Hurricane Harvey

Triple-shot of storms prompt Nelson, other Dems to seek DACA extension

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and more than three dozen other Senate Democrats are asking President Donald Trump‘s administration to extend an Oct. 5 deadline for “Dreamers” to renew their status, due to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“These major hurricanes significantly disrupted day to day living and operations in these states and territories,” the lawmakers, led by Nelson and two others, wrote in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke today. “It would be appropriate for the government to extend the October 5, 2017 deadline nationwide to allow individuals adequate time to meet the government’s recent request.”

Trump and his administration announced earlier this month that the president intends to do away with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, a policy launched by President Barack Obama aimed at allowing undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country.

The Trump policy would allow some “Dreamers” currently enrolled in DACA to apply for renewal.

“Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico are still working to recover and will be for some time,” the lawmakers wrote. “An extension of the deadline would provide DACA recipients more time to collect the $495 application fee and gather the necessary documents to accurately complete the renewal application.”

Florida, where Hurricane Irma knocked out power for two-thirds of the state and resulted in historic flooding on both coasts, is home to an estimated 30,000 Dreamers.


Hopefully we’re not next: Trump’s $1 million Harvey donation

While Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, the White House revealed how President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, are spending $1 million in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

The first couple are spreading the love between a dozen organizations, including the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the ASPCA.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Reach out America – $100,000
  • Red Cross – $300,000
  • Salvation Army – $300,000
  • Samaritan’s Purse – $100,000
  • ASPCA – $25,000
  • Catholic Charities – $25,000
  • Direct Relief – $25,000
  • Habitat for Humanity – $25,000
  • Houston Humane Society – $25,000
  • Operation Blessing – $25,000
  • Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies – $25,000
  • Team Rubicon – $25,000

And here’s the full statement from the White House about the Trumps’ contributions:

President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump announced today a personal donation of $1 million dollars to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and have designated twelve organizations to receive contributions.  The President and First Lady witnessed the work of some of these groups first hand while visiting with hurricane survivors, first responders, volunteers, and Federal, State, and local officials, and are proud to further assist the recovery efforts in Texas.  Several of the following organizations were recommended, at the invitation of the President, by members of the White House Press Corps, and he would like to thank those who made recommendations for their attention to this important cause.  The President and First Lady continue to pray for the people of Texas and Louisiana.

Houston evacuee internet sensation spent time on the 4th Floor

IMG_2921She may not look familiar to a Capitol populated by a lobbying corps dominated by young whippersnappers and term-limited lawmakers.

But Shirley Sechler, who in the early 90s worked in the Capitol in lobbyist registration and then went on to work for the Florida Bar, likely gained a huge following after the 92-year-old’s dramatic rescue in Houston went viral on social media this week.

In a telephone conversation today, the effervescent Miss Shirley described her rescue and the conditions that finally forced her out of her Houston home.

“I’m so grateful to be out of that fright, fright, fright. It was awful,” she said Friday.

Sechler and her son, Brad, refused to leave their home even as the rising waters crept up the street, inundating the driveway.

IMG_0073“The experience. The experience was watching the water come up into the driveway, and watching our street turn into a lake. And then every day we would monitor the height of the water in the driveway and then we would see it was halfway up to the mailbox,” she said from her daughter-in-law’s house in a dry part of Houston.

Over the days, numerous men — including the National Guard, according to Sechler — urged her to evacuate.

“I kept steadfastly refusing. Because it’s my house. I didn’t want to go,” she told us Friday. “But the water came higher and higher and I woke up in the morning and there’s the water coming up to the edge of the garage door. It was just too much. And another man came in and said you’ve got to get out of here.”

Sechler said she continued to refuse “but this man was so persuasive” that she finally relented.

“Then the boats came,” she said, adding that the rescue effort was complicated because “I can hardly walk and I can’t bend very well.”

The flat-bottom boats were a contrast to Sechler’s vision of the “big, beautiful pleasure boats” she imagined would transport her to safety.

That’s another whole story, the rescue effort. Because I can hardly walk and I can’t bend very well.

