Sep 29, 2022
Florida Gov. DeSantis speaks about devastation in SWFL following flooding from Tropical Storm Ian Transcript
Tropical Storm pounded the Fort Myers area with heavy wind and rain. Read the transcript here.
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Good morning. I’m here joined with Kevin Guthrie, our DEM manager, First Lady and my wonderful wife, Casey DeSantis, General Jim Myford, Gracia Check, and Great Coast Guard Admiral McPherson. And they’ve been so, so good in terms of what’s happened. So as soon as that storm passed in the very wee hours of the morning, first responders from the local, state, and federal level descended on Southwest Florida. The Coast Guard has been performing rescue missions on the barrier islands consistently since the wee hours of the morning. We have Florida Guard assets on the ground participating in efforts, and we have our USR teams who they got there even while the winds were going. They wanted to get in there, get on the ground across Alligator Alley, and they are performing rescue efforts. Again, starting with those barrier islands, but also looking at the places that had the most inland flooding and these operations are ongoing.
In total, there’s 28 large, mostly Chinooks and Black Hawks helicopters between the National Guard and Coast Guard, that are already performing these active rescue missions. And there will be more air assets brought in as the day goes on. We’ve also been working with hospitals overnight who’ve been on generator power. We’re in the process of evacuating two healthcare facilities to safer locations north. We also surging more medical personnel into the area. As of 6:00 AM this morning, we have 2.02 million reported power outages, but outside of southwest Florida. We may have additional outages from Central and Northeast Florida impacts and people should anticipate that. If you look, there’s 1.5 million outages in seven Southwest Florida counties. Lee and Charlotte are basically off the grid at this point. Sarasota has quarter of a million without power. Hillsborough 222,000. Pinellas, 150,000. Manity, 129,000. The Charlotte and Lee reconnects are really going to likely have to be rebuilding of that infrastructure.
And so there are linemen, there are crews that are on their way down right now, but that’s going to be more than just connecting a power line back to a back to a pole. The other counties likely are not going to require the extent of the structural rebuild, but of course that’s going to be assessed as the day goes on. But we do have huge amounts of resources that are en route and are going to work to get people’s power on as quickly as possible. We’ve also had interruptions in communications as a result of the storm, particularly in southwest Florida. We have a hundred portable cell towers being deployed into the area, and those would be put up once it’s fully safe to do so. FDOT is on the ground working on making sure that the roads and interstates are open. Alligator Alley on 75 across into Collier and into Lee County is open. The traffic is flowing.
I-75 South through Charlotte County is open and flowing. Portions of Lee County they’re still looking at. As you know, some of those areas, Cape Coral, City of Fort Myers, they got really, really inundated and really devastated by this storm. So the hope is that all of 75 will be open, but most of it is open and it gives us what we need to be able to continue to move supplies into the area. We have 100 engineers on site to do bridge inspections, and they work in teams of two. As they assess the damage and they can ensure safety, then bridges can be safely reopened. Now of course, we do have reports of structural damages to bridges, such as the bridge going on to Santa Bell Island, and I anticipate they will likely be other bridges that have suffered damage.
Once bridges are inspected and determined to be safe, they will be reopened as soon as possible. But we know Sanibel, Causeway, and we also know Pine Island Bridge, those two are not passable and they’re going to require structural rebuilds. Right now, if you look in central Florida, you’re looking at potential major flooding in Orange and Seminole counties, St. John’s River, all the way up potentially into northeast Florida in Jacksonville. The amount of water that’s been rising and will likely continue to rise today, even as the storm is passing, is basically a 500 year flood event. And I know Seminole County has done evacuations. I know they’ve opened shelters, but we’re going to see a lot of images about the destruction that was done in Southwest Florida, and obviously we have massive assets there., but people should just understand, this storm is having broad impacts across the state and some of the flooding you’re going to see in areas hundreds of miles from where this made landfall are going to set records. And that’s going to obviously be things that will need to be responded to.
We have, of course, massive amounts of food and water in the area. We’re going to have probably close to 300 truckloads of food and water in the area today. Fortunately, most of our school districts will be able to reopen on Friday or Monday. Lee County is in a very difficult situation, Charlotte, so we’re going to work with them and see when they can get back on their feet. But the damage, there’s been just so extensive that it’s a very difficult situation. We have received a major disaster declaration for nine counties, but we do expect more. I just spoke with the President this morning. He offered support. I told him, “Thanks for this.” But because the storm has moved inland and caused a lot of potential damage in the center part of our state, that we are going to be asking for those counties to be expanded and included there.
