Floridians Are Shrugging Off A Hurricane and Zika. But It’s Just the Beginning.
Miami residents preparing for Hurricane Matthew. Image: Max Reed


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Floridians Are Shrugging Off A Hurricane and Zika. But It’s Just the Beginning.

“Summer down here in Miami has been a real hoot, first we had Zika and now we had Hurricane Matthew."

Hurricane Matthew is whipping away at Florida's shores this week—threatening lives and homes and parties.

If you know any Floridians, you know that no one is really freaking out yet. We are masters of disaster in the worst kind of way, having endured hurricanes, tornados, weird crimes, Rick Scott, and a growing Zika virus problem in the past year alone. That's why business owners in Miami this week were prepping for Hurricane Matthew with a kind of calm, cooperative indifference.


Zak Stern carries sand bags to protect his bakery in Miami. Image: Max Reed

"Summer down here in Miami has been a real hoot, first we had Zika and now we had Hurricane Matthew," said Zak Stern, owner of Zak the Baker in Wynwood Miami. "I'm starting to think there's a bigger conspiracy here. I'm pretty sure Obama is behind it all. And that makes me feel better," he joked.

But that statewide chill may not be enough to get everyone get through what's coming next: rising sea levels, more powerful storms and probably a few more disease outbreaks.

In a case study of Miami from earlier this year, for example, researchers from the University of Miami reported that rain-induced events have increased by 33 percent in the past decade, partly due to both human-driven global warming. Plus, flooding and the rising sea level in south Florida will reach more than four feet above high tide by 2050. Thousands of people live below that line already.

Surfers try to catch pre-storm waves on Miami Beach. Image: Max Reed

This isn't just a burden on the land, coastal flooding is also a huge expense. Miami could lose upwards of $672 million, according to an analysis in the journal Nature.

More tropical storms and rain mean more tropical disease. Florida's climate makes it a haven for viruses and mosquito-borne illness like Zika. Right now there are 672 cases of Zika in Florida, and 59 of them were locally transmitted, according to the CDC, which means the mosquitos are only thriving. Other diseases that have hit Florida include the West Nile virus and two types of encephalitis.


Business owners prepare for the storm in Wynwood, Miami, also home to some of the first Zika cases. Image: Max Reed

The state government hasn't been very proactive—apparently Florida's Department of Environmental Protection was even previously banned from using words like climate change, global warming and sustainability, according to fact-checking site, Politifact. Governor Rick Scott has spent about $100 million on water projects in the Florida Keys and invested some money in the Everglades National Park, but despite campaign promises, he hasn't done much to address future sea rise.

Meanwhile, a Yale survey in 2008 reported that the majority of Floridians aren't convinced that global warming is happening. So it's not certain that the residents will even push for more funds to combat climate change, rising sea levels, or the side effects.

People enjoying Miami Beach before the storm, which was scheduled to hit Palm Beach, further north, Thursday. Image: Max Reed

For now, Florida remains under a slow siege, and will most likely lose a significant portion of its beaches and coastal towns in the next century. But for better or worse, Floridians are remaining cool as the world around them heats up.

"If we make it this year we can make it every year. It's testing our strength," said Fernando de la Cruz, operating manager of El Callejon in Wynwood, Miami. "We just gotta keep on point and keep pushing. Greatness is not easy. Everyone would be Michael Jordan or Mohammad Ali if it was easy."

With local reporting from Max Reed.