Storms that slammed Central America in 2020 just a preview

By Sarah Marsh and Sofia Menchu

HAVANA/GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Villagers in Guatemala’s Mayan hillside hamlet Sanimtaca had been about to harvest their cardamom crops that take three years to grow when waves of floodwater triggered by two tropical storms last month washed them away.

Now they have no way to support themselves or to build back the 25 homes – a third of the village – also destroyed in the flash floods that have yet to subside, said Raul Quib, a volunteer from a neighboring community.

“No one had ever seen flooding like it around here,” the 35-year-old who has been collecting food and clothing donations told Reuters. “The school is flooded, the cemetery is flooded.”

This week brought an official close to the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever recorded, with 30 named storms including 13 hurricanes.

And thanks to climate change, experts warn, Central America will have to brace for stronger storm impacts in the future – as well as higher economic damages, unless they prepare.

The region, which already has some of the highest poverty rates in Latin America, was particularly hard hit by hurricanes this year.

Two of the year’s strongest storms, Eta and Iota, ravaged swathes of Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize in unusually quick succession in November.

Altogether, more than 200 people were killed and more than half a million displaced. Hundreds of thousands are now unsure where their next meals will come from.

In Sanimtaca, villagers were able to flee to higher ground in time to escape the flooding. But elsewhere in the mountainous central Guatemalan region of Alta Verapaz, storm-triggered landslides buried dozens of houses with people inside.

Hurricane Eta alone caused up to $5.5 billion in damage in Central America, the Inter-American Development Bank said, while the impact of Iota has not yet been determined.

So far, only Nicaragua has provided official estimates of damage of both storms, putting it at more than $740 million, around 6.2% of gross domestic product.

“If we don’t manage to contain global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, we can expect an intensification of such natural disasters in the region with increasing costs,” said Luis Miguel Galindo, climate change expert and economics professor at Mexico’s UNAM university.

Currently, the world is on track to surpass 2°C of warming above pre-industrial temperatures.

If temperatures rise 2.5 °C by mid-century, the main costs of climate change could tally 1.5% to 5% of the annual GDP of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a 2017 United Nations report that Galindo co-authored. It put the cost of adapting below 0.5% of GDP.

SLOWER STORMS, LONGER SEASON

Climate change overall is changing how hurricanes behave, scientists say, by warming up the ocean water through which they draw their power. Winds are blowing stronger. Storms are dropping heavier rains.

“We have more energy embedded in the oceans, and 90% from climate change,” said Belizean meteorologist Carlos Fuller, the lead climate change negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States.

And hurricanes are sometimes moving more slowly, stalling for longer on land or traveling farther before breaking up, recent research has shown.

That can mean even more rainfall, wind and destruction for communities in a storm’s path. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey turned Houston’s highways into tidal rivers after stalling for four days near or over the Texas coast. Scientists say Eta and Sally behaved this way, too, hence the unusual flooding in Sanimtaca.

“The evidence is building that there is a human fingerprint on this behavior,” said Jim Kossin, climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In a study published in June 2018 in the journal Nature, Kossin found that hurricane speeds had decreased worldwide by about 10% between 1949 and 2016.

This year’s storm count included six major hurricanes, twice the long-term average, said meteorologist Philip Klotzbach, who researches hurricanes at Colorado State University.

The year also saw nine storms that rapidly intensified, he said. Iota for example spun from a 70 mile-per-hour (113 km-per-hour) tropical storm to a 160-mph (257-kph) Category 5 hurricane in 36 hours. The only other years that saw so many such storms were 1995 and 2010.

That can be “a problem from the warning, preparation perspective,” Klotzbach said. “It is hard to prepare if it’s a tropical storm, and then a day later a Category 4 hurricane.”

More storms could also hit outside of the traditional hurricane season going forwards as ocean waters get warmer sooner, said Susan Lozier, an oceanographer and dean at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Sciences. This year, a record-tying two tropical storms were swirling over the Atlantic in May, before the season’s June 1 start.

