When Hurricanes Churn, A Little Hotel Becomes Something More

It’s hot and dim inside this Comfort Inn just off the interstate in Fort Myers, Fla. The power has been off for two days, ever since the heart of Hurricane Irma passed right over the city.

But Dorothea Brown seems right at ease as she flips through a newspaper in the lobby.

In fact, she says the hotel is her “second home when we have to evacuate.” Brown lives at a mobile home and RV park right along the Orange River, so evacuations are a part of life. She and her family and her neighbors have a routine.

“Every time there’s a storm, we come here,” she said.

On Monday evening, there were still a handful of residents who rode out the storm and couldn’t yet make it home. The hotel staff, who had stayed the entire weekend, were housing and feeding them.

From her perch on the couch, Brown tries to remember the first time she took shelter there. “Well, there was Wilma. Before that, what was that, a man’s name, that was real bad, she says, referring to Hurricane Charley in 2004. Irma was a rough hit, she says, but “I have a home to go back to, thank God.” She couldn’t go back yet, though — some streets were still too flooded.

Brown is 91 years old. “I keep going!” she says. “It’s the Florida sunshine and the exercise and good friends, good neighbors.”

A good refuge doesn’t hurt, either.

“We love to come here,” Brown said, speaking for herself, her family and her neighbors. “They are very good in trying to assist us the most they can.”

She’s not kidding. On Monday evening, when the power was out and the phone lines weren’t working, 16-year-old Josselin Calderon was standing behind the front desk in uniform, using her smartphone to try to check reservations.

There was a grill set up outside with chicken and tacos on the sideboard. Staff members also brought food for the stranded guests.

“We got hungry,” general manager Flor Garcia said, laughing with other staffers. “We just went to our houses to get whatever we had in them, meat or anything, and we already had the grill here.”

Employees brought their families with them to ride out the storm, and they stayed for the entire weekend. Sebastian Bazan, 12, was there because his mom, Cintia Hermida, works at the hotel. He said the storm was scary — he even cried at one point, worried for his aunt in Naples.

In the hotel’s breakfast room, right off the lobby, Cheryl Schoolman, Sheryl Carruthers and Stephen Kappes expressed uniform awe for the hotel’s hurricane amenities.

“They always made sure we had coffee — and good coffee! That’s a miracle,” Schoolman said.

“It was like staying with family, it really was,” Kappes said, “with the kids and everybody. “

The three were traveling with a larger group of friends. They brought instruments, and when the winds were highest, they were having a blast.

“We were up in the room having a jam session with the mandolin and the guitar. Like the Titanic — we were singing and playing the music — that’s what one of the clerks said,” Kappes chuckled. “Playing the music through the storm.”

Carruthers says that — just like Dorothea Brown — she knows exactly where she’ll be the next time a hurricane hits.

“You know, it looks small, it doesn’t look real fabulous,” Schoolman said, “but what counted was all the care and family atmosphere.”

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Seattle Mayor Resigns Amid Added Allegation Of Sex Abuse

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, seen in 2013, resigned Tuesday after new allegations of sexual abuse years ago.

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Elaine Thompson/AP

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray resigned Tuesday following the publication of new allegations that he sexually abused a cousin at a family home in the 1970s.

In a statement, Murray denied the charge, but said that he is resigning effective the end of the business on Wednesday.

“While the allegations against me are not true, it is important that my personal issues do not affect the ability of our City government to conduct the public’s business,” Murray said.

Earlier in the day, the Seattle Timesreported that 54-year old Joseph Dwyer, a cousin, said that Murray molested him for about a year in Dyer’s mother’s home in Medford, N.Y., in the mid-1970s. Dyer said he was 13 years old at the time and sharing a bedroom with Murray.

Murray told the Times that Dyer’s accusations stem from old familial antagonisms.

“There’s been numerous fights between our two families for many years, and much ugliness. I guess they see me down and out, and they want to finish me off,” said Murray as quoted by the Times.