But for now, we have approval for Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto Hardy, Hillsborough, Lee, Manity, Pinellas, and Sarasota. That will allow individual Floridians to seek individual assistance from FEMA. And that will be something that as you have people that have been displaced due to the catastrophic impacts of Hurricane Ian, that’s going to be something that’s going to be necessary. We have been granted 100% federal assistance, category A and B upfront for 30 days to ensure we can quickly move forward into this response and recovery situation. FEMA has, as I mentioned, activated individual assistance for those in need of help who qualify, you go to fema.gov, or you can call 1-800-621-3262. Make sure you take a picture of the waterline in your home, because if you can show that we’re able to get assistance to you faster. As people have merged this morning, particularly in the areas that were hard hit, just understand this is still a hazardous situation.
Those folks that were in there in the wee hours of the morning, were taking big risks as first responders navigating this. You have power lines that are down, you have trees that are down, you have a lot of hazards right now. We do anticipate a lot of the water will subside in some of the barrier islands and some of the coasts, but some of those inland places off rivers and off these inlets, you’re likely to have standing water there throughout all of today and even in the days ahead. So that is a hazard, and please be aware that that is something that if you weathered the storm to this point, going and doing and getting involved in that is just totally not worth it. And we want to minimize any harm to anybody as a result of what we’re seeing right now in the streets.
We have had 26 states provide support. We really appreciate that it’s going to be put to use. I don’t think we’ve ever seen an effort mobilized for this many rescues this quickly, but we appreciate it and we will make good use of it. We want people to be safe. Those who are in need of life support right now, help is on the way. What they were able to do is look to see where the areas that were the hardest hit, and they’ve been focusing assets there. So obviously the Barrier Islands, but then you also have places along these different inlets and different rivers where people said the water was rising. They were calling into the county or calling 911. And so they have a pretty good sense of where those calls were coming from and they’re focusing their rescue efforts on those areas that were most hard hit.
And again, I just want to thank the Urban Search and Rescue teams, the National Guard, the state resources, and the Coast Guard for not waiting around, but going in there and understanding that time is of the essence and we got a lot of people we need to help. For those looking to help, people say, “What can we do?” Well?, the First Lady is spearheading our efforts with Volunteer Florida to activate the Florida Disaster Fund where people can donate. It’s much better to donate financially rather than sending items. We’ve got a lot of items and that resources, financial resources can really help people get their unique needs met. We have everything we need in terms of supply, but if you go to floridadisasterfund.org or text, “Disaster” to 20222, you can provide some much appreciated assistance. And if you want to volunteer, you have official volunteer portal www.volunteerflorida.org to find volunteer opportunities.
The impacts of this storm are historic and the damage that was done has been historic. And this is just initial assessments. There’s going to be a lot more assessing that goes on in the days ahead, but I think we’ve never seen a flood event like this. We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude. And it hit an area where there’s a lot of people in a lot of those low lying areas, and it’s going to end up doing extensive damage to a lot of people’s homes. So there’s going to be a lot of work to do. Today is about identifying the people that need help who may still be in harm’s way, but also beginning the process of rebuilding some of the things that we need to have services restored, to have fuel, and to have the things that people need in terms of communications. I want to thank Kevin Guthrie for having these assets ready to go. We are going to use every bit of them and we’re going to be there until all the tasks are completed. So Kevin, you want to come up and give an update?
Kevin Guthrie: (11:19)
Thank you, Governor. Thank you First Lady for your leadership across the state. Going into a little more detail this morning. Obviously as Tropical Storm Ian continues to move across Central Florida this morning, we have damaging winds and extreme rainfall expected throughout the Northeast Florida and Central Florida area. I want to emphasize that the storm still poses a major threat to the state, including Central Florida right now and northeast Florida. Orange County Fire Rescue is actively conducting nine wide area search responses on the water for rising water in the central Florida area. That is happening right now as we speak. At this time, the division has received more than 1500 resource requests from our local impacted partners, and we have filled, or in the process of filling 1300. As the Governor said, there are 300 plus truckloads of food and water that have been loaded out and they are mobilizing to leave to the southwest Florida area right now.