But it is still unclear if climate change is influencing the number of storms per year and played a role in the record 30 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean this season given natural variability. The number of hurricanes and major hurricanes for the Northern Hemisphere was near average due to a quieter Pacific.

BOLSTERING RESILIENCE

Communities devastated by a hurricane need to find ways to reduce the risk of damages should another hurricane hit, said World Bank regional sustainable development expert Anna Wellenstein.

Natural hazards “become disasters when we build in the wrong place or in the wrong way,” she said. “Countries need more than a few years to really increase their resilience. This is an effort of decades.”

Moving populations away from coastlines vulnerable to floods and storm surges or hillsides that see landslides could help prevent deaths, some experts suggest. Storm predictions and warning systems could be improved. And vulnerable crops can be swapped out for hardier species.

“Rice can survive (rain) water because it grows in water,” said Fuller, the meteorologist in Belize. “So maybe we need to shift to that sort of grain instead of maize for example which will fall.”

A dollar invested in more resilient infrastructure brings four dollars in economic benefits, said Wellenstein.

But many Central American and Caribbean countries, already confronted with poverty and debt, have struggled to prioritize this among so many other pressing needs.

“They don’t have the resources,” said Galindo. “And the pandemic is further reducing revenue and increasing expenses.”

Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei said last month Central America had been the worst affected region in the world by climate change and it would need help from them to stave off mass migration.

Quib, who volunteered to help Sanimtaca, said he expected most of the youth of the village to emigrate to Canada where they could lead a better life.

“If they were already doing it before this happened, they will do so even more now,” he said.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Additional Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey, Mexico; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)

Sally strengthens to hurricane, bears down on U.S. Gulf Coast

By Jennifer Hiller

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Louisiana and Mississippi residents were under evacuation orders on Monday as Hurricane Sally churned across the Gulf of Mexico, strengthening to a hurricane ahead of expected landfall on Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The second storm in less than a month to threaten the region, Sally was headed toward a slow-motion landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Residents from Louisiana to Florida were told to expect heavy rain, storm surge and high winds.

Sally is the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and will be the eighth of tropical storm or hurricane strength to hit the United States – something “very rare if not a record,” said Dan Kottlowski, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.

Mississippi and Louisiana issued mandatory evacuation orders to residents of low-lying areas, and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards appealed for a federal disaster declaration and advised people living in Sally’s path to flee.

“We have to make sure that everything is tied down and out of the way so it doesn’t float away or become airborne,” said Steve Forstall, a Bay St. Louis port employee. In the coastal town, located roughly 50 miles (80 km) northeast of New Orleans, water from the bay was spilling onto the beach roadway early on Monday. Workers were seen boarding up homes and securing items like trash cans that can become projectiles in high winds.

The U.S. Coast Guard was limiting traffic from the Port of New Orleans, while energy companies slowed or cut refinery output and scrambled to pull workers from offshore oil and gas production platforms.

At 1 p.m. CDT (1800 GMT), Sally was 125 miles (210 km) east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, packing sustained winds of 90 miles (145 km) per hour, according to the NHC.

It said the storm’s advance would slow in the next two days, dumping 8 to 16-inches on the coast and causing widespread river flooding.

Residents of southwest Louisiana are still clearing debris and tens of thousands of homes are without power after Hurricane Laura left a trail of destruction. Sally’s path remains east of that hard-hit area.

Damage from Sally is expected to reach $2 billion to $3 billion, but could exceed that if the storm’s heaviest rainfall happens over land instead of in the Gulf, said Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which models and tracks tropical storms.

(Reporting by Jennifer Hiller and Gary McWilliams; additional reporting by Catherine Koppel in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Dan Grebler)

U.S. energy firms tally hurricane damage, plot restarts as Laura races north

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – U.S. energy companies on Thursday were organizing crews and beginning to review offshore Gulf of Mexico platforms and assess damage to coastal operations as Hurricane Laura took its fierce winds inland.

