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D.C. Prepared for Hurricane Season, Officials Say

With weather experts calling for a slightly above-average hurricane season this year as the District grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the city officials and the region’s chapter of the American Red Cross map out the plan for if a catastrophic storm were to hit the region.

Leaders of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, said on May 21 at its annual briefing before the hurricane season — which starts on June 1 and lasts until the end of November — that a 60 percent chance exists for an above normal cyclone season in the Atlantic Ocean. The center predicts a likely range of 13-19 named storms (39 miles per hour winds or higher), of which 6-10 could become hurricanes (winds 74 miles per hour or higher) including 3-6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5 with winds 111 miles per hour).

Hurricanes that have significantly affected the District in recent years are Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which caused widespread damage in the city to the amount of $125 million, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which shut down the District and federal governments for a few days.

Christopher Rodriguez, director of the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Administration, which handles the city’s response to natural disasters, said his agency stands ready for a hurricane even amid the pandemic.

“The 2020 hurricane season has started and we have already had three tropical storms, Arthur, Bertha and Cristobal and two of those started before June 1,” Rodriguez said. “We have contingency plans in place to help residents get the help they need to be safe if a hurricane comes and we are able to do what is needed to fight COVID-19 too. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We have held workshops with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on this.”

If a hurricane hits the city, FEMA won’t be the only partner that Rodriguez’s agency will be working with. Paul Carden, senior disaster program manager for government relations for the national capital and greater Chesapeake region of the American Red Cross, said his organization has a working relationship with the District government and will assist it with hurricane relief and fighting the coronavirus pandemic simultaneously.

“As an organization operating in a COVID-19 environment, we have had to deal with floods and tornadoes in complicated situations,” Carden said. “We want to make sure that people are safe especially those who are infected and see that they don’t infect other people. When our volunteers and staffers go out in the field, they wear masks as do our clients.

“As far as operations go, if a hurricane were to take place in D.C., we would open up a shelter with the support of the D.C. government,” he said. “That shelter may consist of a motel, a university campus or a camp set up. In reference to COVID-19, we would do a health check and take temperatures of people displaced by the hurricane. If someone has COVID-19, we would isolate them and make sure everyone practices social distancing. Our staff would have personal protective equipment and soap and water to wash their hands regularly, too.”

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