DeSantis, FEMA Chief Assess Idalia Damage

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell planned Thursday to “see first-hand” damage from powerful Hurricane Idalia, a day after the storm barreled through North Florida.

With more than 146,000 utility customers still without power Thursday morning, mostly in the hard-hit Big Bend region, the tour was expected to include Cedar Key and Steinhatchee, sparsely populated coastal areas that were inaccessible to officials on Wednesday, DeSantis said during a news conference at the state Emergency Operations Center.

“There has been significant damage, particularly along Florida’s Big Bend,” DeSantis said. “But the community is resilient, and we are going to work hard to make sure people get what they need.”

No deaths have been confirmed, but checks were ongoing in areas hit by high water in the storm. At least 40 people had been rescued from areas inundated by storm surge and debris.

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“These efforts are continuing, and they will continue until there is no longer a need,” DeSantis said.

With maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning in the Keaton Beach area of Taylor County. It caused damage in largely rural areas of North Florida such as Levy, Dixie, Suwannee and Madison counties before going into South Georgia.

DeSantis has requested a major disaster declaration from the federal government for 25 counties, seeking “expedited federal assistance” to help pay for debris removal and provide temporary housing to people.

Criswell said the request was “quickly” being processed and that the federal government is committed to support the relief efforts.

“I’m here today to join the governor and see first-hand the impacts on the communities so we can determine what level of assistance and what other programs we’ll need to bring in to help support those people that were in the storm’s path,” Criswell said.

“We are going to make sure that we always have the resources here from the federal family to support the current efforts, but also the ongoing recovery efforts that may be needed in these communities that were impacted by Hurricane Idalia,” Criswell added.

On Tuesday, Criswell said Idalia recovery efforts and assistance for Maui after deadly wildfires will be prioritized for $3.4 billion that remains in the federal Disaster Relief Fund.

FEMA is seeking an additional $12 billion from Congress as a “bridge” to handle crises through the end of the year, a funding request that is tied up with a White House request to provide money to Ukraine during the war with Russia.

Utility workers Thursday morning had restored power to more than 400,000 customers, and DeSantis said the remaining outages were mostly in rural areas that took the brunt of Idalia.

“There will be significant progress within 48 hours,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think that we’d be in a position to say that it could be fully restored, just simply because if there’s structural damage you are going to have to rebuild some of that stuff. If it’s a reconnect, we’ve got the people there.”

Located off the North Carolina coast Thursday morning, Idalia was still listed as a tropical storm, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph.

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