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September 11, 2017

Miami politicians take to the skies to view Irma damage


A gaggle of Miami politicians are getting an up-close-and-personal view of Hurricane Irma's destruction in Key West. 

Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson along with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, state Sen. Anitere Flores and Miami-Dade County commissioner José Pepe Díaz were all aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cargo plane bound for Key West with personnel dispatched to help with recover operations. 

The flight followed a Miami press conference with Curbelo, Flores Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Gov. Rick Scott

"We're working with FEMA, I can tell you the White House has been outstanding," Scott said. "I talked to President Trump three times yesterday, I talked to administrator Brock Long of FEMA multiple times yesterday. The White House and everybody at the federal level is showing up and my belief is they are going to show up and do everything they can." 

"Carlos Curbelo and I are determined to go back to D.C. and work with our colleagues to find the funds needed for the hurricane relief efforts," Ros-Lehtinen said. "We found it for Hurricane Harvey, we're going to band together and find it for the residents who are survivors of Hurricane Irma." 

"The Florida Keys is going to need a lot of help and we're blessed to have a wonderful governor and a very effective adminstrator at FEMA who is well aware of what the sitaution on the ground is starting to look like," Curbelo said. "We keep getting this question of how much this is going to cost and we don't have an exact estimate. But I can guarantee you this, it's going to cost billions upon billions upon billions of dollars to help the Florida Keys, Florida's Southwest Coast and obviously some of our residents here in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to recover."  

Curbelo said he talked to Long, who relayed to him that FEMA has enough money to get through September. 

"What I would tell all my colleagues is...we cannot fund an agency like FEMA month to month," Curbelo said, adding that he plans to speak with Speaker Paul Ryan about a "robust" funding plan for FEMA.


Ileana Ros-Lehtinen asks Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi to visit Florida

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Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is asking congressional leaders to visit Florida after Hurricane Irma made landfall and tracked along the state's Gulf Coast, as the state will likely need billions in federal relief to recover from the storm. 

Ros-Lehtinen will send a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and the leaders of the congressional committee that controls federal spending, urging them to join their Florida colleagues to assess the damage. 

"As Members of the Florida Congressional delegation, we strongly encourage you to visit our state and join us in assessing the extent of the damage," Ros-Lehtinen said in the letter. "While Floridians are coming together to begin the recovery process, we will need assistance from the federal government in the coming weeks and months to help rebuild our communities in the aftermath of this devastating storm. Florida is home to over 20 million residents, all of whom must know that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will have the resources necessary to assist and respond effectively."

Before the storm hit, Congress passed $15 billion in hurricane relief funding as part of a package to raise the nation's debt ceiling. Ros-Lehtinen and others from Florida urged Congress to vote in favor of the bill, which passed by a large margin. Just over 100 Republicans in the House and Senate voted against the package because they did not approve of a deal struck between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders to tie much-needed hurricane funding to the nation's debt ceiling. 

Two members of Congress from Florida, Reps. Matt Gaetz and Ted Yoho, voted against the package. 

"We commend last week’s passage of supplemental emergency funding to assist FEMA with its recovery efforts to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey," the letter said. "However, the destruction caused by Irma throughout Florida means that Congress must again act swiftly to ensure the availability of additional funding needed for recovery efforts. We hope you will join us in Florida to bear witness to our resolve, and return to Washington with a renewed commitment to act quickly to provide the assistance that our families desperately require." 

A spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen said collecting signatures for the letter may take longer than usual due to the storm. 

House of Representatives off on Monday due to Hurricane Irma



The House of Representatives will not convene for votes on Monday due to Hurricane Irma. 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., made the decision on Sunday as Hurricane Irma moved up Florida's Gulf Coast. 

"Due to the large number of absences as a result of Hurricane Irma, Members are advised that no votes are expected in the House tomorrow, Monday, September 11th," a release from McCarthy's office said. 

The House is expected to reconvene on Tuesday. 

Last week, the majority of Florida's congressional delegation including Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart missed votes, including a $15 billion hurricane relief package, as they left Washington to prepare for Irma.   

