Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

GOP is shackled to Trump

November 13, 2017

By Juan Williams
The Hill
November 13, 2017

Well, there goes the fake news.

It is real news that Republicans got shellacked last Tuesday in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey.

And it is real news that President Trump’s grip as the party’s leader loosened for the first time since he claimed the White House.

Republican running in 2018 saw the reality of an anti-Trump wave among white suburban voters. House Republicans rely on votes from suburban areas to keep their majorities in states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Florida.

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Republicans currently hold 23 seats in congressional districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 11 in districts she lost by fewer than five percentage points.

The anger at Trump was evident in exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research.

In Virginia, Republican Ed Gillespie won 91 percent of voters who “approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president.” Democrat Ralph Northam won 87 percent of those who disapprove.

In essence, Gillespie had all the Trump voters. But there just weren’t enough of them and Northam won easily, by nine points.

People upset with Trump turned out in big numbers. In fact, exit polls showed one-third of the electorate wanted to send a message of opposition to Trump with their vote for governor.

Now the urgent fear among Republicans on Capitol Hill is a 2018 landslide for Democrats as voters turn on Trump.

The vote in Virginia comes on the heels of Trump’s disapproval hitting 57 percent in the latest Fox News poll.

The president’s support among white men without a college degree is down to 56 percent from the 71 percent who voted for him a year ago. He has lost support among white evangelicals, with 66 percent supporting him now instead of the 80 percent that voted for him. He has also seen his support among independents slide from 46 percent in 2016 to 30 percent today.

Trump’s support among self-identified Republicans remains high at 83 percent in the Fox poll, but fewer people overall are identifying themselves as Republicans.

That sets the stage for the battle to claim the future of the party going into the 2018 races.

On one side, you have Trump and Steve Bannon, his former top political aide. On the other side are the Presidents Bush, both 41 and 43, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) trapped in the ring and ducking punches from both sides.

The fight comes down to a contest between Trump’s anti-immigrant, isolationist, white grievance politics and the Bush policies favoring immigration, free trade and growing the party through outreach to racial minorities.

After last week’s defeat in Virginia, Trump and Bannon quickly threw dirt on Gillespie. Trump said Gillespie did “not embrace me or what I stand for.” Bannon piled on by saying the “lesson” of the loss was that future Republican candidates must avoid campaigning with President George W. Bush and “embrace the entire Trump agenda,” to the point of taking Trump on the campaign trail.

But Gillespie, the former party chairman, did use Trump-like advertising that focused on stirring fear of immigrants by tying them to MS-13 gangs; he did defend Confederate statues; and he did attack athletes kneeling to protest police brutality.

Gillespie lost because Virginia voters rejected Trump’s politics.

The Bush team also punched back.

“This guy doesn’t know what it means to be president,” the younger President Bush said of Trump in an interview for a new book.

“I don’t like him,” the elder President Bush told author Mark Updegrove. “I don’t know much about [Trump] but I know he’s a blowhard. And I’m not too excited about him being our leader.”

The Bush’s comments drew a sharp rebuke from Trump’s White House

“If one presidential candidate can disassemble a political party, it speaks volumes about how strong a legacy its past two presidents really had,” an unnamed White House official told CNN. “And that begins with the Iraq war, one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in American history.”

The split between Bush-style establishment conservatism and Trump populism has already hurt the party with about two dozen House Republicans announcing this is a good time for them to leave.

That rush for the door comes as polls show “voters say they prefer Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives over Republicans by the widest margin in over a decade,” the Washington Post reported before Tuesday’s GOP collapse.

Ryan said last week that despite the intraparty fight, it is too late for his House caucus to do anything but side with Trump on the future of the party.

“We already made that choice,” Ryan said on Fox News Radio. “We’re with Trump. We already made that choice… That’s a choice we made during the campaign, which is we merged our agendas.”

What must Republican congressional candidates be thinking today when their Speaker tells them they are handcuffed to a president who has the lowest approval rating in 70 years? At what point do they ignore the Speaker’s directive, cut ties with the president and strike out on their own?

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that just 37 percent of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling his job, while 59 percent disapprove. In the history of the poll, no American president has had a net negative rating so high in his ninth month in office since Harry Truman in 1945.

But Ryan has the real news: Every Republican on the ballot in 2018 will have Donald Trump as a running mate.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

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http://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/359945-juan-williams-gop-is-shackled-to-trump
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Puerto Rico Sees Scores of College Students Leave in Hurricane’s Aftermath

November 8, 2017

Young people finding spots at mainland universities add to growing exodus from island

University of Puerto Rico students helped with the storm cleanup on a campus in San Juan last month.
University of Puerto Rico students helped with the storm cleanup on a campus in San Juan last month. PHOTO: JOSE JIMENEZ TIRADO/GETTY IMAGES

Hundreds of Puerto Rican students have resettled on college campuses across the mainland U.S. in recent weeks—and many more are considering leaving the island territory in the spring—grateful for the opportunity to resume their studies in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

But some worry the students won’t return to an island that is already suffering an exodus of young people and their talents.