The storm hit Louisiana early Thursday with 150 mile-per-hour (240 kph) winds, damaging buildings, knocking down trees and cutting power to more than 400,000 people in Louisiana and Texas. Its storm surge was less than predicted, sparing inland plants from feared flooding.

Laura passed over Lake Charles, Louisiana, and its oil refineries overnight and was moving quickly north toward Arkansas on Thursday.

Offshore operators were busy scheduling reconnaissance flights over the more than 300 offshore platforms and drilling rigs whose crews evacuated last week. Laura tore through the Gulf of Mexico’s prime oil production fields, with first assessments due Thursday for pipelines and platforms.

Exxon Mobil Corp said it was contacting employees of its 369,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) oil refinery and chemical plant in Beaumont, Texas, and preparing a preliminary tally of damages. The large plant was one of six plants along the Gulf Coast’s refinery row that shut this week ahead of the storm.

Even with no or little damage, refineries take days to resume production from a cold shut and the widespread power outages in the region and evacuations could slow the process further.

Utilities reported more than 650,000 customers in Texas and Louisiana were without power on Thursday and at least one reconnaissance flight was canceled because of travel disruptions.

Oil producers were preparing to fly over evacuated offshore platforms on Thursday. Some 1.5 million barrels of oil, and or 1.65 billion cubic feet of natural gas output were halted by well closures on Wednesday.

Companies have regularly scheduled crew changes beginning on Saturday and could take the first steps to resuming production this weekend if conditions allow, said Lani Moneyhon, manager of Bristow Group’s Galliano heliport. The company provides transport to offshore producers.

Energy firms typically fly over platforms looking for damage, and later conduct walk-throughs by safety experts before crews can return. It can take several days to run reviews and schedule crew returns.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba and Gary McWilliams; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Tropical Storm Laura to become a hurricane as it heads toward U.S.

By Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani

(Reuters) – Tropical Storm Laura strengthened in the Caribbean on Monday and was poised to accelerate into a hurricane, while Tropical Storm Marco weakened sooner than expected, sparing the U.S. Gulf Coast from two simultaneous hurricanes that had been forecast.

The dual storms have taken offline nearly 10% of the United States’ crude oil production, as energy companies shuttered operations to ride out the weather.

The changed forecast from the National Hurricane Center bought a little more time for residents along Louisiana’s coast to prepare for the one-two punch. Marco could still bring dangerous winds and rain on Monday evening, with Laura forecast to make landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast on Wednesday night.

“Having two storms in the Gulf at one particular time made the last few days pretty stressful,” said Archie Chaisson, the president of Lafourche Parish on the Louisiana coast.

The coronavirus pandemic had complicated preparations, Chaisson said, with officials modifying their shelter plans to ensure social distancing and the wearing of face coverings.

HOWLING WINDS

Laura traced the southern coast of Cuba on Monday morning, but the brunt of the storm was offshore, helping the largest island nation in the Caribbean avoid serious damage after Laura killed at least 10 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The storm downed trees in Cuba, ripped away flimsy roofs and caused minor flooding on Sunday evening, according to residents and news reports. In Jamaica, there were reports of landslides and flooded roads.

“I slept well last night, except when the wind howled,” Nuris Lopez, a hairdresser, said by telephone from a town in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains in Cuba’s eastern Granma province.

Laura was heading toward the Gulf of Mexico at 20 miles per hour (31 kilometers per hour), according to the NHC. By Tuesday, it was expected to have reached hurricane strength. By Wednesday night, stronger still, it was expected to hit the U.S. Gulf Coast, the NHC said.

By then, it could be a Category 2 or 3 hurricane on the 5-step Saffir-Simpson scale for measuring hurricane intensity, said Chris Kerr, a meteorologist at DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider.

OIL HIT HARD

Despite Marco’s weakening, with the NHC predicting it would slow to a tropical depression by Monday night, that storm still threatened to soak the Louisiana coast.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent teams to operations centers in Louisiana and Texas.