Dwyer is the fifth man to accuse Murray of sexual abuse since April. Murray has repeatedly and vigorously denied the charges and said that he has been targeted for his progressive politics and support of gay rights.

But the accusations took their toll. Murray, a former Democratic state legislator, had said in May that he would not seek re-election and would retire from politics at the end of the year when his term ends.

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Tension And Protests Mark Trump Voting Commission Meeting

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, right, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, center and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, left at the second meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity on Sept. 12, 2017 in Manchester, NH.

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Holly Ramer/AP

A fact-finding hearing by President Trump’s commission looking into voter fraud exposed self-inflicted rifts among its members during the panel’s second meeting Tuesday in Manchester, NH.

Days earlier, the panel’s Republican co-chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, wrote a column in Breitbart News claiming that there was proof of enough voter fraud in New Hampshire last November to possibly have influenced the outcome of a Senate race.

That did not sit well with another commission member, New Hampshire’s long-time Secretary of State, Democrat Bill Gardner, who happened to be the host of Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Gardner said Kobach’s column caused a “problem” by questioning whether last year’s election was “real and valid.”

“It is real and valid,” he said, to the applause of some in the audience.

But Gardner said he could see why there might be confusion. His state has complicated residency rules about who can and can’t vote, which might lead some people to conclude that thousands of voters who use out-of-state driver’s licenses as ID had committed voter fraud.

Kobach acknowledged that the issue was “complicated” and said more research needed to be done.

The incident illustrated one of the main problems the panel faces as it goes forward with its stated mission of finding ways to instill more public confidence in U.S. elections: The voting process is complicated and data is difficult to come by, a point several witnesses emphasized on Tuesday.

Another problem for the commission’s work is that it was created in response to President Trump’s unproven claim that three to five million people voted illegally in November.

Protesters, including former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, outside of the election commission’s hearing in Manchester, NH on Sept. 12, 2017.

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Casey McDermott/New Hampshire Public Radio

Democrats and many voting rights activists — about 50 of whom protested outside the meeting — have called the commission a “sham.” They worry that the 12-member panel is stacked with members who believe that voter fraud is extensive and will use its conclusions to push for more restrictive voter laws.

Kobach and the commission’s chairman, Vice President Mike Pence, have denied this, saying they have no preconceived ideas and will follow the facts where they lead.

But the commission heard from several witnesses Tuesday that it’s not always easy to find those facts, that voter data is limited and often incomplete, and that it’s difficult to know what accounts for the drop in participation in U.S. elections since the 1960s.

Some commission members have suggested people don’t vote because they think the system is “rigged,” but University of New Hampshire political scientist Andrew Smith said voter surveys by the U.S.Census have reached a different conclusion.

“The major reason that they see that people don’t vote…is that they just didn’t bother, they weren’t interested, they forgot,” Smith said. “Basically, issues of convenience and non-interest were the major reasons.”

Still, several members of the commission — including Kobach — have argued that voter fraud is a serious problem that undermines public confidence. The panel heard from several witnesses who have conducted studies that they say show numerous cases of people voting more than once, or non-citizens casting ballots illegally.

“There’s a high likelihood of voter fraud, based on what we’ve done so far with our analysis. There’s likely a lot more to be found” said Ken Block, President of Simpatico Software Systems. His company studied voter data in 21 states and concluded “with high confidence” that there were more than 8,000 cases of people voting twice.

However, Block’s methodology has been challenged by numerous voting experts. One commission member, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, questioned Block’s findings, saying he’s found that most problems can be explained by human error.

“People tend to be law-abiding,” he said. “What we’ve discovered, as we’ve done some of these exact same inquiries that you do, is that people check off the wrong box, they make a mistake, the clerk gets confused.”

Dunlap, as well as other commissioners, also questioned the viability of a proposal by another witness that voters undergo the same kind of background check now applied to gun buyers. John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) could be used to identify those who are ineligible to vote, such as felons and noncitizens.

“The NICS system wasn’t designed for elections,” Dunlap said.