Kevin Guthrie: (12:28)
In addition to the issues with cell phones, we are deploying cell phone towers as the Governor mentioned, over 100 assets in that arena alone. We want to reinforce and we appreciate that the fact that we have received over 15,000 inputs to our shelter in place system. So we want to encourage you, if you are sheltering in place, or you know someone that has sheltered in place and you know that we need to go out and check on them, please register that individual or register yourself at floridadisaster.org/report. That’s floridadisaster.org/report. We have made that more specific. Yesterday it was info, but we made it a little more specific so you did not have to hunt around for that site. So again, I’ll repeat it for the third time. Floridadisaster.org/report to complete the shelter in place survey. I want to reiterate that is not a replacement for 911. If you are in an emergency situation, you need to call 911 in your local area.
Kevin Guthrie: (13:38)
Our logistical staging areas in central Florida have all the additional resources that we need to respond. We have tarps, we have medical supplies if needed in those warehouses. We want to make sure that all the available resources can get to the residents as quickly as possible. We are obviously in a situation now where we are starting our 72 hour clock, and that 72 hour clock is that we search first, we secure, and then we stabilize. So that is what the focus of the state emergency response team is going to be over the next 72 hours. Again, that is search, secure, and stabilize. I want to thank the Governor and the First Lady for their continued leadership and support. They’ve been here nonstop, around the clock. And again, sir, I thank you for that.
Okay. First Lady.
First Lady: (14:29)
I just want to say on behalf of the Governor and myself, everyone here who’s working at the Emergency Operations Center, all of the men and women who have not left since the disaster began, to all of those people across the state, our first responders, I want to say thank you. Because the people across the state and the country have stepped up big to support our Florida Disaster Fund. So far in less than 24 hours since we launched the fund, we’ve raised $1.6 million.
First Lady: (14:56)
I am in constant contact with two folks. One, the people of Volunteer Florida to pledge that we are going to remove any red tape and bureaucracy from getting those funds deployed to the people who need them immediately. And then also, we’re working with a lot of businesses across the state to continue to build upon that. But thank you to the people across this country and this state for stepping up to help wonderful people who are in need. Again, there’s a couple of ways that if you want to continue to donate, you can go to floridadisasterfund.org, or you can also text, “Disaster” to 20222. But on behalf of so many wonderful people, thank you for stepping up and please continue to do so.
We will be having all assets marshaled until the job is done on this initial phase. I may be able to get down today to help to survey and talk to some of the folks down in Lee and Charlotte counties, but those were massive impacts. And so we are looking at, Kevin said these 72 hours, very important for safety for folks and rescuing people that need that and eventually bringing some stability. But you’re looking at a storm that’s changed the character of a significant part of our state. And this is going to require not just emergency response now, in the days, or weeks ahead. This is going to require years of effort to be able to rebuild and to come back.
These are fantastic communities down in Southwest Florida with a lot of fantastic people, and they’re very tough and resilient. Of course, they didn’t ask for this, but they need our help now and we’re going to be there for them. And we understand that this is going to be a very, very long process. And we also understand that these effects are going to go throughout the state today, and you’re going to continue to see effects from flooding and these other ailments, not just today, but in the days ahead. So thanks for the support for everyone around the country who’s donated, and thanks for everyone who’s volunteered the time, and thanks for all the other states who have lent their support to us.
Speaker 4: (17:09)
Governor, there have been reports that maybe that were hundreds of fatalities in Lee County. Do you have any clarification on how many?
So none of that is confirmed. I think what that is, is there were 911 calls for people saying, “Hey, the water is rising in my home. I’m going to go up in the attic, but I’m really worried.” Of course, those folks are now going to be checked on. And so I think you’ll have more clarity about that in the next day or so, as they’re able to go to those locations and determine whether people need services or are able to be rescued. My sense is, is that, that water was very, very high, but my hope is that if folks did go higher, if they were there, it’s not comfortable. But now we’re in a situation, if you’re there, they want to come get you. And so hopefully we’ll be able to see a lot of those people brought to safety. And I can tell you in the Barrier islands, there’ve been a number of people that have been helicoptered to safety. And it’s great because these folks sprung into action and they’re doing it.
We have had the two unconfirmed fatalities, in the sense that we don’t know that they’re linked to the storm. Our assumption is it likely is. And so basically FDLE will make that assessment and then that will be reported. But that’s what we have. That number that was put out by Lee is basically an estimate of, “Hey, these people were calling, the water was rising on their home. They may not have ended up getting through.” So we’re obviously hoping that they can be rescued at this point. And I know the folks there locally, those were the areas that they wanted to spring into action too. And they really used the information that was coming, not just through those emergency calls, but also through signing up on the website to see. And I think at safe to say there’s a pattern that’s developed about where those calls are coming from and where those people are signing up from. And you can see the areas.
