actually matters, and Kevin Williamson on how the issue of abortion is playing in Texas ahead of the midterms.

Let Us Know

When you see a White House press secretary try to wave off a presidential gaffe with such laughably evasive language as Karine Jean-Pierre used in the video above, does it make you more cynical about our politics? Or is such spin so commonplace it no longer generates much of a reaction?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.