NOKOMIS, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to speak in Nokomis at the Pelican Alley Restaurant, alongside multiple state officials.
The governor spoke in Nokomis, part of Sarasota County, where Hurricane Ian hit hard. He described the recovery efforts underway following the storm’s passage through Florida. DeSantis said it was a “historic amount of water” referring to flooding, river volume, and conditions on the ground as the state goes through rebuild and rescue efforts.
“Because of the preplanning on this hurricane with 42,000 utility workers stationed within the state of Florida prior to landfall, which has never been done at that scale,” DeSantis said. “We’ve been able to restore all but 1.86% of the state of Florida, has power. Sarasota is down 8%, in Sarasota, are without, but FPL is making progress in the southern part of the state, in this county.”
The governor said about 200,000 people in Florida still lacked power, as of noon Thursday.
“We’re getting to the point now where there is more to be done, of course in Lee County in particular, FPL is almost totally restored in Lee County, some of the areas like Fort Myers Beach is going to require a rebuild,” DeSantis said. “It’s going to require, maybe the homes to have something happen because they may not be able to take power.”
The governor said the Lee County electric cooperative needed help, so he’d asked for the linemen who had arrived from out of state to come down to Lee County to help restore the system, rather than return home just yet to places like Texas and Alabama. DeSantis said workers were helping the coop get back online in places like Cape Coral, where “tens of thousands of households were without power.”
“I went down there the other day, we announced that there’s 1,000 additional electrical coop workers that are surging in, and Duke Electric are putting in like 3,000 to help this Lee County electrical coop,” DeSantis said. He said he hoped there’d be more progress going forward.
Talking about destruction in places like Sanibel and Pine Island, DeSantis said he’d seen “concrete utility poles snapped” and downed power lines in the street, which would require more effort to repair. The same was true for bridges to Pine Island, as recovery was underway, according to the governor. To reopen island access, DeSantis said he’d approved an emergency contract to get the bridge repaired and open, allowing supplies and transport back and forth to the community.
Utility workers are also going to Sanibel, but repair there would “require a massive effort,” according to DeSantis. Temporary generator options are being explored for getting the power back on.
“We’re working on ways to do that, we may be asking the federal government for help with that,” DeSantis said. “But my view is we are doing, just like we did with Pine Island, I’ve authorized repairs to the Sanibel Causeway. It was severed in three places, and there’s no way to get to the island without having the causeway, so I don’t want to have it out for a year by doing a new bridge or something, so we’re going to do something like we did with Pine Island.”
DeSantis said the effort would take longer because the damages to the Sanibel Causeway were more severe, but that crews were already there. He said there were power lines down “everywhere” but the state was working to get communities reopened. Water was restored to Lee County as well, according to the governor.
“We should be in really good shape there. Power and water, you can fix your home a lot easier if you have those two things. Especially the water,” DeSantis said. “That’s just basic hygiene.”
The governor said they were happy with the progress so far, due to the rapid pace of response and repair that was ongoing. He said now that things are moving quickly, Florida officials are able to move resources to other areas in need, which DeSantis called “a good sign.” The governor thanked those who traveled from other counties and other states to help with recovery after Hurricane Ian, including the provision of Starlink satellite internet from SpaceX in impacted areas across Florida to help families reconnect during the recovery process.
Detailing donations for recovery, DeSantis said $37 million had been donated to Florida’s disaster program. Money from the fund will go toward helping storm victims recover, as well as giving funds to response organizations that will help rebuild damaged areas, such as Team Rubicon, according to DeSantis.
Florida Dept. of Emergency Management Dir. Kevin Guthrie spoke next. He thanked his fellow department and state agency leaders for their help with restoring Florida communities after the storm.
“More than 4,900 mission requests have been put into the Department of Emergency Management,” Guthrie said. “About 4,000 have been completed and the rest are being processed as quick as we can.”
Guthrie said the speed was due to the high level of coordination between state and federal agencies to respond to the storm’s impacts. Millions of bottles of water and meals had been delivered to residents in need, according to Guthrie, in addition to ice and generators. He said water restoration efforts in Lee County had gone swiftly, and that in 48 hours system restoration had been up to 100%.
Wastewater is the next step in the process, with “hundreds of pumps deployed on lift stations” across the area. There were also 11 fuel depots set up for responders. Guthrie also said those who lost important documents such as licenses or birth certificates could get assistance from agents deployed in the field to handle impact needs.
He also mentioned the Blue Roof program deployed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which was in place in parts of Florida to install roofs “for free” on homes damaged by Hurricane Ian.
“If somebody comes to your house and says ‘I’m here with the U.S. Army Corps to install a roof on your house, I need $500, I need anything more than one penny,’ you tell them to pack sand, turn around, and leave,” Guthrie said. “It is free. Do not fall into that.” He thanked the governor’s leadership during storm recovery.
Shawn Hamilton, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, spoke after Guthrie, saying they were working to get clean water and debris removal handled, and that DEP would be monitoring water quality going forward.
Department of Economic Opportunity Sec. Dane Eagle spoke after Hamilton, reminding residents that Disaster Unemployment Assistance was available for those impacted by the storm.
DeSantis returned to the podium, discussing the recently enacted gas tax holiday in Florida for the month of October.
“We have the fifth lowest gas prices in the country right now,” DeSantis said. “And I actually saw it in different places I was driving, I don’t know where, so I don’t want to send a crowd. But I actually saw it at $2.99, I have not seen gas under $3 in a long time, certainly not since January 20, of a year and a half ago. That’s just the nature of it.”
He said other tax relief efforts in the state were underway and reiterated his proposal to make items for childcare tax free permanently during the 2023 legislative session. DeSantis also mentioned recent moves to lower toll road fees for Florida drivers to “lessen the burden of sustained, runaway inflation.”