Search-and-rescue efforts have narrowed to three counties hit hard by the Category 3 Hurricane Idalia, while Gov. Ron DeSantis wants the federal government to expand a disaster declaration.
DeSantis and state Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Friday they plan to ask the White House to include more counties in the disaster declaration signed Thursday by President Joe Biden. The declaration, in part, makes federal money available to help people in Citrus, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee and Taylor counties.
“We absolutely anticipate more counties being added,” DeSantis said during a morning briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center. “The same thing happened after (Hurricane) Ian. They added on. And certainly, a county like Madison, they had 100 percent power loss (in Idalia). It’s a county that has not necessarily faced the storms the way some of our other communities have. And so, yeah, I mean, they’ve got hard hit.”
Biden is expected to travel Saturday to areas hit by Idalia, which made landfall Wednesday morning in the Keaton Beach area of Taylor County before roaring through other areas of North Florida into Georgia.
Guthrie said Friday search-and-rescue efforts were focused on rural Madison, Suwannee and Lafayette counties. Such efforts had been completed in 15 counties.
“As search and rescue comes to a close, very soon, we are immediately shifting into recovery efforts to get communities back on their feet as quickly as possible,” Guthrie said.
The state had confirmed one death tied to Idalia. That death was a traffic-crash victim in Alachua County.
The federal disaster declaration opened the door to such assistance as grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, a White House news release said.
Also, money will be available to help with debris removal and emergency-protective measures in the designated counties. The federal government will pick up 100 percent of such costs for a 30-day period “of the state’s choosing,” according to the White House.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell joined DeSantis on Thursday to get a first-hand look at communities damaged by the storm. Along with Criswell’s observations, officials will use before-and-after aerial and satellite images of the region to help determine what programs are needed to provide support.
As of Friday morning, 91,000 utility customers remained without electricity, though power had been restored to hundreds of thousands of others. Duke Energy Florida, a major utility in the region, had 18,832 customers without power as of 11 a.m, according to its website.
Also, base camps are being set up in Horseshoe Beach in Dixie County and in Madison County for such things as supplies and meals to be distributed to residents, Guthrie said.
Special-needs nurses are also being called in to address health and medical issues, and travel trailers will soon arrive to provide temporary housing.
“It took months for us to get to that point after Hurricane Ian,” Guthrie said of the housing and sheltering program. “And I’m happy to announce that within 48 hours we’re going to have travel trailers in that area for Horseshoe Beach, which is one of the most impacted.”
Idalia came less than a year after the Category 4 Ida made landfall in Lee and Charlotte counties and caused widespread damage as it crossed the state.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida