Miami, United States:
What could be worse than a pandemic that is overwhelming health systems and causing global economic collapse? Florida knows the answer: a pandemic that is raging in the hurricane season, is already on the horizon, and is causing Sunshine State to dramatically update its storm preparations.
"COVID is bad, a hurricane is bad. If you combine the two, it's bigger than the sum," said Bryan Koon, who headed the Florida Emergency Management Department until 2017 and is currently an independent emergency advisor.
"The effects of a hurricane in a COVID environment are worse than the two together. It is a multiplier effect, not an additive effect," he told AFP.
This worst-case scenario is becoming more and more likely.
The United States will certainly still be fighting the corona virus when the Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1, although past storms have occurred up to two months earlier.
Meteorologists from Colorado University and Accuweather are already predicting that a more active hurricane season than usual will take place this year. Between July and November, four major hurricanes could occur with wind speeds in excess of 110 miles per hour (180 kilometers per hour).
"We are obviously preparing for the worst," said Florida Governor Rick de Santis on Thursday. "Hopefully we don't have to deal with a hurricane. But I think we have to assume that we will have one."
State residents know exactly what to do when a hurricane threatens: replenish supplies, close windows, or clear their homes and businesses, and avoid the storm if it is bad.
Those who cannot afford it are evacuated on buses and put into emergency shelters. When they return home afterwards, they have to take care of cleaning and repair.
The question now facing Florida's leaders is how this strategy of mass evacuation can be maintained this year when people are warned to practice social distancing. How are animal shelters operated in a time of highly infectious fatal diseases when the usual protocol is to put people side by side on cots in school halls?
None of this will be possible this year, experts warn.
"Your friends and family may not want to have them at home because they try not to get sick," said Koon. "So it couldn't work to involve a lot of extra people."
"Hotels may not be open. Hotels are closing due to low occupancy. I don't know how to open large emergency shelters. You can't populate a gym right now, so that will be problematic."
"People will have to make tough decisions," he said.
"Would I rather stay here and risk my house if a roof is blown from my house or the storm surge floods my house? Or would I rather get in the car and drive somewhere and risk being exposed to COVID-19?"
Koon, currently Vice President of Emergency Management and Homeland Security at IEM, advises that many people do not have the usual means to pay for gas, transportation, or hotels if they choose to evacuate.
By Thursday, around 17 million Americans had lost their jobs thanks to the nationwide blockade to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Florida senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio urged FEMA, the federal emergency agency, to define a strategy for a hurricane that lands during the pandemic.
In particular, they asked FEMA boss Peter Gaynor "to take into account how those who are either suspected of being coronavirus or suspected in the event of a storm can be properly evacuated and protected".
A FEMA spokesman told AFP that the agency is working with local and state agencies to develop new guidelines.
The current head of the Florida State Emergency Management Agency, Jared Moskowitz, told Sun Sentinel separately that he had put together a team to work out a new response plan.
In 2018, Category 5 storm Hurricane Michael flattened the southwestern region of Florida, causing devastation, the effects of which are still felt.
The previous year, in 2017, when Hurricane Irma hit, millions of people evacuated their homes in Florida and around 300,000 found refuge in shelters.
And that was only in Florida. In Puerto Rico, hurricane Maria killed an estimated 3,000 people when it erupted in 2017, while last year hurricane Dorian triggered a humanitarian crisis that the Bahamas has not yet recovered from.
"Hope is not the strategy we need right now. We need really committed, hard planning," said Koon.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)