Tallahassee, Florida – Governor Ron DeSantis and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell have announced their plans to personally assess the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Idalia. The storm swept through North Florida, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. With over 146,000 utility customers still without power, mostly in the heavily impacted Big Bend region, the tour aims to visit hard-to-reach areas such as Cedar Key and Steinhatchee. These sparsely populated coastal locations proved inaccessible to officials on Wednesday, as revealed by Governor DeSantis during a news conference at the state Emergency Operations Center.
Acknowledging the significant damage inflicted upon Florida’s Big Bend, Governor DeSantis emphasized the resilience of the affected communities, assuring that every effort will be made to provide necessary aid and support. Although no confirmed deaths have been reported thus far, authorities are continuing their checks in areas that experienced high water levels during the storm. As of now, at least 40 individuals have been rescued from regions witnessing storm surge and debris.
Governor DeSantis stressed that ongoing relief efforts will persist for as long as required, stating, “These efforts are continuing, and they will continue until there is no longer a need.” Hurricane Idalia made landfall in the Keaton Beach area of Taylor County on Wednesday morning, boasting maximum sustained winds of 125 mph. It subsequently wreaked havoc primarily in rural sections of North Florida, spanning Levy, Dixie, Suwannee, and Madison counties, before advancing into South Georgia.
Governor DeSantis has formally requested a major disaster declaration from the federal government for 25 affected counties. This request seeks expedited federal assistance to aid in debris removal and the provision of temporary housing for those displaced. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell assured that the request is being promptly processed and attested to the federal government’s unwavering commitment to supporting relief efforts.
Administrator Criswell appeared alongside Governor DeSantis, underscoring the importance of witnessing firsthand the impact on affected communities. Such observations are crucial to determining the required level of assistance and devising additional programs to aid those in the storm’s path. Emphasizing FEMA’s dedication, Criswell stated, “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.”
On Tuesday, Administrator Criswell highlighted the prioritization of recovery efforts for Hurricane Idalia and assistance for Maui in the wake of deadly wildfires. These efforts will be supported by the remaining $3.4 billion in the federal Disaster Relief Fund. FEMA is also seeking an additional $12 billion in funding from Congress to act as a “bridge” to handle crises throughout the remainder of the year. However, this funding request is currently entangled with a White House proposal to provide financial aid to Ukraine amidst its conflict with Russia.
While utility workers have managed to restore power to over 400,000 customers, primarily in urban areas, Governor DeSantis acknowledged that the remaining outages mainly impact rural areas that bore the brunt of Hurricane Idalia. He expressed confidence in significant progress within the next 48 hours. However, the governor clarified that full restoration could not be guaranteed due to potential structural damage that would require rebuilding. Nevertheless, he assured the availability of diligent personnel to address reconnection needs.
As of Thursday morning, Idalia has weakened to a tropical storm and is located off the North Carolina coast. It sustains maximum winds of 60 mph.