The University of Puerto Rico, like the commonwealth government that provides roughly two-thirds of its annual operating budget, was in financial crisis when Hurricane Maria hit seven weeks ago. Last spring, student-led budget protests shut down some campusesfor months, and eight campuses were placed on probation by the university’s accreditor in part because of financial concerns.

The system is digesting an 18.8% cut to appropriations for the current school year. Enrollment was down by about 4% to 59,450 this fall. Then the storm came.

The last of the system’s 11 campuses reopened on Monday, despite damaged buildings and spotty electricity.

Early tallies show that about 95% of students returned to class. But hundreds have withdrawn from the largest campuses and concern about the loss of talent is growing as more schools join the likes of Brown University, Tulane University and the State University of New York in bringing Puerto Rican students to their campuses free of charge or at in-state tuition rates.

More than 860 students displaced by the storm in Puerto Rico are now attending one of 28 public colleges in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Education, though schools haven’t finished reviewing the prior enrollment records of those students.

“If I was a young person, I can totally get wanting to go study abroad or do an exchange program,” said Catherine Mazak, an English professor at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez. “On the other hand, so many people have left.”

Trees blocked the main entrance of the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus in September.
Trees blocked the main entrance of the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus in September. PHOTO:PABLO PANTOJA/ANADOLU/GETTY IMAGES

Brown now has about 30 University of Puerto Rico students on campus. Central Connecticut State University has 21, paying in-state tuition and earning nine credits in a condensed, eight-week semester. More than a dozen law students are at Florida State University and Touro Law Center in New York.

More students are expected to find spots at schools on the mainland next semester.

Tulane has received about 500 applications so far for an offer to host Puerto Rican students next spring, said President Mike Fitts, and expects to enroll at least 50 once it reviews applicants for academic qualifications. Cornell University said it would take up to 58 students.

And the University of Florida is offering free online courses next spring and summer to students who attended University of Puerto Rico or a handful of private colleges on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It says it can accommodate 1,000 students and as of Friday had received more than 200 applications.

Between 17,250 and 32,721 adults ages 18 to 24 are expected to leave Puerto Rico in the year after Maria, according to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at City University of New York’s Hunter College, compared with the 9,726 annual average from the prior three years. The island has been in economic distress for years, with the local government struggling to make payments on a staggering debt load and residents looking for better financial futures elsewhere.

“What Maria has done is aggravate a trend that was already in effect,” said Edwin Meléndez, the center’s director, referring to a broader exodus from the island. “Families are in need of employment, and the economy has pretty much collapsed.”

The mainland universities say they intend to offer temporary help, not poach talent.

“We are strongly discouraging any of these students from transferring,” said Tulane’s Mr. Fitts.

Brown Provost Richard Locke agreed, but said his school can’t bar students from applying to transfer.

Though the University of Puerto Rico is holding classes, some buildings’ roofs were damaged and research equipment ruined. Generators power some facilities. The library collection at Mayagüez is closed because of water and mold damage to books.

Interim President Darrel Hillman Barrera, a professor at the dental school, said the damage totaled $119 million, about $100 million of which will be covered by insurance. He said he is in talks with Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the rest.

Dr. Hillman said he is asking the island’s central government and its fiscal oversight board to be more flexible on a mandate that the system cut $500 million from its budget over the next five years, given the circumstances. The university has until February to revise its fiscal plan for the oversight board, in light of the storm.

“It’s going to be a very different University of Puerto Rico” after the storm, said Deepak Lamba-Nieves, research director at the Center for a New Economy, a nonpartisan think tank in San Juan.

Mr. Lamba-Nieves, who teaches a graduate course on local economic development at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras, photocopied readings for students without computer access, but wondered if that was enough.

“Can I expect my students to do their weekly reading with lanterns and candle light?” he asked.

Wilfredo García González, 30 years old, is in the final year of his undergraduate computer science degree at Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, and said if he wasn’t so close to finishing he would leave now.

“It is very difficult to study since almost the whole country is without electric service and without connection to wireless internet,” he said. “My expectation is to be able to finish my degree and then move to the United States with my wife to find a good job and a better quality of life.”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/puerto-rico-sees-scores-of-college-students-leave-in-hurricanes-aftermath-1510146001

US hiring falls 33,000 after hurricanes slam Texas, Florida

October 6, 2017

By Christopher Rugaber
The Associated Press

Phil Wiggett

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. lost 33,000 jobs in September after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit Texas, Florida and other Southeastern states. It was the first decline in six years.

The Labor Department says the unemployment rate fell to 4.2 percent from 4.4 percent, the lowest level since February 2001.

Looking past the hurricanes’ impact, the job market and economy generally look healthy. Some economists expect job growth to rebound in the coming months as businesses in the area reopen and construction companies ramp up repair and renovation work.

Last month’s drop was driven by huge losses in a restaurants and bars, which shed 105,000 jobs, a sign of the damage to Florida’s tourism industry.

Trump heads to Puerto Rico to survey hurricane damage

October 3, 2017

By Jill Colvin

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is heading to San Juan on Tuesday to meet with some of the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, as criticism that the federal government’s response has been sluggish continues.