You see three foot of water in a road, that’s obviously bad that’s going to do damage. But you see the places where the water was four, five, six feet in a residential area and that is really the life threatening situation.
Speaker 5: (19:22)
Details of what you’re hearing from Central Florida as far as flooding and other damages?
Kevin Guthrie: (19:28)
Yeah. This morning at 5:45 AM, I received a phone call from Orange County Emergency Management Director, Chief Laura Lee Avery. She’s actually technically assigned to the fire department as a division chief over the Department of Emergency Management there. She called me to let me know that they were actively responding to nine widespread areas along the Colonial Drive area, I-4 State Road 46 area of Central Florida, and that they were requesting assistance for stuff that we may have staged in Orlando. So very quickly this morning, our overnight crew sprung into action and started moving National Guard high water vehicles, as well as other assets that were staged there for urban search and rescue elements, swift water elements. And they started moving into action this morning. I do not have a total number of potential saves that they have done, but what is linked to is the massive amounts of rainfall that are happening there.
Kevin Guthrie: (20:29)
We were receiving reports that some creeks, tributaries, the area around the St. John’s, headwaters around the St. John’s area, and unconfirmed, may have been rising at about a rate to about four feet in a matter of hours. So lots of rain in the area, lots of instant action, water rise. There’s a lot of lakes in central Florida, especially in that Orlando, Kissimmee area. And it appears that these lakes were filling up and overflowing into the neighborhoods around them. So that’s what is going on in the Central Florida region. I will say, as a part of central Florida and also as a part of southwest Florida, do not come in and tour the area for damage. We have 20,000, 30,000 responders coming into area that need access to those roads. Stay at home, do not get on the roads, let the first responders have the roadways, let the power crews have the roadways. We will get things opened up exponentially quicker if we don’t have to maneuver around individuals that are just coming into area to look around.
Kevin Guthrie: (21:32)
So please stay out of the area both in Central Florida as well as Southwest Florida. Let the crews get in there, do what they need to do. We’re coming in full force. We’ve got a lot of people coming in there. We need you out of our way so we can get our job done. Thank you.
Also just note, as this exits the state, it’s going to go into the Atlantic Ocean and it’s going to impact other states in our country. And so you’re looking at Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, they may be having impacts and this is just a lot of water. And you’re going to have flooding in those other states as well. Of course they’re not going to have to deal with the catastrophic impact that Florida suffered on the Southwest Coast. But this thing is not done creating damage. This thing’s going to continue to move. So I know they’ve declared state of emergencies in many of those states, and they’re going to have to deal with this storm, which is wreaking havoc across our state. But it’s going to end up wreaking havoc and communities across the Southeast and part of the United States. Yes?
Speaker 6: (22:28)
Governor, you made a comment about a pattern for the 911 calls and the surveys. Is there an area that you’re looking at that you can share?
So I would say, I think Kevin can come in and do, I would say obviously the places that got the catastrophic storm surge. So you’d be looking at the Barrier Islands in Lee, Charlotte counties, some of the coast, even in Collier County. And then you’re looking at, as you go inland in kind of that Fort Myers, Charlotte County juncture where you’ve got the Caloosahatchee, you’ve got these inlets, you’ve got the harbor. Those areas, because the storm surge can come in a Barrier Island, that is just the water’s just building up. And so you see that, they were absolutely consistent with Kevin posted. We have it in there in our room, the inundation map from 24 hours ago of what we projected. And what you’ll see is some of those areas, you go inland even many blocks and you have massive inundation that are off those areas.
And so I think it was a pretty consistent pattern. And I think if you look at what’s going on, it’s going to be those communities in Lee and Charlotte counties that are close to those bodies of water, that probably suffered the most severe flooding. And there’s people that had, the Coast Guard has had people that were in their attic and got saved off their rooftops in those areas because of the flooding. So that I think is pretty clear. Normally we would say having three or four foot of flooding in some residential area was a big deal. You see that in Northport, I think I would say in southern parts of Sarasota. But that’s just a different degree than what we’ve seen in Lee and Charlotte counties.
Okay. We will be back here likely later today, but we will be down in Southwest Florida as well.