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Edith Windsor, LGBTQ Advocate Who Fought The Defense Of Marriage Act, Dies At 88

Edith Windsor greets her supporters as she leaves the Supreme Court in 2013, just months before the court would rule in her favor, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

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Edith Windsor loved Thea Spyer. For nearly half a century, the two were partners and eventually were legally married as well. When Spyer died in 2009, though, the federal government didn’t recognize that love on Windsor’s tax forms, expecting her to pay more than $350,000 in estate taxes.

That is, until Windsor fought the law did not recognize that marriage — and won.

Windsor, whose successful campaign against the Defense of Marriage Act made her an LGBTQ icon, died Tuesday at the age of 88. Judith Kasen-Windsor, whom Windsor married last year, confirmed her death in a statement.

“I lost my beloved spouse Edie, and the world lost a tiny but tough as nails fighter for freedom, justice and equality,” Kasen-Windsor said. “Edie was the light of my life. She will always be the light for the LGBTQ community which she loved so much and which loved her right back.”

The long roots of Windsor’s legal fight dated back to the mid-1960s, when she met Spyer at a restaurant in New York City. Spyer, a psychologist, proposed to Windsor in 1967 — offering Windsor a pin with diamonds rather than an engagement ring, concerned that the ring would lead others to ask some questions the pair couldn’t answer.

“‘She got out of the car and got down on her knees and said, Edie Windsor, will you marry me?’ And this pin appeared,” Windsor recalled in an interview with NPR’s Nina Totenberg in 2013.

Nina notes there was nowhere for them to marry at the time; it would take decades — and one “lousy prognosis” for Spyer’s multiple sclerosis — before the pair finally headed to Toronto to obtain their same-sex marriage, which was also recognized by New York.

Just two years later, Spyer died. And in the weeks afterward, as Windsor looked at the bills she now faced, she was confronted with a terrible truth.

“If Thea was Theo, I would not have had to pay that,” she told Nina. The law known as DOMA, passed in 1996, barred her from receiving the federal tax benefits of marriage, no matter what New York said. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s just a terrible injustice, and I don’t expect that from my country. I think it’s a mistake that has to get corrected.”

And so, she decided to mount a legal fight to correct it herself.

After her case worked its way through the appeals courts, the Supreme Court decided in late 2012 to take it up. At the time, some gay rights activists worried it simply might be too soon to have their day in court, concerned — as Mary Bonauto of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders put it at the time — that the Supreme Court would want to be sure “they are not too far ahead of public opinion.”

In the end, those worries did not come to fruition. The high court decided 5-4 to overturn DOMA in 2013, dealing same-sex marriage advocates a landmark victory.

“DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriage of others,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “No legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state … sought to protect in personhood and in dignity.”

It would be just another two years before the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

“It was a victory for families, and for the principle that all of us should be treated equally, regardless of who we are or who we love,” President Barack Obama said of the 2015 decision in a statement Tuesday.

“I thought about Edie that day,” he continued. “I thought about all the millions of quiet heroes across the decades whose countless small acts of courage slowly made an entire country realize that love is love — and who, in the process, made us all more free. They deserve our gratitude. And so does Edie.”

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Census Bureau: Median Incomes Rose And Poverty Levels Fell In 2016

The Census Bureau says increased employment is what’s driving higher income numbers. Job candidates take a tour of the Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, N.J., during a job fair last month.

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Julio Cortez/AP

There’s good news on three primary U.S. economic benchmarks: the poverty rate, income level and the number of people covered by health insurance.

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

These are numbers from the final year of the Obama administration. It’s worth noting that the Census Bureau does not explicitly chalk up the strong figures to any particular policy, as John reports:

“What they did say was that increased employment is what’s driving these numbers. As more Americans find jobs, or move to full-time work from part-time work, households see their incomes rise.”

Salary increases aren’t driving the increase, Renwick emphasizes: “Median earnings for full-time year-round workers was flat relative to last year.”

The poverty rate is back to pre-recession levels. The Census Bureau says that last year, 12.7 percent of the nation lived in poverty – a 0.8 decrease from the previous year. That means 2.5 million people are no longer in poverty.