The president is expected to spend more than five hours on the island, meeting with first responders, local officials and some of the residents struggling to recover from a hurricane that, in Trump’s words, left the island U.S. territory “flattened.”

“There’s nothing left. It’s been wiped out,” Trump said last week. “Nobody has ever seen anything like it.”

Image result for Puerto Rico, hurricane maria, photos

The trip will be Trump’s fourth to a region battered by storms during an unusually violent hurricane season that has also seen parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and the U.S. Virgin Islands inundated by floodwaters and whipped by winds.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump are scheduled to attend briefings, visit a church, and meet with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, as well as the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. They’ll also meet with Navy and Marine Corps personnel on the flight Deck of the USS Kearsarge.

Image result for USS Kearsarge, near puerto rico, photos

USS Kearsarge

Even before the storm hit on Sept. 20, Puerto Rico was in dire condition thanks to a decade-long economic recession that had left its infrastructure, including the island’s power lines, in a sorry state. Maria was the most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century and unleashed floods and mudslides that knocked out the island’s entire electrical grid and telecommunications, along with many roads.

Nearly two weeks later, 95 percent of electricity customers remain without power, including some hospitals. And much of the countryside is still struggling to access basic necessities, including food, fresh water and cash.

Trump and other administration officials have worked in recent days to reassure Americans that recovery efforts are going well and combat the perception that the president failed to fully grasp the magnitude of the storm’s destruction in its immediate aftermath.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday the trip would focus on local recovery efforts, “which we’re fully committed to.”

“The top priority for the federal government is certainly to protect the lives and the safety of those in affected areas and provide life-sustaining services as we work together to rebuild their lives,” she said.

While early response efforts were hampered by logistical challenges, officials say that conditions, especially in the capital, have improved.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there are now more than 10,000 federal officials on the ground on the island, and forty-five percent of customers now have access to drinking water. Businesses are also beginning to re-open, with 60 percent of retail gas stations now up and running.

For many, however, that isn’t enough. On Monday, the nonprofit Oxfam announced that it would be taking the rare step of intervening in an American disaster, citing its outrage over what it called a “slow and inadequate response.”

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Follow Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj

Image result for Puerto Rico, hurricane maria, photos

Trump Blasts San Juan Mayor in Series of New Tweets

September 30, 2017
Arit John
 
  • Power outages remain widespread as island continues to dig out
  • President set to view recovery efforts in visit next week
Trump Says Puerto Rico ‘Literally Starting From Scratch’

President Donald Trump, under rising criticism for the federal response to hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico, swung from defending his administration’s approach to lashing out at the San Juan mayor for her “poor leadership ability.”

 Image result for Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, photos

The president, in a series of Saturday morning tweets, said Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, “who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”

The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.

“Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help,” Trump told his almost 40 million Twitter followers. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”

Trump went on to say that there are “10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job” and an “amazing job.”

Follow the Trump Administration’s Every Move

The president, who’s spending the weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, is scheduled to spend an hour on Saturday in five different telephone briefings on the hurricane recovery efforts.

Trump will speak with FEMA Administrator Brock Long, the current and former governors of Puerto Rico, the commonwealth’s representative in Congress, and the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He isn’t scheduled to speak with Cruz. Vice President Mike Pence will receive an in-person briefing at FEMA headquarters in Washington.

Life-Threatening Conditions

Trump a day earlier defended his administration’s response to the crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, which slammed into the territory on Sept. 20, amid rising criticism on the island and in Congress that more resources are needed to help residents cope with life-threatening conditions.

Cruz blasted acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke for telling reporters at the White House that that the relief efforts were “a good-news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place.”

In an interview on CNN, Cruz called Duke’s remarks “irresponsible.”

“This is a people-are-dying story,” Cruz said. “This is a story of devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food or water.”

Trump, speaking to reporters as he left the White House on Friday for New Jersey, said he wasn’t aware of the remarks by Duke or the mayor but that Puerto Rico’s governor has been “unbelievably generous” in his praise for federal efforts.

“I can tell you this: We have done an incredible job considering there’s absolutely nothing to work with,” said Trump, who’s scheduled to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday. The president may also stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which also sustained heavy damage from Maria.

Impassable Roads

More than week after getting slammed by the storm, which hit as Category 4 hurricane, Puerto Ricans continued to endure sweaty, dark nights, with a resolution to the near-total power outage nowhere in sight. Mobile-phone coverage improved gradually, but many residents still had no way of reaching loved ones outside their communities, and rural areas still had impassable roads.

The administration has come under criticism from some Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said Thursday that the White House hasn’t grasped the significance of the damage in Puerto Rico compared with recent hurricane damage in his state, from Hurricane Irma, and in Texas from Hurricane Harvey in August.

Thirty-seven Democrats and one independent in the Senate signed a letter urging Trump to take steps including issuing a broader disaster declaration, naming a White House coordinator for rebuilding, and providing for more help to restore electricity. New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who toured the island on Friday, said on Twitter that “it feels like the hurricane just hit yesterday. This federal response needs to double or triple right now.”