This year’s hurricane season has been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing many people to weigh the risks of leaving their homes and potentially exposing themselves to the virus.

Officials in Louisiana said that testing for COVID-19 was suspended in the state on Monday and Tuesday.

Energy companies moved to cut production at U.S. Gulf Coast oil refineries after shutting half the area’s offshore crude oil output as back-to-back storms took aim at the coast.

Producers have shut more than 1 million barrels per day of Gulf Coast offshore oil production, 9% of the nation’s total output, facing a storm that is forecast to become a damaging Category 2 hurricane.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani in New York, Marc Frank in Havana, Kate Chappell in Kingston and Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Two storms head for U.S. Gulf in rare hurricane season event

By Liz Hampton

(Reuters) – A pair of tropical cyclones forecast to become hurricanes early next week are headed for the U.S. Gulf Coast and will spin over the Gulf’s warm waters simultaneously, a rare weather event that could cause massive disruption as they make landfall.

The last time two cyclones entered the U.S. Gulf of Mexico was in 1959, according to meteorologists interviewed by Reuters, and there have only been a handful of other occasions when two storms entered the Gulf simultaneously. In 1933, a Category 3 hurricane and moderate tropical storm hit the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, but there haven’t been records of two hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time.

Tropical Storm Laura and a separate tropical depression brewing near Honduras could make landfall as hurricanes next week in an area spanning Texas to the Florida Panhandle, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Meteorologists say there is still a lot of uncertainty around the systems and how they develop and move in coming days, particularly as they cross land.

Both storms currently look on track to remain separate, however, any interaction between the two could change their intensity or trajectory, said Dan Kottlowski of AccuWeather. It is unlikely they would combine, he added.

“More than likely one will become stronger, and inflict more vertical wind shear causing the other to weaken,” Kottlowski. “But if they stay of equal strengthen, then they will probably prevent each other from getting really strong.”

In some cases when storms interact, they can orbit each other and the speed of one cyclone could accelerate the other, part of something known as the “Fujiwhara effect,” said David Streit of Commodity Weather Group.

Tropical Storm Laura, which is currently east of the Antilles, was upgraded from a depression on Friday and currently has sustained winds of 45 miles per hour, according to the NHC. Laura is forecast to make landfall as a hurricane on Wednesday in an area spanning Louisiana to the Florida panhandle.

Tropical Depression 14, which would be named Marco if it strengthens, is on track to make landfall on Tuesday near the Texas and Louisiana border. It would arrive around the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, which dumped a record 50 inches of rain on parts of Houston in August 2017 and caused billions of dollars in damage.

“Tropical Depression 14 doesn’t look robust right now, but it looks to be in an environment conducive to strengthening,” said Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University.

AccuWeather’s Kottlowski said that Tropical Depression 14 is likely to become the stronger storm as it is slated to pass over a relatively flat area of the Yucatan Peninsula before entering the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it can gain strength.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Simon Webb and Aurora Ellis)

Isaias weakens into a tropical storm: U.S. NHC

(Reuters) – Isaias weakened into a tropical storm over eastern North Carolina, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Tuesday.

Isaias, packing maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph), is located about 35 miles (55 km) west southwest of Greenville, North Carolina, the Miami-based forecaster said.

Although Isaias is now a tropical storm it could still bring “strong winds, heavy rainfall, and the threat of tornadoes beginning to spread into southeastern Virginia,” the NHC added.

(Reporting by Anjishnu Mondal in Bengaluru; Editing by Alison Williams)

Isaias expected to regain hurricane strength, make landfall in Carolinas

(Reuters) – Tropical Storm Isaias is expected to regain its hurricane strength on Monday as it moves up the East Coast of the United States and could make landfall in North Carolina or South Carolina by Monday night, the National Hurricane Center said.

The forecast path showed the storm would continue churning up the coast and possibly soaking major cities such as Washington, Philadelphia and New York on Tuesday before moving into New England.