The U.S. Senate will convene on Monday afternoon. 


Daylight will reveal extent of Hurricane Irma’s damage

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Inescapable Irma, the hurricane that for a week tormented the entirety of the Florida peninsula unlike any storm that came before it, will finally find its way out of the state Monday.

She will leave behind destruction from Key West to probably Tallahassee. And yet the storm will also be remembered for what it wasn’t: In the end, Irma was not the feared Category 5 catastrophe she could have been, though the extent of her damage is still unknown. The dual-coast storm has already been blamed for five deaths.

Overnight, the Category 2 storm pushed into western Florida further south than expected, sparing vulnerable Tampa Bay from the worst of the surging Gulf of Mexico waters. By 2 a.m., it was a Category 1 inland storm moving northeast toward Orlando from Tampa. By 5 a.m., it was about to be downgraded to a tropical storm.

Naples, close to where Category 3 Irma had made its Marco Island landfall Sunday afternoon, appeared to suffer from rising waters and piercing winds. Aerial videos showed splintered roofs and flooded streets, though the storm surge was not as high as initially forecast.

“We may have been a little bit lucky that it went on the west,” President Donald Trump predicted Saturday, when he signed a major federal disaster declaration for Florida. “It may not have been quite as destructive.”

Here’s why Irma, ferocious as she was, might have cut the Florida mainland a bit of a break: The storm weakened over Cuba on Saturday, wobbled east so its Category 4 eye missed Key West on Sunday, then stayed inland of Naples to skirt Tampa on Monday.

But for a less-bad scenario, it was still pretty bad — especially for the Florida Keys, where the extent of Irma’s wrath remained frustratingly unclear into Sunday night. The hurricane came ashore at Cudjoe Key on Sunday morning.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Too soon to know how bad Irma hit Keys, state emergency chief says

via @MaryEllenKlas

TALLAHASSEE --  Amid reports Sunday that there may be a "humanitarian crisis'' in the Florida Keys following the storm, Florida Director of Emergency Management Bryan Koon said he could not confirm or deny any reports of multiple deaths or extensive damage.

"We don't have a comprehensive insight into what the damage is,'' Koon told reporters at the Tallahassee Emergency Operations Center late Sunday.

He said he had spoken to Martin County Emergency Operations Director Marty Senterfitt and search and rescue efforts will not begin in until Monday. Until then, both physical and human damage cannot be ascertained, he said.

"We will work on those at first light,'' he said. "I don't have any numbers on fatalities at this point."

Koon said that based on traffic reports from the Florida Highway Patrol and other estimates from county officials, they estimate that about 10,000 people remained in the Keys to ride out the storm but, because communications are cut off, he could not determine what kind of needs they have.

He said it is likely that water, electricity are out and there is "fairly significant impact to homes,'' "no retail infrastructure," and virtually no communication.

"It is obvious we need to get in there, assess the damage and figure out what we need to do for helping those folks,'' he said.

He said that search and rescue efforts will begin on Monday when they expect to be able to access Key West's Boca Chica airport. Another team is getting the Marathon airport ready to open, he said.

"We hope weather will allow us to to go in there, do assessments and provide whatever assistance is necessary."

Koon could not confirm reports that a military C-130 cargo plane was headed to the Keys with supplies. He said he was not aware of any search and rescue assets on the ground now.

He said they will bring in commodities to support the shelters, which are expected to become "longer term shelters" because of the amount of damage expected.

He said he was not aware of any major bridge damage along the 100-mile span to Key West but "it is too soon to know" until Department of Transportation completes bridge and road inspections. He said the agency will use a drone on Monday to do its initial assessment.


September 10, 2017

Gov. Scott expects storm surge to flood his Naples home

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via @ByKristenMClark

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott owns a waterfront mansion in Naples that he says should see 10 to 15 feet of storm surge because of Hurricane Irma.

“So, we’ll see. I just can’t imagine it’s not going to have water all through the whole house,” he told reporters Sunday afternoon when he was asked about the status of the home as Irma moves up Florida’s west coast.