‘Surrounded by Water’

In a speech Friday to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, the president said recovery in Puerto Rico, which already faced a $74 billion mountain of debt and a shrinking economy, will be costly.

“We’re literally starting from scratch,” Trump said, adding that the hurricane had damaged roads and sewage systems and knocked out the electric power grid. “Nobody has ever seen anything like it.”

“The response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this,” Trump said. “This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water.”

The territorial government will have to work with federal authorities to determine “how this massive rebuilding effort — it will be one of the biggest ever — will be funded and organized, and what we’ll do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” he said.

More Funding

White House Homeland Security Adviser Thomas Bossert said the administration will ask Congress in the next two to four weeks for additional funding on top of an existing $7.1 billion appropriation to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that becomes available on Oct. 1. That money covers initial requests for the hurricanes that hit Texas, Louisiana and Florida, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Cruz, the San Juan mayor, said that while she was angry over Duke’s characterization of the situation, the working relationship with the federal officials on the ground was good.

“They do get the dire situation,” she said on CNN. The biggest difficulty was getting supplies, which are bottled up in port, out to where it’s needed. She said that rather than waiting for power to be restored, crews could be rounded up to unload by hand.

“The intentions are there,” Cruz said. “We just need to find a way around the logistics.”

Duke, who took an aerial tour of the island Friday and met with first responders and others laboring in the recovery effort, said in a statement that she and Trump “will not be fully satisfied, however, until every Puerto Rican is back home, the power is back on, clean water is fully available, schools and hospitals are fully open, and the Puerto Rican economy is working.”

Transportation Blocked

Florida Governor Rick Scott, who is lending aid to Puerto Rico’s government after Hurricane Irma damaged his state less severely than expected, said the territory’s biggest problem is ground transportation.

“We need more truck drivers and we need more trucks” to get goods out of ports, he said at the White House, where he had lunch with Trump on Friday.

He said the territorial government also is “asking for a lot of police resources,” and Florida will dispatch Spanish-speaking officers from its forces. Puerto Rican college students will also be offered in-state tuition at Florida colleges, and he’s examining how the state can assist Puerto Rican grade-school students, he said.

“This is not a time for politics, this is a time to help people,” Scott said.

Construction worker Carlos Martel-Fernandez found out on the radio that Trump was coming, but it didn’t mean much to him.

“We don’t need him. We need fuel,” Martel-Fernandez said as he inched a bit closer in the line waiting to fill up his two red gas tanks. “If he’s going to make a mess here, then stay home. We don’t need the traffic.”

Natalia de Jesus had spent the week since Maria dealing with landslides near her partner’s house in Naranjito and had heard too many broken promises of help coming. She also heard Trump would be landing in Puerto Rico in a few days.

“The truth is I don’t think he can do anything,” she said.

— With assistance by Justin Sink

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-29/trump-defends-response-to-historic-puerto-rico-storm-damage

Ex-prosecutors unsure if post-hurricane nursing home deaths involved crimes

September 21, 2017

By Terry Spencer
The Associated Press

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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Nine elderly patients died after being kept inside a nursing home that turned into a sweatbox when Hurricane Irma knocked out its air conditioning for three days, even though just across the street was a fully functioning and cooled hospital.

From the perspective of Florida Gov. Rick Scott and relatives of those at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, criminal charges are warranted. But under Florida law, a prosecution might be difficult. Two of three ex-state prosecutors contacted by The Associated Press had doubts as to whether Dr. Jack Michel, the home’s owner, or any of his employees will be charged.

All agreed that any criminal prosecutions will hinge on whether the nursing home staff made honest mistakes or were “culpably negligent.” Florida defines that as “consciously doing an act or following a course of conduct that the defendant must have known, or reasonably should have known, was likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”

Hollywood police and the state attorney’s office are investigating.

The home has said it used coolers, fans, ice and other methods to keep the patients comfortable — and that might be enough to avoid prosecution.

“There is a difference between negligence, which is what occurs when you are not giving a particular standard of care vs. culpable negligence,” said David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor now in private practice. “So if they are doing everything humanly possible given the circumstances and this all still happened it may be negligent and provide the basis for a civil lawsuit, but not enough for criminal charges.”

Retired University of Florida law professor Bob Dekle, who prosecuted serial killer Ted Bundy as an assistant state attorney, said he doubted charges would be brought.

“I would rather be a defense attorney on this case than a prosecutor,” Dekle said. “There are some cases that are better tried in civil court than criminal and this might be one of them.”

Former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey disagreed.

“Given the magnitude of the tragedy and the apparent availability of a hospital 50 yards away, prosecutors are not going to accept that this was an unavoidable tragedy,” he said.

Gary Matzner, the nursing home’s attorney, said in a statement that Michel and the staff are cooperating with the investigation.

“The center and its employees and directors are devastated by this tragedy,” he said.

Irma reached Broward County on Sept. 10. The home has said a felled tree took out a transformer that powered the air conditioner, but it maintained power otherwise. It said it reported the loss to Florida Power & Light and was promised repairs in the next two days, but the utility never arrived.