“Isaias is forecast to regain hurricane strength before it reaches the coast of northeastern South Carolina or southern North Carolina tonight. Slow weakening is forecast after Isaias makes landfall in the Carolinas and moves across the U.S. mid-Atlantic region tonight and Tuesday,” the hurricane center said in an advisory.

The storm’s center was about 100 miles (155 km) east-southeast of Jacksonville, Florida, at 8 a.m. Eastern time (1200 GMT) with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (100 kph), moving north at 13 mph (20 kph), the hurricane center said.

The storm mostly spared the Florida coast on Sunday but still provoked hurricane and storm surge warnings on Monday for much of the South Carolina and North Carolina coastline.

Tropical storm warnings were issued further north including parts of Chesapeake Bay and the Tidal Potomac River not far from Washington, D.C.

Long Island and the Long Island Sound near New York City also had tropical storm warnings.

Isaias did not affect the return home on Sunday of two NASA astronauts, who rode to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon.

They splashed down in the capsule in the Gulf of Mexico after a two-month voyage that was NASA’s first crewed mission from home soil in nine years.

Isaias caused at least two deaths in the Dominican Republic and knocked out power for thousands of homes and businesses in Puerto Rico, according to media reports.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Florida declares emergency on Atlantic coast as Hurricane Isaias approaches

By Zachary Fagenson and Nathan Layne

MIAMI (Reuters) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for counties on the Atlantic coast with Hurricane Isaias expected to hit the state as early as Friday night, a development that prompted the widespread closure of COVID-19 testing sites.

The hurricane, packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120.7 km) per hour, is currently lashing the southeastern part of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on its Twitter feed.

The NHC said heavy rains may begin to affect South and east-Central Florida beginning late Friday night, and the eastern Carolinas by early next week, potentially causing flooding in low-lying and poorly drained areas.

DeSantis told a news conference that he signed an executive order establishing a state of emergency for east coast counties stretching from Miami-Dade in the south to Nassau at the northern tip, a move that makes it easier to mobilize resources.

“While current projections have the eye of Isaias remaining at sea the situation remains fluid and can change quickly,” the governor said. “I want Floridians to know that the state of Florida is fully prepared for this.”

Miami-Dade’s public beaches, parks, marinas, and golf courses were set to close on Friday as Isaias strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane and forecasters predicted it would reach Category 2, with winds as powerful as 110 miles per hour.

Miami-Dade County officials have also closed drive-through and walk-up testing sites for COVID-19, following a similar move by Broward County Mayor Dale V.C. Holness, who said the sites could reopen on Wednesday after the storm had passed.

“We have thousands of tests that will not be conducted until we get these test sites up and running again,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a news conference on Friday.

For weeks Florida has been at the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak – it reported a record one-day increase in COVID-19 deaths for a third consecutive day on Thursday -although reports of new cases have recently slowed in the state.

DeSantis said COVID-19 testing sites would remain open on Florida’s west coast and that testing at hospitals and community centers may also continue. The storm’s main impact would be to sites set up outside and vulnerable to the wind, he said.

At full capacity, Florida had 162 test sites in all but two of its 67 counties.

The governor also said he planned to issue new guidance on testing to narrow its scope. He estimated that currently about half of the people who were being tested were either “curious” without symptoms or people looking to go back to work.

DeSantis said the state’s department of health, based on recently issued guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would now suggest that employers focus on symptomatic people, rather than screening all workers.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Oatis, David Gregorio and Paul Simao)

Hurricane Isaias heads toward Florida with 75-mph winds – Hurricane Center

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – Heavy rains from Hurricane Isaias could hit Florida late Friday night before the powerful storm moves up the East Coast into early next week, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned, prompting the closure of COVID-19 testing sites.

The hurricane, packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120.7 km) per hour, is currently lashing the southeastern part of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Miami-based forecaster posted on its Twitter feed on Friday.

“Heavy rains associated with Isaias may begin to affect south and east-Central Florida beginning late Friday night, and the eastern Carolinas by early next week, potentially resulting in isolated flash and urban flooding, especially in low-lying and poorly drained areas” the NHC said on its website.