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A different poverty metric, called the supplemental poverty measure, takes into account government programs like refundable tax credits, school lunches, SNAP and housing assistance. That poverty measure also decreased 0.6 percentage points, to 13.9 percent. As John reports, the data shows that these programs “do lift millions out of poverty.”

The number of people covered by health insurance for at least part of the year also climbed 0.3 percent, to 91.2 percent nationwide. John adds that “with the future of the Affordable Care Act unresolved there’s lots of uncertainty about where those numbers will be in the future.”

Almost all demographic groups saw improvement in poverty figures. In fact, according to the Census Bureau, adults age 65 and older were the only group that recorded more people living in poverty in 2016.

Income improvement was also wide-ranging across demographic groups, as John reported.

“The income increases were broadly based across the income ladder and among different ethnic groups, though the gains were less strong at the bottom than at the top,” he says. “Of course, there continue to be big discrepancies in the level of income, and a measure of income inequality in the data did not improve.”

Median earnings between men and women did not change in a statistically significant way. But the female-to-male earnings ratio grew slightly more equal – and this is the first time the measure “has experienced an annual increase since 2007,” according to the Census Board. Women earned 80.5 cents per dollar that men made in 2016, compared to 79.6 cents the previous year.

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Florida Businesses Struggle To Reopen Without Power After Irma

A person visits a Miami store that doesn’t have electricity on Tuesday. Much of Florida was without power two days after Hurricane Irma battered the state.

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Roughly half of Florida’s homes and businesses remained without electricity on Tuesday, two days after Hurricane Irma plowed through the state. A lot of the business recovery efforts there will depend on how quickly power can be restored.

On her way to work Tuesday morning, Carol McDaniel, vice president of human resources for the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, made her way through darkened neighborhoods.

“It’s going to be probably many more days before they can even assess and turn it back on because there’s a lot of lines down in the streets with trees on them,” she said.

The hospital generates its own power, and has its own water well, so it remained open. But McDaniel said she does not know yet how many employees’ homes and cars have been damaged.

Chad Sorenson, a human resources consultant in Jacksonville, said many office workers, whose downtown offices flooded, were telecommuting.

Some stores, including some small ones, had also reopened to sell critical supplies for cash, because their credit card machines were not yet operating.

In heavily damaged areas like Naples and Fort Myers, calls would not go through. Others left greetings asking people to call back after the businesses could reopen.

Overall, Irma’s late turn up the less-populated western side of Florida, and its rapid loss of strength, helped limit the economic damage. Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi estimates losses from Irma, in terms of lost business and property damage, will total between $60 billion and $90 billion, which is less than half the damage of Hurricane Katrina.

“The economic hit is temporary,” he said. “Rebuilding will kick in quickly and a year or two down the road, these economies should be up and running in full strength.”

The vast majority of lost business will be made up, says PNC Financial chief economist Gus Faucher. He expects hurricanes Irma and Harvey will take about a half a percent off the national economic growth rate for the quarter, not as bad an outcome as some had feared.

“It’s not going to be a complete rebuilding project,” he said.

That’s not to say individual businesses won’t struggle.

Joyce Chastain, an employment law consultant in Tallahassee, has clients around the state. She said most of those businesses would remain closed through at least Tuesday. Larger businesses have the resources and staffing, she said, that will help them rebuild relatively quickly.

“Smaller businesses, they just don’t have that kind of infrastructure, and some of them won’t come back,” Chastain said.

One of the bigger obstacles for employers was maintaining payrolls: how to keep workers earning their pay — and actually getting payments to them because power is out. Business shutdowns also have a big impact on hourly employees, who may have to go without pay.

“There will be many employers who just simply will not be in a financial position to continue to pay for several weeks, when they can’t be open to generate revenue,” Chastain said.

Meanwhile, in Houston, Paula Harvey is still dealing with the effects of the hurricane that shared her surname. She said some orders for her business, Schulte Building Systems, are delayed, though none so far have canceled. A bigger long-term concern is whether the handful of employees who lost their homes and cars will remain.

