- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2020

Tropical Storm Gonzalo may weaken before it becomes a full-blown hurricane, but it is the seventh named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, underscoring a federal scramble to make sure states are ready to handle an “apocalyptic” scenario in which the COVID-19 nightmare clashes with a disaster response.

Peter Gaynor, administration of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said states have been ordered to evacuate pharmaceuticals and life-saving ventilators out of the path of storms.

Evacuating people will be an even larger challenge, he told Congress on Friday, since states and local officials will need to set up shelters that do not promote crowding.

“COVID-19 may slow down state, territorial, and tribal abilities to conduct damage assessments for disasters such as flooding, severe storms, and hurricanes. Response to other disasters, in turn, can slow down the ability of officials to collect crucial information about COVID-19 cases and stymie their ability to share the critical data needed to combat it,” Mr. Gaynor said in prepared testimony for the House Oversight Committee. “Consequently, there is a potential for a compounded effect that could result in a larger emergency than each disaster would be on its own. These are just some of the considerations FEMA has accounted for as we pivot to prepare for what could become active hurricane and wildfire seasons.”

Tropical Storm Gonzalo’s path through the Caribbean is uncertain, as trackers watch to see if it becomes the first hurricane of the season. Still, it is the fastest time on record that meteorologists have reached “G” in the alphabetic roster of Atlantic storms.

Forecasters expect to see 13 to 19 named storms this season, including six to 10 hurricanes. Three to six of those hurricanes could be major ones, according to Rep. Harley Rouda, California Democrat.

“As the United States continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and a recent surge in cases across the country, it’s clear that this unprecedented moment has left all of us, including FEMA, in uncharted territory,” Mr. Rouda said. “People have often called the year 2020 apocalyptic. Although some may say that is an exaggeration or said in jest, it certainly at times does not feel like it is far off from the truth.”

He outlined a parade of horribles that could result from the storm season.

States known to be hit hardest by hurricanes, like Florida and North Carolina, are reeling from COVID-19 transmission, so overcrowded gyms and other evacuation shelters risk becoming hotspots.

Also, evacuees from high-risk states could flee to places like New York, which is desperately trying to preserve gains it made against the virus after getting slammed in March and April.

It’s not just hurricanes.

Mr. Rouda warned that climate change is linked to an uptick in wildfires, further straining disaster supplies and local budgets.

Mr. Gaynor said FEMA issued COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance in May, so states have had time to prepare for whatever comes.

“While this document focuses on hurricane season preparedness, most planning considerations can also be applied to any disaster operation in the COVID-19 environment, including no-notice incidents, flooding and wildfires, and typhoon response,” Mr. Gaynor said. “The Operational Guidance is scalable, adaptable and flexible to all hazards.”

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