While the rescue crafts may have let her down, the rescuers didn’t.

“All these wonderful men, wonderful, big smiling men, told me don’t worry, hold on,” she told us.

After the boat ride, Sechler was lifted onto a pickup truck.

“There were endless volunteers, wonderful, smiling helpful, muscled,” she said, causing us to imagine her eyes twinkling as she recalled the rescue.

Sechler, who moved to Houston nearly two decades ago, laughed when asked about her work in the Capitol.

“I remember that fourth floor. I was so stunned and amazed when I first went there at the noise, the activity, the clamor,” she said.

Sechler said she has no idea what shape her house is in, but she has no plans to leave the water-ravaged city.

“Of course I’ll stay in Houston. My kids are here. Where would I go?” she said.

Florida cavalry? You bet (an expert’s opinion)!

image002Like much of the nation, we are mesmerized by the plight of Houstonians as the remnants of Harvey continue to wreak havoc on Texas.

Floodwaters continue to rise, levees are breached and an untold number of residents are awaiting rescue from boats, helicopters and high-water vehicles.

The worsening situation in Houston and neighboring areas comes on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall 12 years ago.

Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement that he had dispatched dozens of assets from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to the storm-torn region elicited a silent cheer from this reporter, who spent nearly two harrowing weeks in Biloxi covering Katrina’s devastating impacts more than a decade ago.

Scott’s office released the above photo of FWC officers apparently engaged in a rescue in Texas.

From the press release with the photo:

“Yesterday, nearly 100 FWC officers and nearly 40 boats deployed to Houston to support ongoing response efforts. This weekend, twenty-five FWC officers, 17 high water vehicles, two Mobile Command Centers, eight shallow draft vessels and four patrol boats arrived in Houston after being deployed by Governor Scott.”

In an earlier announcement regarding the deployment of the FWC folks westward, Scott said: “Floridians know first-hand how damaging a storm can be for families and communities and how important it is to have the support of nearby states during these challenging times.”

The announcements about the FWC resources — and the images of water-soaked Houston and wind-ravaged coastal towns like Rockport — brought to mind my experiences in Biloxi, after Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, slicing through bridges, tearing up city blocks, and cutting loose casino barges.

While much of the nation was focused on an escalating disaster in New Orleans — where thousands of people were trapped inside what was supposed to be a shelter — residents of Biloxi were largely forgotten.

They had no water and no electricity. Cell phone towers were splintered, so they had no way to communicate.

Working for The Palm Beach Post at the time, I was there when some of the residents who had evacuated made their way back to their beachfront community, only to find remnants of someone else’s belongings, from blocks away, jumbled amid the shards of what had once been their homes.

The recent images of journalists aiding in rescues in the Houston area reminded me of the morning my photographer and I arrived in Biloxi, hours after Katrina tore through the region.

We spotted a boat, the Luna Sea, situated in the middle of a parking lot, blocks away from the beach.

We heard a dog bark, and became concerned that the critter might be stranded on the vessel, clearly someplace where it shouldn’t have been.

Making our way onto the boat, we discovered a bruised and battered Harvey Shows, 79, stretched out beside his toy poodle, Cocoa, and his black lab mix, Lady.


We made sure Shows — who lost power steering on his boat as he tried to move it from Pass Christian to Mobile — got medical care, and had enough food and water to see him through. He wouldn’t vacate his vessel, but we checked on him every day.

The link to the Post story’s broken, but I found it here, along with a picture of Mr. Shows with his dogs.

Years later, on an anniversary of Katrina’s landfall, I received a call from one of Show’s daughters, thanking me for my efforts to inform her of her father’s whereabouts in the aftermath of Katrina.

The story of the Luna Sea and Mr. Shows is just one of the memories from Katrina. I drove down the beach road with the gobsmacked Biloxi mayor on that first day. We had guns pointed at us when my photographer insisted on taking pictures of looters.

But the point, albeit a long time coming, was the feeling — and the words — we shared when we saw a convoy of FWC boats, swamp buggies and law enforcement personnel headed towards Biloxi in those initial trying days.

“Here comes the cavalry.”