“What happens during these types of things is, some people just say, ‘forget it,’ and leave because they’ve lost everything and then they go somewhere else and start over again,” Harvey said. So far, that’s happened with one employee, who simply did not report back to work.

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Florida's Farmers Look At Irma's Damage: 'Probably The Worst We've Seen'

Fallen fruit sits on the ground below orange trees in Frostproof, Fla., U.S. Hurricane Irma destroyed almost half of the state’s citrus crop.

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Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images

When the worst of Irma’s fury had passed, Gene McAvoy hit the road to inspect citrus groves and vegetable fields. McAvoy is a specialist on vegetable farming at the University of Florida’s extension office in the town of LaBelle, in the middle of one of the country’s biggest concentrations of vegetable and citrus farms.

It took a direct hit from the storm. “The eyewall came right over our main production area,” McAvoy says.

The groves of orange and grapefruit were approaching harvest. But after Irma blew through, it left “50 or 60 percent of the fruit lying in water [or]on the ground,” says McAvoy. Many trees were standing in water, a mortal danger if their roots stay submerged for longer than three or four days.

About a quarter of the country’s sugar production comes from fields of sugar cane near Lake Okeechobee, east of LaBelle. Harvest season for the sugar cane crop is only a few weeks away, but Irma knocked much of the cane down, making it more difficult to harvest. “We won’t know the exact extent of the loss until it’s harvested,” McAvoy says.

Fortunately for vegetable farms, the storm hit before most of those fields in his area had been planted. The ones that were planted — perhaps 10 percent of them — were “a total loss,” he says. Even unplanted fields sustained damage; before planting, growers typically prepare the fields by covering low rows with plastic to apply fertilizer and pesticides. Irma’s winds tore that plastic away.

“It’s probably the worst hurricane that we’ve ever seen,” McAvoy says, although he says Wilma, in 2005, was nearly as damaging.

“It’s just not a good day in Florida today,” says Lourdes Villanueva, who works with the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, which provides services for farm workers in the state. Villanueva says the storm destroyed many trailers and other houses where workers live. “The ones where the roof didn’t go, trees fell on them,” she says.

Farm workers often live in the most low-quality and vulnerable housing, she says. Some families have been left homeless. Other structures are empty at the moment, because most migrant farm workers still are working in the north, harvesting fall crops like apples. Florida’s growers will need those workers soon, says Villanueva, but “will they want to come here if there’s no housing?”

Farming communities living farther north, or outside Irma’s path, fared better. Justin Sorrells, a citrus producer in Arcadia, Fla., says that farmers in his area lost a “minimal” amount of fruit, although he’s worried the flooding still could damage many trees.

The state’s citrus industry has been shrinking because of citrus greening disease, but it still accounts for about half of the country’s production.

Florida’s strawberry crop, meanwhile, wasn’t yet planted. Kenneth Parker, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, says that the storm destroyed some of the plastic that’s been laid down on strawberry fields in advance of planting, but growers will be able to make repairs and plant on schedule, starting in a couple of weeks. “These [strawberry growers] are so resilient, they’re going to do what it takes to get the job done,” he says.

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Apple Unveils Three New iPhones, But The Watch Sends Shares Up

Apple executive Philip Schiller presents a wireless charging system, displayed with the new iPhone X and Apple Watch alongside cordless headphones called AirPods.

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Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Early leaks of new designs had stirred anticipation for Apple’s new smartphone — and on Tuesday Apple delivered on all the predictions with a $699 iPhone 8 and a $999 special-edition iPhone X (as in “ten”). The 10th-anniversary iPhone is the biggest redesign in years, with an all-screen front that eliminates the home button and can use facial recognition to unlock the display.

But it was the new Apple Watch that got Wall Street — and many tech observers — excited on launch day.

Apple has yet to release any actual sales numbers for the Watch. But CEO Tim Cook claims that the Apple Watch has now become “the number one” watch in the world — beating even the traditional watch makers like Rolex.