Miami-Dade County officials closed drive-through and walk-up testing sites for COVID-19. Public beaches, parks, marinas, and golf courses were also set to close on Friday as Isaias strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane and forecasters predicted it would reach Category 2.

Broward County Mayor Dale V.C. Holness had on Thursday also announced testing sites would close, with plans to reopen on Wednesday morning.

As of Friday morning the storm was predicted to most impact Florida’s central, eastern region before moving north.

At full capacity Florida had 162 test sites in all but two of the state’s 67 counties. Some counties will continue testing through their individual health departments.

“We have thousands of tests that will not be conducted until we get these test sites up and running again,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a virtual news conference on Friday morning.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)

Miami medical teams feel helpless as COVID-19 devastates South Florida

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – As the coronavirus ravages Florida, healthcare workers in Miami hospitals are struggling to cope with the emotional and physical impact of treating a crushing wave of COVID-19 patients.

After seeing 10,000 new cases a day become the norm across the state in July, many of those on the front lines are frustrated with the apparent inability of local, state, and federal governments to coordinate an adequate response. They are equally aghast with what appears to be the reluctance or refusal of many Floridians to honor safety precautions to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“I know, and my colleagues know, that we’re putting a Band-Aid on a problem, we’re supporting people as best we can to get them through, but the real fight happens outside,” said Dr. Eric Knott, a pulmonary and critical care fellow working in three of Miami’s largest hospitals. “If you can’t stop the spread, all of my work is for nothing.”

For Miami doctors, concerns about the virus far surpass those stirred up by even the largest hurricanes.

“A hurricane tends to be a sort of finite amount, and this is infinite,” said Dr. Mark Supino, an attending physician in Jackson Memorial Hospital’s emergency department.

Many healthcare workers and union leaders were critical of Miami’s reopening several weeks after the number of cases of the novel coronavirus first began rising in early March.

On Friday, state health officials reported a total of 402,312 cases across Florida, with 135 new deaths bringing the total to more than 5,600.

While the death toll in South Florida has not approached that of New York City, an early epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, hospital beds and intensive care units across the region have filled to capacity, and in some cases surpassed it.

At Jackson Memorial Hospital, the largest facility in the region, officials have called in hundreds of additional medical workers as employees have fallen sick and had to stay home or be hospitalized. An auditorium was sealed and prepared for COVID-positive patients with a negative pressure system to limit the air flow to prevent new infections.

“In 10 years of medicine I never had to put another nurse on life support, I never had to worry about my co-workers dying,” said Kevin Cho Tipton, a critical care nurse practitioner who works at one of Miami’s largest public hospitals. “It’s been emotionally very challenging, physically very challenging.”

Among the most difficult and stressful parts of the job are the sheer number of ICU patients.

Healthcare workers must constantly keep tabs on the vital organs of patients on ventilators, and many of the sick have to be flipped over and over again to stave off any complications from lying in one position for a prolonged period. To do so without risking detaching any of the life support systems can take up to six people.

The intensity has overwhelmed some.

Jude Derisme, vice president of Service Employees International Union 1199, which represents 25,000 medical workers across Florida, said the union had to help get one nurse, a 25-year veteran, off a hospital floor after a “break down.”

“My fear is that if we don’t find a way to bring these numbers down over the next two weeks, if they’re worse than these last two weeks, we’re going to be stretched too thin,” said Martha Baker, a registered nurse and president of Service Employees International Union 1991, which represents about 5,600 medical professionals within Miami’s Jackson Health System. “The sad news is that that’s when patients die.”

While her chapter of the union along with others across Florida have advocated for more personal protective equipment, better overtime pay, hazard pay, and worker’s compensation for those waylaid by the virus, they also acknowledged that medical workers can only do so much against the pandemic.

“This is war, and instead of bullets we’ve got viruses,” Baker said. “If we don’t find a way to dampen our curve we just keep chasing our tails.”

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Editing by Frank McGurty and Tom Brown)