Editorial: Coming together when disasters hit

Star Tribune Editorial Board, Star Tribune on

Published in Weather News

Minnesotans know what it's like to deal with a disaster. We've been through tornadoes, historic floods and withering droughts.

So our hearts go out to Floridians in their time of need. The concern is even more significant because of Minnesotans' strong ties to the Sunshine State. Naples, perched on Florida's southwest coast, is a favorite of snowbirds here, even boasting a Minnesota Breakfast Club founded nearly 60 years ago.

The Minnesota Twins make Florida their spring training home at their complex in the badly hit area of Fort Myers. That complex now is serving as an emergency staging area, and Twins President Dave St. Peter said recently on a broadcast that he was proud that the organization could help the community "in this time of need."

Hundreds of Xcel linemen have headed to Florida to help restore power in affected cities. Volunteers from the Red Cross of Minnesota and the Dakotas will be there distributing food, water and supplies, and Gov. Tim Walz has said the Minnesota National Guard stands ready to lend a hand if needed.

There are, and should be, no politics when disaster strikes. These are times that should draw us together, that make us realize how vulnerable we all are and how important it is to be there for one another in whatever capacity we have.

Minnesota received federal disaster relief after 23 counties in the state were hit by May tornadoes, flooding, and severe storms.

When Hurricane Ian struck Florida, President Joe Biden within days had approved disaster relief to the stricken areas, even as the storm continued to move through.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who harbors presidential ambitions himself, should take note of how this president has handled aid to his state, and ignore the lessons of Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, whose shamefully partisan response to Puerto Rico's devastation from Hurricane Maria will live in infamy.

Although there was substantial controversy surrounding the number of deaths, Puerto Rico finally put the toll at nearly 3,000. Thousands more were left without water, power or shelter. When he visited the island, Trump flung paper towels at the crowds, a gesture many viewed as insulting and degrading. He lashed out at a Puerto Rican mayor with the temerity to criticize the gesture. Three years later, thousands continued to live under makeshift tarps. Trump, it later turned out, had delayed $20 billion in aid to Puerto Rico with unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles, according to a 2021 inspector general's report.


Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, who is retired and owns a condo in Punta Gorda, Florida, was a victim of Hurricane Ian's fury. He and former first lady Susan Carlson were letting friends stay at their condo when they got reports of water damage at the storm's start. He stressed the importance of "taking off the partisan hat" when leading a state in times of crisis.

"The instant response of President Biden has been superb," said Carlson, a Republican when he was governor. "It's been competent and humane. He has pushed all political differences aside, recognized all Americans. He knows that if Florida is hurting, we are all hurting as Americans."

Carlson recalled that during one episode when he flew to St. Louis for a meeting with then-Democratic President Bill Clinton on disaster relief, "He could not have been warmer and more helpful. He knew where I was coming from. We had disagreed on many issues. But he never allowed politics to come in when he dealt with our needs. I've served under Democratic and Republican presidents. In every instance, when you needed help you got it."

That has not always been true of Congress. In 2013, DeSantis, then a newly elected congressman from Florida, voted to block aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy on fiscal grounds on two separate occasions. Sandy, it should be recalled, cut a path of destruction across eight countries, causing an estimated $70 billion in damages, with especially severe damage in the blue states of New Jersey and New York.

DeSantis, understandably, is not concerned at the moment about the congressional budget. The collapse of the Sanibel Causeway cost the Florida island its only ground link to mainland Florida. It may be years before the island returns to normal, if ever. Ian ravaged coastal towns, and the death toll continues to mount. More than 491,000 homes and businesses still lacked power at the start of this week.

Carlson called DeSantis' vote against Sandy "a disgrace" and one for which he should express regret. "Now he knows what it's like to lead a state that has suffered something almost unimaginable," Carlson said. "But it shouldn't have to come to that. When emergencies hit, that is the time to put country ahead of oneself and the grasp for power."


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