And the new series of the Apple Watch is getting a major upgrade: it can operate without an iPhone at all. The $399 version can connect to the cellular network directly, independent of the phone or Wi-Fi availability. That means a user would be able to leave the iPhone behind and still answer phone calls, check email or stream music.

Where in the past Apple heavily touted its smartwatch as a gadget for the fitness-minded, Tuesday’s presentation made an additional pitch for more broad uses, like errands or general health monitoring. Apple said it’s working with medical researchers to test whether the watch can detect heart problems.

Apple shares rose 1 percent when the new watch was revealed, later erasing the gains as the product launch continued, introducing the new 4K Apple TV and the new iPhones — and confirmed all the earlier leaks.

Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams describes the new version of the Apple Watchat Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.

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Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The new-generation iPhone was pitched as the new step in the evolution of the smartphone. “No other device in our lifetimes has had the impact on the world that the iPhone has,” Cook said, noting this year’s anniversary of the 2007 launch of the original iPhone.

Apple analysts touted the new iPhones’ impressive photo cameras and leaps in adapting to the display of augmented reality — digital images imposed over visuals of the real world.

In some ways, Apple is also catching up to competition — it’s finally adopting wireless charging for its devices and, on the iPhone X, ditching the staple home button in favor of a sleek screen that covers the full front. Apple is also switching the display to a brighter, sharper one called OLED — ironically, manufactured and propagated by Apple’s most bitter rival Samsung.

Apple’s Schiller presents the iPhone’s new facial-recognition feature called Face ID.

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Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Apple is also not the first company to use facial recognition — some Windows laptops have a similar feature, for example. But Apple, with its massive devoted fanbase, adds a new level of mainstream appeal.

The 3-D face-scanning capability, which Apple calls Face ID, will replace the fingerprint scanner that used to live in the iPhone home button.

“Face ID learns your face. It learns who you are,” said Apple executive Philip Schiller, describing how the camera will be able to tell whether the user has grown a beard, started wearing glasses or put on a hat. He also said Apple engineers worked to make sure that Face ID could not be tricked by a photograph or even a mask that looks like the user, and would only unlock the phone when the user looks directly at it, eyes open.

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With Power Out, Many Florida Gas Stations Remain Closed

Empty pumps are surrounded by tape at a Mobil gas station in Miami on Friday.

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Now that Hurricane Irma has left Florida, gasoline supplies are slowly coming back into the state. But thousands of gas stations remain closed anyway.

That’s because, with electricity out throughout the peninsula, even stations that have access to gas have no way to get it into people’s vehicles.

“Power is the issue. Most of these gas stations don’t have backup generation that can allow the pumps to work,” says John Kilduff, founding partner of Again Capital, an energy investment firm.

About 40 percent of gas stations remained closed in Florida, and the number was as high as 65 percent in some places, says Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at the crowdsourcing website Gasbuddy.com.

A lot of stations ran out of fuel last week as millions of Floridians began to evacuate in anticipation of the storm and rushed to fill their tanks. Many of those who remained behind also bought gas just to be on the safe side.

Although the storm is gone, many of those stations are still closed, says Tampa resident Matthew Kemp, who has been tracking fuel supplies on a smartphone app.

Devastation left behind by #IrmaHurricane2017 North #Floridapic.twitter.com/lKOZdn11Ro

— BrakktonBooker (@brakktonbooker) September 12, 2017

“People are posting, desperately in some cases, ‘Is anything open? Is anything open?’ One person … said she had basically driven all around south Tampa today and every single establishment that is a chain was closed,” said Kemp, who owns a small Internet marketing company.

A lot of people who left the state in anticipation of Irma want to come home, but are worried they won’t find fuel along the way, he says.

“They feel paralyzed, and they cannot return from their evacuation, because no on wants to get in their car and go south on I-95 or south on I-75 and make it 300 miles [and] run out of gas on the side of the road,” he says.

After Superstorm Sandy, New York and New Jersey began requiring gas stations to have backup generators, but Florida has no such law, Kilduff says.

As a result, stations are having to wait for utility crews to restore electricity, he says.

