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Fitful Recovery in Florida, Lingering Power Cuts in Panhandle After Hurricane Hermine

| September 6, 2016

hurricane hermine

An image taken during Pasco County search and rescue mission by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, due to extreme flooding along the Anclote River after Hurricane Hermine.

The state Tuesday continued to pour resources into Leon County as Gov. Rick Scott persisted in questioning Hurricane Hermine recovery efforts directed by local officials.

More than 18,000 people in Florida were still without power Tuesday, including fewer than 10,000 in the state’s capital city, after the Category 1 storm made landfall Friday morning near St. Marks in Wakulla County.

Gov. Rick Scott dispatched 15 additional Florida Department of Transportation crews, totaling more than 250 people, to Leon County to remove debris and help power-restoration efforts.

“We will continue to bring in more,” said Scott, who intends to join military veterans and volunteers from the Florida National Guard in picking up debris across Tallahassee on Wednesday. “I’m going to do everything I can to clean up Tallahassee and Leon County.”

Statewide, electricity had been restored by Tuesday afternoon to more than 90 percent of residents who lost power, including 94 percent in Leon County.

Wakulla County, which is south of Leon County, was at 85 percent restored.

Leon County officials had projected they would be above 90 percent restored on Monday.

Those numbers appeared to help ease some of the tension between state and local leaders when they met Tuesday afternoon. Scott and Tallahassee officials have sparred in recent days about recovery efforts.

But Scott’s rhetoric was still focused on reaching 100 percent with power as soon as possible.

“You have to be frustrated,” Scott said, referring to local residents, while speaking to the media outside the state Emergency Operations Center on Tuesday. “Five days. Five days without power, and you actually don’t know when you’re going to get power.”

Shortly after Hermine hit, the state reported power was out to more than 253,000 homes and businesses across Florida, including 68,000 in Tallahassee.

Scott has maintained a need for cooperation, but a rift grew between himself and Tallahassee city leaders about the speed of the response to the storm and state and local government recovery coordination.

Scott said more utility and tree-removal crews are needed to help restore power, while local officials say too much help could actually slow recovery.

Mayor Andrew Gillum said there’s been a range of feedback from residents and workers with the city-run utility involved in recovery efforts.

“They want people to know they’re out there working hard for them,” Gillum said speaking for recovery workers. “They’re not being lazy. They’re not taking breaks. For many of them, they don’t have power. So we just have to be really careful with the way in which we describe the pace and effort going on here.”

During an emergency meeting Tuesday of the Tallahassee City Commission, Gillum told residents the response could have been better, but significant damage to large trees and major power lines means the recovery process will take time.

“Without a doubt, we have not been perfect in this process, and now is not the time to talk about whatever imperfections, because our staff morale needs to remain at the highest level possible,” Gillum said.

Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox said there is clearly a need to discuss why the recovery process has been perceived as slow and to learn what can be done better during a future storm. However, he said now is not that time.

“Let the people who don’t have to do this work snipe, and there will be sniping,” Maddox said.

Meanwhile, most state government buildings in Tallahassee reopened Tuesday. Other than Troy Springs State Park in Suwannee County, the Department of Environmental Protection has reopened all state parks. Troy Springs remains closed until further notice.

Also, Tuesday, Scott activated the state’s emergency bridge-loan program for small businesses in 51 counties touched by Hermine.

The program, activated for Hermine relief through the end of October, will offer short-term loans of up to $25,000 to businesses that can show economic or physical damage due to the storm.

–Jim Turner and Tom Urban, News Service of Florida

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