The Perfect Enemy | Florida begins to assess Ian’s catastrophic damage
December 3, 2022

Florida begins to assess Ian’s catastrophic damage

Florida begins to assess Ian’s catastrophic damage  POLITICO

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Breaking — President Joe Biden this morning declared that a “major disaster” exists in Florida, a move requested by Gov. Ron DeSantis and which clears the way for federal aid, including assistance for individuals affected by the storm.

It’s Thursday. And Floridians are just beginning to figure out the extent of the damage wrought by Hurricane Ian.

Leaving soon — The storm itself finally weakened from a fearsome near-Category 5 hurricane to a tropical storm early this morning as it continued its slow march across the interior of the state to the Atlantic. But it left enormous devastation in its wake. A top official in Lee County told local media that it had “decimated” the community. More than 2 million homes and businesses — or about 18 percent of the state — are without power, according to the latest figures from the Florida Public Service Commission.

Figuring it out — Some of the images that have been captured so far detail massive flooding and houses knocked off their foundations and chunks of bridges taken out. After daylight, residents will have a fuller grasp of the tremendous damage left by Hurricane Ian which is poised now to be mentioned alongside killer storms such as Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Michael.

Getting to work — A key question is what happened to people who decided against evacuating ahead of the fury of the storm. One of the first tasks at hand will be the deployment of search and rescue teams who will go through neighborhoods house by house.

Not a quick turnaround — DeSantis warned on Wednesday that the impact — and the subsequent recovery — will be something that Floridians will be dealing with for a long time even after all the national attention and media dissipates. The head of Florida’s biggest electric utility also sounded the alarm that getting the lights back on won’t be easy while parts of the grid may need to be completely rebuilt.

Time to pivot? — Will there be political ramifications to this? Absolutely. But DeSantis and other elected officials in the state have kept their focus on the storm and will likely continue to do so as the full extent of this catastrophe come into focus. It’s true that some statewide campaigns have not altered their ad-buying strategies. But former Gov. Jeb Bush told POLITICO that they should. “I think campaigns should shift to helping what will be hundreds of thousands of Floridians that will need a lot of assistance,” he said.

— WHERE’S RON? — Gov. DeSantis is scheduled to hold a press conference at the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee.

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…HURRICANE HOLE…

 ‘DECIMATED’ — “Hurricane Ian leaves trail of misery with its long, slow trip through Southwest Florida,” by Fort Myers News-Press’ Bill Smith: “Hurricane Ian took a permanent place in Southwest Florida history Wednesday, with an agonizingly slow sweep through the region, leaving devastated families, ruined homes and uncertain futures. More damage was caused by Ian than any other storm since Roger Desjarlais said he’s been Lee County manager. The powerful hurricane made landfall near pristine Cayo Costa, but the fury of its winds and rough surf spread destruction throughout Lee County.”

‘A PROFOUND IMPACT’ — Hurricane Ian leaves path of destruction and power outages in its wakes as it moves inland, by POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian and Andrew Atterbury: Almost 2 million people were left without power Wednesday night as Hurricane Ian swept through Florida, bringing catastrophic flooding and winds to large areas of the state in what some are predicting could be one of the worst storms to ever affect the Sunshine State. Images and videos broadcast on television and shared on social media showed scenes of flooding and destruction. Streets and even houses appeared flooded while trees looked as if they were torn from the ground.

PASSING THROUGH NOW — “Hurricane Ian barely a hurricane but still packing punch for Orlando area,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Richard Tribou, Jeffrey Schweers, Roger Simmons and Jeff Weiner: “Hurricane Ian is passing through the Orlando area this morning, bringing strong winds, heavy rains and flash flood warnings across Central Florida. In its 2 a.m. Thursday update, the National Hurricane Center said Ian had maximum-sustained winds of 75 mph – making it just barely a hurricane and a far cry from the 155 mph ones its packed when it made landfall in Southwest Florida on Wednesday. The NHC said Ian’s center was located about 55 miles south-southeast of Orlando and was moving northeast at 9 mph.”

— “Ian crashes into Sarasota-Manatee region and into the history books,” by Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Zac Anderson

— “St. Petersburg crews will assess damage Thursday ‘at first daybreak,” mayor says,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Colleen Wright

— “‘What the hell was that?’ Tornadoes rip through South Florida, rattling homes and nerves,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Susannah Bryan, Shira Mooten and Angie DiMichele

OPEN LINESBiden and DeSantis hit pause on rancor during hurricane, by POLITICO’s Myah Ward: For now, President Joe Biden and GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis have set politics aside to deal with Hurricane Ian as it bears down on Florida. The two leaders, the politicians most on the line in responding to a natural disaster of this scale, talked for “some time” Tuesday night, Biden said Wednesday during the White House conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. “I made it clear to the governor and the mayors that the federal government is ready to help in every single way possible,” Biden said. “We’ll be there every step of the way.”

Don’t ‘gouge the American people,’ Biden warns oil industry as Ian nears,” by POLITICO’s Ben Lefebvre

‘DAYS OR WEEKS’ — “Over 2 million Floridians without power — as Ian causes major damage to state’s power grid,” by Miami Herald’s Andres Viglucci and Rebecca San Juan: “As a potent Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida, the top executive at Florida Power & Light warned residents in the storm’s path to expect ‘life-changing effects’ from widespread and catastrophic damage to the state’s electrical grid that will take days, and in some cases weeks, to fully fix. Speaking on a livestream from FPL’s Palm Beach County emergency command center, President and CEO Eric Silagy said the company expects it will have to completely rebuild sections of its electrical system given Ian’s massive size and powerful winds, as well as the extensive rainfall and flooding it’s forecast to generate.”

