Gov. Rick Scott headed to Pensacola Wednesday after torrential overnight rains caused severe flooding, closed schools, forced more than 200 people to flee their homes and resulted in the temporary closing of a stretch of I-10 in the Florida Panhandle.
Scott said up to 22 inches of rain fell in parts of the Panhandle, parts of which were under tornado watches. He declared a state of emergency in a 26-county region covering the Big Bend and Panhandle areas of the state. Three emergency shelters were opened as the vast, slow-moving weather system began moving toward the mid-Atlantic and the northeastern U.S.
"We have had severe weather in the Panhandle," Scott told reporters at a morning briefing in Tallahassee. "There's a lot of water on the ground. We're going to continue to see more flooding, and some flash flooding. Every family member needs to be careful. Don't drive into downed water."
Scott planned to meet with first responders and local officials in Northwest Florida, including Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward. Before leaving, he huddled with state emergency managers, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth and others at the state Emergency Operations Center Wednesday morning. The EOC wen to Level 2 activation overnight, triggering the deployment of dozens of disaster management staffers from various state agencies.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who represents much of the affected area, opened Wednesday's Senate floor session by praising Scott's quick action. "We appreciate his decisiveness," Gaetz said.
At the storm briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center, Scott declined to comment on the $77.1 billion state budget that's headed his way, which is by far the biggest budget in state history.
"Today's all about making sure our citizens are safe. I'll deal with that when I finish this," Scott said.