A haunting sense of déjà vu is panning out as Hurricane Irma churns its destructive path on the U.S. state of Florida as the rich-poor divide, so rawly displayed in New Orleans when the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, is unfolding again.
Inequality, more sooner than later at this late hour, is determining who can prepare or evacuate before the wrath of a historic storm reaches land.
Wilman Hernandez, a hotel dishwasher living in Tampa Bay, Florida, has been trying desperately to get his family to a shelter, but to no avail. Without access to a car, he complained that his repeated attempts to dial "311 to get information about the shelters that are available” have gone unanswered.
“No one answers the phone,” Hernandez lamented, according to Tampa Bay Times.
A different scenario is playing out in the affluent coastal residence known as Rio Vista. Here, the owners of multi-million dollar homes have spent small fortunes to secure their private boats, stock up on supplies and/or joined the ranks of those who have the wherewithal to fly north.
Case in point, one Florida businessman, identified only as Morse, chartered a private plane for his wife and two children to fly to Alabama and stay with relatives during the storm. He also purchased two generators, 50 gallons of water, 67 gallons of gas, non-perishable foods and other survival necessities, costing some $7,500, as he stayed behind to look after his business.
“You try to do whatever you can to protect your family … I wish everybody had the ability to take care of their families the way they want to,” he said without offering an idea as to how his wish could be fulfilled in a place like Florida or anywhere else in the United States.
Like Morse, Deborah Rosenberg, an interior designer, also took the luxury of chartering a private jet from Miami to New York City. Despite purchasing extra food for those who cook and clean in her posh home, she'll watch Hurricane Irma from the Big Apple with her daughters and husband who works in the financ industry.
“It's a complete contrast,” she commented about disparities that allow her family such respite while others are forced to endure the deadly storm.
Roughly 8.5 miles away from opulent Rio Vista is Liberty City, a working-class African-American neighborhood, where almost half the residents etch out a living below the federal poverty line.
Louis Diaz, a 29-year old resident said, “We’re in the inner city here. People don’t want to help folk like us," adding, “Nobody is leaving Liberty City because there’s nowhere for them to go.”
In Miami proper, homeless people, some 400, were being picked up by volunteers. They were given rides to shelters voluntarily or under threat of involuntary hospitalization, the Irish Times reported.
"We were driving in the vans and we had people jumping out into the streets to stop us so we would pick them up, said Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust.
“Those folks were coming out of the woodwork, they knew we were out there," said Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust.
Lastly, about 9 miles away from the despair of Liberty City is 51-year old Max Borges, owner of a public relations agency and Miami Beach resident. The island enclave running along the coastline is home and playground to celebrities, art deco buildings and a large concentration of wealth.
With a reinforced home, built-in generator, food and water for days and other essential supplies, Borges and his family decided that they would ride out the storm in the comfort and safety of their home. Hence, only hours before Hurricane Irma was scheduled to reach Florida's mainland, he cruised over to a Miami Beach golf course to practice his swing.
“That was a good one!” he indulged himself after striking a golf ball several feet through the air and onto the putting green.