To say we dodged a bullet would be an understatement. I’d say we dodged a missile.

Volusia County Manager George Recktenwald.

 

For Hurricane Dorian in Volusia and Flagler counties, that about sums it up. The storm that looked so menacing just a few days ago dissolved into a blessed breakdown by Tuesday evening. By Wednesday, local residents were picking up stray fallen limbs, taking down plywood and evaluating the piles of batteries, snacks and frozen water bottles they’d piled up in anticipation of an extended siege.

There was some damage, and there still could be residual flooding. Some trees came down and some could continue to fall. A small percentage of local homes are without power. The biggest local impact is probably what didn't happen: Tourism related businesses lost their traditional Labor Day bump in sales, which could be a costly hit to take.

But we only need to look a few hundred miles to the east, to the heartbreaking devastation in the Bahamas, to see how bad it could have been.

That island nation needs our prayers — and our help. As local residents count our blessings, please consider supporting the recovery there and in areas up the U.S. eastern coast that might yet feel the muted impact of this former monster.

And our blessings are plentiful. Foremost among them: The rock-solid performance by Volusia, Flagler and Florida emergency-management staff and all the government leaders who worked together — for the most part, seamlessly — to keep Floridians informed and safe.

Flagler County Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord and his Volusia County counterpart, Jim Judge, led tightly coordinated efforts that should inspire confidence that they are capable of handling more devastating events. Law enforcement, school officials, county management, city governments, nonprofits and utilities used social media as a pipeline, with constant updates. Further reassurance should flow from the sight of hundreds of utility trucks from around the nation parked at Daytona International Speedway, full of workers who left their families on a holiday weekend to be here and ready to help.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ leadership was commendable: In his first big emergency, he was remarkably open, calm and supportive of local efforts. And we're proud of our own reporting staff, who worked around the clock to deliver news, photos and video via our website and Facebook pages. Starting today, your News-Journal will be delivered as normal.

In their last set of press briefings, DeSantis, Judge and Lord all brought home a critical message: Floridians cannot let this narrow escape shape future behavior, or use this experience as an indication that future storms will be equally serendipitous. If anything, Dorian shows us how hard it is to predict exactly when, or where, a big storm will make landfall. Residents have to keep taking big storms seriously and remember that the next time could be much worse.

So much worse.

For those who evaluated their storm plans as Dorian advanced and found them lacking, now is the time to make needed changes. Evaluate insurance coverage. Look for vulnerabilities in your homes and businesses that you noticed during storm prep, and make necessary repairs. Remember what you were most afraid of as Dorian pummelled the Bahamas, and take steps to make things better.

Today, life goes back to normal. But from now on, “normal” must also mean “prepared.” That’s reality for Florida, now, and that resolve should stand as Dorian’s biggest impact.