Scott’s office said that over those two days, home administrators Jorge Carballo and Natasha Anderson were in contact with the state about the failed air conditioner but never said the situation had become dangerous. The state said they were told to call 911 if needed.

On the afternoon of Sept. 12, the home borrowed portable air coolers from Memorial Regional Hospital, the trauma center across the street. Later that night, home administrators said, a physician’s assistant checked the patients and none were overheated and the building temperature never exceeded 80 degrees. Under state law, the temperature was not supposed to exceed 81 degrees.

In the early hours of Sept. 13, the deaths began. Three 911 calls were made before 6 a.m., causing Memorial staff to rush across the street to offer assistance. Doctors and nurses said they found the home’s staff working to cool the patients, although they and police have said the facility was very hot.

No temperature reading has been released as police have said that is part of the investigation.

Three people died on the home’s second floor and six succumbed at the hospital, including a 93-year-old man who died Tuesday. The state said four of the deceased had body temperatures between 107 (41.6 Celsius) and 109 (42.7 Celsius) degrees.

Dr. Randy Katz, the hospital’s emergency director, said last week it was impossible to say whether any of the dead would have survived if they had gotten to the hospital hours earlier.

The number of deaths and injured could be a determining factor in whether to bring charges. Weinstein said prosecutors could argue that after the first patients became seriously ill, administrators should have known an evacuation was necessary. Dekle agreed the number could be key.

“The more dead victims there are in a homicide case, the less likely a jury is to find reasonable doubt,” Dekle said.

Shortage of Florida Insurance Adjusters Could Stall Recovery Efforts

September 14, 2017

Insurers are vying for adjusters after many of them headed to Texas after Hurricane Harvey

After Irma, Florida residents are lacking in many necessities. One of the more frustrating is the paucity of insurance adjusters, which is threatening to anger policyholders and potentially delay the state’s rebuilding efforts.

Many of the state’s adjusters are 1,000 miles away, working on claims made after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.

Insurers are scrambling to get more adjusters to Florida, creating a bidding war for those who are available. Some Florida home insurers have increased fees paid to adjusters by about 30%, insurers and adjusters say.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a state-run insurer of last resort, has boosted adjuster compensation by 18% to 20% and said it expects additional increases to keep up with rivals.

While higher fees for adjusters often only modestly impact the cost of a claim, the bigger worry is that damage to buildings will worsen from mold and other problems. In addition, claims that could have been resolved amicably may end up in costly litigation as homeowners get angry waiting.

“An insurance claim isn’t a bottle of wine,” said Randy Maniloff, an insurance-industry defense lawyer at Williams and White LLP.

Adjuster Lee Vorcheimer has been receiving calls from companies seeking to recruit him.
Adjuster Lee Vorcheimer has been receiving calls from companies seeking to recruit him.PHOTO: MATTHEW RIVA/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Insurance companies are vying for the nation’s independent claims adjusters, who total 57,200 as of July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. ​Florida also says it is easing the process of appointing insurance adjusters, which may help expand the number.

“Our Department has taken steps to make the adjuster-appointment process as simple ​[as] ​possible for insurance companies, and our team is processing appointments at a rapid-fire pace” in an effort “to ensure that Floridians get swift handling of their post-storm claims,” said a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Financial Services. In addition, many insurance companies employ adjusters full-time and a lot of those will be on the ground, among other types of adjusters who could be available.

Lee Vorcheimer, a longtime adjuster in south Florida, said that “every day for the last two weeks, there have been 10 or 15 emails” from independent-adjuster firms seeking to recruit him to travel to Texas or handle claims for local insurers. He has been offered bonuses, including money for temporary housing.

Independent insurance adjusters are paid according to the size of a claim they assess for a company. For Irma claims, they are earning from about $500 to about $30,000 for policyholder claims of $1,000 to $1 million, respectively, according to two fee schedules from private insurers reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Some adjusters can make $65,000 to $100,000 in the first month after a major hurricane, people in the industry say.

“When you have a hurricane like Harvey and a hurricane like Irma, everybody loves you,” said Mr. Vorcheimer, who settled on adjusting Irma claims for Tampa-based HCI GroupInc., in part because he likes their technology.

This week, Mr. Vorcheimer began inspections as early as 7:30 a.m., looking at up to 15 properties a day. In Broward County on Monday, he found trees on roofs, missing shingles, rain damage, and blown-over pool screens and fences. Damage ranged up to about $65,000, he said. He hauled ladders from his pickup truck and climbed on every roof. He finished his day just after 7 p.m.

Lee Vorcheimer processes insurance adjustment claims after Irma.
Lee Vorcheimer processes insurance adjustment claims after Irma. PHOTO: MATTHEW RIVA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Vorcheimer, 51 years old, got into adjusting in 2005 after selling a bakery and a neighbor recruited him to help with Hurricane Wilma claims. His wife, Cheryl, handles administrative matters for the business, Perfect Reliable Independent Claim Services Inc.​. Like many other adjusters, the couple uses a 45-foot recreational vehicle when traveling to inspect long-distance claims. The couple is living there temporarily as their home in Pompano Beach has no power.