But he added, “It’s nothing new... you can replace a house.”

“I was more worried— my daughter just had two little babies. She’s further inland, and so I was more worried about her,” he said.

His daughter Allison, her husband Pierre and their five sons — including two-week-old twin boys — had evacuated to the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee on Friday to join Scott and his wife, Ann

But now with the capital city poised to be in Irma’s path on Monday, Scott told reporters they didn’t stick around.

“They actually went to D.C. today,” he said. “They had come up here but it doesn’t make sense — when it looks like we might be hit up here — for them to be here, especially with five little boys.”

--KRISTEN M. CLARK, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Trump declares disaster for Florida amid Hurricane Irma

via @stevebousquet

TALLAHASSEE -- President Donald Trump on Sunday approved a major disaster declaration for Hurricane Irma in Florida, hours after Gov. Rick Scott requested it.

In a week in which the president and governor spoke several times by phone, the governor's office said the disaster declaration will authorize federal funding to flow to areas affected by the storm and will reimburse cities and counties and the state for costs of response and recovery.

The major disaster declaration authorizes 100 percent federal reimbursement for 30 days in all counties for emergency protective measures, such as the costs of running emergency operation centers, hurricane shelters and related expenses. After the initial 30-day period, the federal government will reimburse 75 percent of those costs, including counties' costs for debris removal.

The declaration also authorizes direct federal financial aid to nine counties: Miami-Dade, Monroe, Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota.

The president's declaration is here.

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Photo credit: Olivier Douliery, TNS

Rick Scott gets national airtime as Irma batters Florida's peninsula

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With Hurricane Irma affecting much of southern Florida by Sunday morning — making travel unsafe — Gov. Rick Scott remains in the state’s capital city.

He’s staying busy — spending four hours going from national TV interview to national TV interview, with the state Emergency Operations Center as his photogenic backdrop.

His line-up started at 7 a.m. and includes almost all of the networks, several more than once: NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, The Weather Channel, Fox News and Fox Business. (No MSNBC.)

More here.

Follow live Hurricane Irma updates from South Florida

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After long days of anxious preparations and waiting, Hurricane Irma is arriving in South Florida on Sunday morning, still a dangerous Category 4 storm even though Miami-Dade and Broward counties will be spared the worst. The Florida Keys, however, will not be so lucky: Irma’s eye is expected to hit Key West before moving northwest up Florida’s Gulf Coast. Hundreds of thousands of people are already without power, and dangerous flooding and tornadoes are possible.

Stay with the Miami Herald for all the latest news on Sunday.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

In South Florida, the worst of Hurricane Irma is yet to come


Sorry, South Florida: When you wake up Sunday morning, Hurricane Irma will still not have passed, even though waiting for the dreaded storm has already felt interminable.

In fact, the worst for Miami-Dade and Broward counties — which mercifully won’t be nearly as bad as once feared — probably won’t start until mid-morning, and it will last for several hours.

The region won’t get sustained hurricane winds, only dangerous gusts. But tropical storm winds are expected to extend into Sunday night. That means getting out of the house and around town might not be safe until — gulp — Monday.

A tornado watch will be in effect until at least noon. Two tornadoes touched ground Saturday in Oakland Park and Wilton Manors, and tornado warnings were briefly in effect Saturday night and early Sunday morning in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

And then there’s the storm surge, the water washed ashore by the storm, an unpredictable hazard that local emergency managers fear could result in serious damage. Overnight from Saturday to Sunday, water lapped over bayfront roads along parts of Northeast Miami-Dade, including Miami Shores. After hours of unrelenting rain, some streets had already flooded in downtown Miami and Miami Beach. The National Weather Service’s Miami office issued a flood warning at 4:40 a.m. 

“The thing that has caused me the biggest concern is I don’t think anybody has realized the impact of this storm surge,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a Saturday evening news conference at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

Sunday morning is also when forecasters expect storm surge to rise in the vulnerable Florida Keys, perhaps as high as 10 unimaginable feet.

More here.

Photo credit: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald staff