At a 7-Eleven near Fort Myers, plastic bags covered the gasoline tanks to indicate no fuel was available.

Andrew Haltunnen had driven around searching for gasoline without any luck, so he was standing outside the store siphoning gas from his father’s car.

“I’m trying to get to Miami, and Alligator Alley’s a long stretch,” he said, referring to the interstate highway that crosses the Everglades. “I looked on the app, went to many stations. All out. No power in this area.”

Devan Rios, who stopped at the store to buy snacks for his son, said he had passed as many as 50 closed stations on the way south from Tampa.

“It’s crazy. I mean, obviously, a hurricane just passed, so it’s understandable,” he said. “But we’re not used to this.”

Anyone who can do so should probably just stay home, he noted.

“I recommend just stay inside your house and don’t even bother looking, cause there’s nothing around here.”

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'Fyre Festival' Of Pizza Drew Long Lines, Skinny Slices — And Now, A State Probe

It was to be a “day long celebration of the dough, cheese, tasty sauces and delicious toppings.” It was to be a gala of gooey mozzarella, a tribute to toppings every stripe and style — heck, it was even supposed to be an ambitious attempt to finally “settle the NYC styled Pizza against Chicago Deep Dish pizza wars!”

In a word, it was the New York Pizza Festival. It cost up to $75 dollars to attend. And it didn’t exactly pan out as advertised.

Behold, the bounty of slices offered by the New York Pizza Festival.

Sylwia Mordel

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Sylwia Mordel

In fact, the alleged disparity between the Saturday event’s billing and what ultimately happened was so vast, the New York attorney general is now looking into the matter. A spokesman for Eric Schneiderman’s office said they have reached out to the organizers and “opened an inquiry” — including inviting attendees to submit their stories to the office.

“We are concerned about the online complaints that we’ve seen,” the spokesman told NPR.

Those complaints aren’t pretty.

Frustrated attendees on social media told of “3 booths in a Brooklyn parking lot,” crowded with long lines but — for at least an hour — reportedly entirely empty of pizza. When that pizza did arrive, delivered in drips and drabs, attendees say the pies were sliced razor-thin to make the limited supplies last longer.

The hamburger table, which according to attendee Sylwia Mordel remained entirely bereft of burgers at least an hour into the festival Sunday.

Sylwia Mordel

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Sylwia Mordel

Sylwia Mordel, who attended and shared her photographs of the event with NPR, says there was also supposed to be a hamburger festival at the same time, in the same location. For at least an hour, she says the table set for burgers was glaringly empty as well.

The DJ showed up, though.

All these people showed up for the New York City Pizza Festival but the tents are empty lol

A post shared by Kizzle Shizzle (@krg7880) on Sep 9, 2017 at 1:39pm PDT

“It was like the people from Fyre Festival decided to throw a pizza party,” Connell Burke tells Gothamist, drawing a rather unflattering comparison to music festival that promised “the best in food, art, music and adventure” — and delivered a product so infamously disastrous its organizer was arrested earlier this summer on a federal fraud charge.

And that’s in addition to the $100 million lawsuit already filed by an irate Fyre-goer.

Some attendees of the pizza fest appear intent on following the same path, organizing a Facebook group for everyone “scammed by the fake pizza festival or the fake hamburger festival.” An administrator of the Pizza Festival Scam Victims page says “a lawyer is interested in this and is investigating what needs to be done.”

By Saturday evening, the festival’s organizers had apologized and warned off attendees who hadn’t arrived yet, saying there had been “an incredible amount of delays in pizza delivery.”

“Fresh, diverse, and delicious pizza was supposed to be delivered every 30 minutes,” the festival’s Facebook event page noted. It also added that a “make-up tasting will be announced shortly.”

From the deluge of refund requests in that post’s comments, it appears there will be more than a few people unwilling to take them up on that offer.

“It was nothing but Jesus [that] stopped me from flipping over those tables,” Vanessa D. Kissee wrote on Facebook, noting she’d driven all the way in from Albany for the event.

“I also pray for them,” she added, “because God will deal with them accordingly.”

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