Though Irma didn’t strike Miami, the state’s largest city, as feared, damages from the storm could be large enough to displace Sandy as the nation’s third most-expensive hurricane ever. That 2012 storm left $20 billion in losses, in today’s dollars, mostly in the northeast. On Wednesday, catastrophe-risk modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. estimated Irma’s U.S. damage at $18 billion.

The adjuster issues are especially acute in Florida because its home-insurance market is heavily dependent on small and midsize insurers. Over the past 25 years, many of the brand-name national insurers have shrunk their presence in the state to reduce their exposure to hurricanes.

Smaller insurance companies typically rely heavily on independent adjusters, said Joseph Burtone, an insurance analyst with ratings firm A.M. Best. The smaller insurers “have to figure out a way to handle that the best they can,” he said. “It will be a challenge.”

By comparison, the national insurers employ fleets of adjusters and can send people to Florida from other states. Many big names, such as American International Group Inc. and ​Liberty Mutual Insurance, also contract with independent-adjuster firms as needed when disasters occur. Chubb Ltd. said it relies predominantly on its own staff.

On Tuesday, Tim Barziza, a Texas-based “claim leader” for Chubb, was on the last leg of a drive to Miami to oversee a command center there. It is one of several such centers Chubb has set up across the state for taking care of well-to-do policyholders’ homes, fine art, boats and vehicles, as well as business clients.

Roughly 400 Chubb employees are expected to handle claims and adjusting, either in the state or from call centers. Chubb adjusters are arriving “from all corners of the U.S.,” Mr. Barziza said, taking a break from driving and watching as utility-truck convoys and vehicles with children, dogs and suitcases returned home. By Wednesday, Chubb had received just over 1,000 Irma claims, the overwhelming majority tied to home policies.

In addition to private insurers, many Florida claims will be processed by Citizens, which at about 450,000 policyholders is one of the state’s biggest insurers. It expects about 150,000 claims, a spokesman said. As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, about 7,000 had arrived.

“A stale claim is an expensive claim,” said John Rollins, an executive with Cabrillo Coastal General Insurance Agency LLC in Gainesville, Fla., and a former chief risk officer of Citizens. “The key in a situation like this is getting to the policyholder and getting some money in their hands so they can begin the recovery process.”

As Florida’s market gets stretched, insurance executives said the fee increases being paid to adjusters in Florida are spilling over to Texas.

“There’s a tug of war for adjusters” between the two states, said James Warren, who works as an adjuster for Crawford & Co., which handles claims for insurance companies.

Some adjusters who would ordinarily stay for two months or longer to adjust claims for a hurricane like Harvey are already heading to Florida, he said.

Mr. Warren is currently adjusting Harvey claims in south Texas, and opted not to go to Florida because he wants to stay close to his home in the Lone Star state.

“Right now, anyone with a license to adjust claims can get a job and some company will try them out,” Mr. Warren said. “They’re paying more for adjusters to work Irma than they’ve ever paid insurance adjusters ever.”

Mr. Warren’s firm, Crawford, is running an orientation program in Atlanta to get hundreds of longtime adjusters up to speed on protocols of clients with claims to adjust in Florida. The firm is moving adjusters from Canada and the U.K. to Florida as well, said Chief Executive Harsha Agadi.

This week, HCI, the Tampa-based insurer, signed up adjusters from Massachusetts to augment its Florida team. “Everybody is pressing into service everybody and anybody they can get,” CEO Paresh Patel said.

Typically, insurers have contingency plans for hurricanes, “but we watched all of our contingency resources go to Houston” after Harvey, he said.

Write to Leslie Scism at leslie.scism@wsj.com and Nicole Friedman at nicole.friedman@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/florida-is-short-on-insurance-adjusters-and-that-could-stall-recovery-efforts-1505381401

Irma leaves Florida Keys devastated, but state escapes the worst

September 12, 2017

AFP

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© Marc Serota / Getty Images / AFP | Debris is shown strewn along a roadway in the wake of Hurricane Irma on September 11, 2017 in Isamorada, in the Florida Keys.

Millions of Florida residents were without power and extensive damage was reported in the Florida Keys but most of the Sunshine State appeared to have dodged forecasts of catastrophic damage from Hurricane Irma.

The monster storm roared ashore as a powerful Category 4 hurricane when it hit the Keys southern island chain on Sunday, ripping boats from their moorings, flattening palm trees and downing power lines, after devastating a string of Caribbean islands.

By the time it hit the peninsula the storm had been downgraded and weakened further to a tropical depression late Monday.

But while Florida may have escaped the worst, the death toll jumped to at least 40 after Cuba said 10 people had been killed there over the weekend as Irma spun northward.

Across the Caribbean, hard-hit residents struggled to get back on their feet as Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States ramped up relief efforts for their overseas territories.

Florida residents who spent an anxious night huddled indoors were venturing out Monday to survey the damage, which did not seem to be as bad as initially feared.

“If this had been a Category 4 hurricane the whole scenario would have been completely different,” said Bob Lutz, a 62-year-old business owner.

More than 6.5 million customers in Florida were without power, however, and Governor Rick Scott said the Keys had suffered a lot of damage.

