2020 is finally over. Here are 10 Orlando moments to remember from the year that wasn’t

About that eternal lockdown: The principle of “Hanlon’s Razor” holds that we shouldn’t credit malice for actions that can be explained by stupidity, but in Florida, in 2020, sometimes it was tough to tell the difference. As other countries and even states worked together to flatten their disease curve and return to something approaching normality, those of us in Orlando who scrupulously observed COVID protocols watched helplessly as those who refused to danced, drank and wedding-partied Florida into a viral cesspit. Malice, stupidity, or a little bit of both? We’ll never know, but in the meantime, our three months of quarantine is stretching out into 13 with no assured end in sight.

But even though it felt like living the movie Groundhog Day, things happened that deserve notice, both commendable and regrettable.

Rep. Val Demings is a manager of the Trump impeachment:

We kicked off 2020 with the hometown-pride-inducing sight of U.S. Rep. Val Demings serving as one of seven managers to physically “transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate.” As an impeachment manager, Demings walked to the Senate chamber to hand over the printed articles and after reading the charges aloud, returned to the House to give a verbal report. “I’ve enforced the laws and now I write the laws,” Demings, who was once Orlando Police Chief, said during the debate before the House impeachment vote. “But the laws mean nothing if the accused can destroy evidence, stop witnesses from testifying and blatantly refuse to cooperate.”

COVID craters the local tourism industry:

Before 2020, conventional wisdom was that, no matter what, theme parks don’t close; 9/11 only interrupted Disney operations for less than a full day, for god’s sake. But the coronavirus pandemic put paid to that notion, shutting down the tourist industry that Orlando’s economy hinges on in March. Theme parks and attractions closed and furloughed scores of workers. Then hotels, restaurants, bars, the convention center, even the airport all followed suit to varying degrees. The ripple effects were heartbreaking, like watching a car wreck in slow motion. In June, Universal and SeaWorld reopened, followed by Disney World in July. But with limited capacity and large events like Halloween Horror Nights off the table, profits nose-dived enough to cause thousands more layoffs. It will be a long road back to where we were at the start of 2020, and things will get worse with Disney and Universal, yes, set to lay off still more employees by the time you read this issue.

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Puerto Rican population in metro Orlando dips back to pre-Hurricane Maria levels

The Puerto Rican population in Central Florida returned to pre-Hurricane Maria levels, according to the latest American Community Survey, conducted yearly by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The newest estimate of Puerto Ricans is roughly 385,000 in Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties, which is similar to before the Category 5 storm ravaged the island in mid-September 2017, driving many Puerto Ricans to Central Florida.

UCF sociologist Fernando I. Rivera, founder of the Puerto Rico Research Hub, explained that Puerto Rico’s migration “is circular.”

“Basically, the economic conditions are what really determine the population movement,” he said. “If you are going to suffer economically here, you would prefer to go back to Puerto Rico and at least be with family.”

The decline is an unusual twist for one of the U.S. mainland’s largest concentration of Puerto Ricans — only second to the New York metro area. In the city of Kissimmee, where Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden made a campaign stop last week to announce an economic recovery plan for the island, 1 in every 2.5 residents is of Puerto Rican origin. They represent a large block of voters to be wooed in Florida, with Central Florida positioned as the highly-sought swing region in a state viewed as one of the most coveted prizes in the upcoming presidential election.

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Hurricane Laura makes landfall in Louisiana as Category 3 major storm

Hurricane Laura pummeled the Gulf Coast on Thursday morning with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and storm surge waters, exceeding 9 feet in some parts of Louisiana.

Laura slightly weakened from a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds to a Category 3 after making landfall around 2 a.m. eastern time, near Cameron, Louisiana. The storm is 30 miles north-northwest of Lake Charles and moving north at 15 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 a.m. update.

“At the time of landfall, Laura was a ferocious looking hurricane with a clear circular eye, an intense eyewall, and tightly-coiled surrounding spiral bands,” the NHC said.

Laura has “unsurvivable” storm surge, according to the NHC, capable of penetrating 40 miles inland from the Louisiana-Texas coast, as much as 20 feet high in some places. Thus far, most areas around the coast have received surge levels higher than 3 feet, but certain areas have recorded over 9 feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s storm surge map.

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