“It’s horrible what we saw,” Scott said after flying over the island chain with the Coast Guard.

He said the water, electricity and sewage systems in the Keys were all non-operational and that trailer parks had been “overturned.”

“We now go through the much longer phase, which is the recovery phase. And believe me, folks, some of this is going to take a while, especially power restoration,” Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez cautioned.

Most Keys residents had followed mandatory evacuation orders, but there were some holdouts who had to hunker down as Irma slammed into the low-lying tourist archipelago known for its fishing, scuba diving and boating.

The storm downed power lines, felled trees and left debris and vehicles strewn across the streets. But concrete homes appeared to have withstood the gusts.

Irma now a tropical depression

Though Irma was downgraded to a tropical depression, forecasters warned of “life-threatening” surf and rip currents.

Florida’s northeastern city of Jacksonville, population 880,000, ordered urgent evacuations amid record flooding along the St Johns River.

Flooding was also reported in the city of Charleston, South Carolina.

Irma’s maximum sustained winds had decreased to 35 miles (56 kilometers) per hour as of 11:00 pm (0300 GMT Tuesday). Irma’s eye was in western Georgia, and expected to cross into eastern Alabama and western Tennessee later Monday.

Irma had triggered orders for more than six million people in the United States to flee to safety, one of the biggest evacuations in the country’s history.

In flood-prone Miami, the largest US city in Irma’s path, cleaning crews were busy clearing branches, debris and fallen street signs from downtown.

10 dead in Cuba

In Bonita Springs, a city of 50,000 people on Florida’s hard-hit southwest coast, large areas were flooded and the entire city was without power. Some residents were trying to reach their homes by walking through floodwater up to their waists, while others paddled canoes.

“I don’t think I can make it over to the house. I’d like to walk through there, but it looks like it’s three feet (one meter) deep at least, and my boots are only a foot deep and I don’t like cold water, which explains why I live here,” Sam Parish told AFP.

As residents began to check out their homes, authorities warned of downed power lines, raw sewage in floodwaters and — this being Florida — displaced wildlife like snakes and alligators.

“Don’t think just because this has passed you can run home,” Governor Scott said. “We have downed power lines all across the state.

“We have roads that are impassable,” he said. “We have debris all over the state.”

President Donald Trump has approved the state’s request for emergency federal aid to help with temporary housing, home repairs, emergency work and hazard mitigation. He has promised to travel to the state “very soon.”

Before reaching the United States, Irma smashed through a string of Caribbean islands from tiny Barbuda on Wednesday, to the tropical paradises of Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Panama said it was distributing at least 90 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Saint Martin and Cuba, while Venezuela — itself beset by shortages amid a crippling economic crisis — has sent 30 tonnes of food, potable water and supplies to Cuba and other Caribbean islands.

About 400 exhausted and traumatized survivors of Hurricane Irma arrived in France and the Netherlands on Monday aboard military planes.

An aircraft with 278 aboard landed in Paris, while another 100 people flew into Eindhoven in the southern Netherlands from the Guadeloupe capital Pointe-a-Pitre.

Both the French and Dutch governments have come under criticism over delays in their responses to the crisis and in particular over how they handled outbreaks of looting on Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, an island with both French and Dutch sectors.

In Cuba, officials said Irma was the deadliest hurricane to strike the island since Dennis in 2005, and warned the toll could rise.

Three quarters of the population were without power as the authorities began the task of restoring basic infrastructure and services.

“This is a big warning already, when you know that climate change is getting more and more cruel,” said Francisco Garcia, coach of Cuba’s national karate team, whose home here was partially destroyed.

(AFP)

Tampa mayor: Irma wrath not as bad as feared — The latest

September 11, 2017

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times local):

7 a.m.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says that while the city hasn’t escaped Hurricane Irma’s wrath, the situation isn’t as bad as they had feared.

Speaking Monday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Buckhorn said “What we thought was going to be a punch in the face was a glancing blow.”

Buckhorn did say there are a lot of downed power lines and debris.

He said Tampa’s officials have vehicles positioned “to be sure that when that surge comes in we can keep people out of the streets.”

He said he expected power to be out for some sections of Tampa for at least a couple more days.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula after hitting the state Sunday as a Category 4 storm.

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6:45 a.m.

Police in Miami are investigating reports of people looting stores as Hurricane Irma hit the state.

On Sunday night, Miami police took two people into custody and detained two others.

Deputy Police Chief Luis Cabrera told the Miami Herald the officers went to the Shops at Midtown on Sunday afternoon as the winds of Hurricane Irma were at their strongest in South Florida. Cabrera says a group in a white truck hit multiple locations. Police have also received additional reports of looting in the city.

Police had issued a curfew Saturday night, partly to ward off looters by giving officers probable cause to stop anyone for being on the street during the storm.

Cabrera didn’t have specific details about the looting incidents.

Hurricane Irma pummeled Florida from coast-to-coast with winds up to 130 mph Sunday, swamping homes and boats, knocking out power to millions and toppling massive cranes. Irma’s winds slowed to around 100 mph before midnight. (Sept. 11)

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6:45 a.m.

The British government is defending its response to Hurricane Irma amid claims it has been slow to help its overseas territories devastated by the storm.

The British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos islands were all pummeled by the hurricane last week, leaving thousands without electricity or shelter.

Opposition politicians have compared Britain’s response unfavorably to that of France, which has sent more than 1,000 troops, police and emergency workers to St. Martin and St. Barts.

Britain has dispatched a navy ship and nearly 500 troops, including medics and engineers.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Monday that Britain had responded strongly to an “unprecedented catastrophe.” He says the government will soon increase the 32 million pounds ($42 million) it’s pledged to the relief effort.

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6:30 a.m.

Police in Lakeland, Florida, say a family with small children was rescued from a car that was submerged in water as Hurricane Irma crossed the area.

Lakeland police said in a Facebook post that officers rescued the family of four early Monday as water reached the children’s car seats. No one was injured and police were able to get the family back to their home.

“When you become a police officer you hope to make a difference in the lives of others,” the Facebook post said. “Tonight, there is no doubt these officers made a difference.”

Lakeland is between Tampa and Orlando, off of Interstate 4.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula after hitting the state Sunday as a Category 4 storm.

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6:30 a.m.

A Florida sheriff’s sergeant and a paramedic were trapped in a sheriff’s vehicle when a live power pole fell on the cruiser as they were returning from dropping off an elderly patient as Hurricane Irma moved over the state.

Polk County spokesman Kevin Watler said in a news release that Sgt. Chris Lynn and Polk County Fire Rescue paramedic James Tanner Schaill were trapped for about two hours late Sunday.

Crews from Lakeland Electric crews disconnected the lines around 1:15 a.m. Monday. Both men have returned to their jobs to continue assisting hurricane recovery efforts.

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6:10 a.m.

More than 120 homes are being evacuated in Orange County, just outside Orlando, as floodwaters from Hurricane Irma started to pour in.

The Orange County Emergency Operations Center said early Monday that the fire department and the National Guard are going door-to-door using boats to ferry families to safety. No injuries have been reported. The rescued families are being taken a shelter for safety.

A few miles away, 30 others had to be evacuated when a 60-foot sinkhole opened up under an apartment building. No injuries were reported in that incident.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula after hitting the state Sunday as a Category 4 storm.

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5 a.m.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula early Monday.

Irma hit Florida on Sunday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, hammering much of the state with roof-ripping winds, gushing floodwaters and widespread power outages.

By Monday morning, Irma had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with winds near 85 mph (135 kph). Additional weakening is forecast and Irma is expected to become a tropical storm over northern Florida or southern Georgia later in the day.

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4:45 a.m.

Dutch search and rescue experts are heading to the shattered former colony of St. Maarten to support the humanitarian relief effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

A team of 59 urban search and rescue experts is flying Monday to the Dutch territory that’s home to some 40,000 people, where 70 percent of homes were badly damaged last week by a direct hit from the Category 5 storm. Four people were killed and dozens injured.

The Dutch government also is sending extra troops to maintain order following widespread looting and robberies. The government says there are already nearly 400 extra troops in St. Maarten and that number will rise to some 550 over the next two days.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander is expected to visit the island Monday to show his support for local residents and the emergency services working to restore infrastructure and begin the process of reconstruction.

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2 a.m.

Irma weakened to a Category 1 storm as the massive hurricane zeroed in on the Tampa Bay region early Monday after hammering much of Florida with roof-ripping winds, gushing floodwaters and widespread power outages.

The hurricane’s maximum sustained winds weakened to 85 mph (135 kph) with additional weakening expected.

As of 2 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Tampa and moving north-northwest near 15 mph (24 kph).

Irma continues its slog north along Florida’s western coast having blazed a path of unknown destruction. With communication cut to some of the Florida Keys, where Irma made landfall Sunday, and rough conditions persisting across the peninsula, many are holding their breath for what daylight might reveal.

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Economic cost of Harvey, Irma could be $290 bn

September 11, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Members of the Olson family remove debris and damaged items from their father’s home in the Twin Oaks Estate after Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding in Houston, Texas

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The combined economic cost of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could reach $290 billion, equivalent to 1.5 percent of the US gross domestic product, US forecaster AccuWeather said in a report Sunday.”We believe the damage estimate from Irma to be about $100 billion, among the costliest hurricanes of all time,” said the firm’s CEO and founder Joel Myers.

Harvey, which battered Texas and parts of Louisiana in late August, will be “the costliest weather disaster in US history at $190 billion or one full percentage point of GDP” which stands at $19 trillion.

The report said it arrived at the figure by calculating disruptions to business, increased unemployment rates for significant periods of time, damage to transport and infrastructure, crop loss including a 25 percent drop of orange crop, increased costs of fuels including gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel, household damages and loss of valuable documentation.

Only a fraction of the losses would be covered by insurance, said Myers.

Irma struck the Florida Keys archipelago earlier Sunday and is now bearing north, bearing down on the city of Tampa on the west coast of the Florida peninsula.

Harvey made landfall in Texas in late August, causing severe damage to property and paralyzing the country’s fourth-largest city, Houston, with major flooding.