‘INITIATION WEEK’ — “Hurricane Ian pummels a fast-growing region in Florida,” by Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Findell: “As Hurricane Ian slammed ashore Wednesday, it hit an area full of newcomers. The hurricane made landfall between Fort Myers, Fla., and nearby Port Charlotte, Fla., as a Category 4 storm, just after 3 p.m. It’s an area that has seen a rapid influx of people since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. “For a lot of people, this is an initiation week,” said John Boutchia, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Englewood, just east of Port Charlotte. The Punta Gorda metropolitan area, which includes Charlotte County, was the fourth-fastest growing metro area from July 2020 to July 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Since 2000, its population has grown from about 141,600 to an estimated 194,800.”

— “Maps show how millions of people have moved into Hurricane Ian’s path,” by Washington Post’s Simon Ducroquet, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens

STAYING PUT — “Most evacuated before Ian hit, but 31 on Florida barrier island among those who stayed,” by Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas: “While local emergency officials say they believe the “vast majority” of the nearly 2.5 million people in evacuation zones along the path of Hurricane Ian heeded warnings and left, some residents have chosen to stay — including 31 people on an unidentified barrier island in Charlotte County. ‘They just said that they wanted to stay in, shelter in place,’ Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was told by Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell, despite warnings from state and local officials that ‘you’re risking potentially your life by staying.’ ‘The local officials were not going to grab them by the shirt collar and drag them out of their own house,’ DeSantis said at a 1 p.m. briefing at the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee Wednesday, just hours before the eye of the storm was expected to make landfall.”

— “Millions were told to leave before Ian. Some calculated it was better to stay,” by Washington Post’s Reis Thebault and Jared Leone

EXIT STRATEGY— “Private jets whisk wealthy from Florida to Aspen ahead of Hurricane Ian,” by Bloomberg’s Michael Smith and David Wethe: “As Hurricane Ian bore down on Florida this week, the jet set plotted a luxurious escape. Flexjet, a large operator of private jets, saw a surge in requests for flights out of Florida in the last few days before airports in the area shut down as Ian threatened the Tampa region with the worst storm in a century. Private aircraft owners began to plan storm-related travel last weekend as it became clear that the storm was headed toward the state, the Cleveland-based company said in an emailed response to questions.”

LET’S HOPE SO — “Piney Point officials confident site can withstand Ian’s rain,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Christopher O’Donnell: “The expected rainfall from Hurricane Ian will raise water levels at Piney Point, an abandoned former phosphate plant in Manatee County, but site officials say they are prepared for the storm. Contract workers began preparing last week, tying down equipment and clean-up materials. They’ve also pumped water from the phosphate stacks with the highest levels of water to make room for heavy rain. ‘We’re in good shape,’ said Herb Donica, the court appointed receiver who is in charge of the management of the site and controls state money allocated for its cleanup. ‘We have nailed everything down that looks like it might want to move.’”

— “Cat 5 storms making landfall in U.S. are rare. But three out of four smashed Florida,” by Miami Herald’s Clara-Sophia Daly

— “Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?” by Tampa Bay Times’ Kirby Wilson

— “All Florida policyholders will have to pay if insurers can’t cover Ian’s destruction,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Ron Hurtibise

— “Gov. DeSantis acknowledges flood claim concern as Ian cuts path across Florida,” by Florida Politics’ Gray Rohrer

— “Insurers temporarily blocked from dropping policies in Florida,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders and Mike Exline

— “Hurricane Ian: Disney, Universal hotel guests wait out storm,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Katie Rice

CAMPAIGN MODE

THE NEW NORMAL — ‘Rules of the game have changed’: Key Florida campaigns keep running ads during hurricane, by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: Steve Vancore, a pollster and long-time campaign consultant who has worked for Democrats and non-partisan candidates, said campaigns continuing to push ads during a major natural disaster speaks to the evolving nature of politics. “There once was a time when there was a natural disaster that everyone would drop everything, at least for a few minutes,” he said. “Those norms are out of the window.” Besides televised ads, some campaigns are also emailing and texting voters asking for money. And campaign staff continue to post on social media.

‘IT IS CRITICAL’— “Activists, Democrats seek to energize Black voters. ‘Change is coming, because I don’t owe anyone anything,’” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Anthony Man: “Political activists and Democratic elected officials in South Florida are stepping up efforts to energize African American and Caribbean American voters, hoping they’re a potent and decisive force in November’s elections. A strong turnout among Black voters is crucial for Democrats. Without it, the party has little hope of winning the marquee contests — for governor and U.S. Senate — and could suffer setbacks in close contests farther down the ballot. ‘It is critical that every person that can vote register and make sure they use their power by casting their vote,’ said state Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Fort Lauderdale.”

— “Miami Beach commissioner faces criminal probe. Did she try to ‘interfere’ in election,” by Miami Herald’s Aaron Leibowitz

MIGRANTS IN MASSACHUSETTS

ANOTHER REQUEST — Massachusetts lawmakers ask Buttigieg to investigate DeSantis migrant flights, by POLITICO’s Lisa Kashinsky, Oriana Pawlyk and Alex Daugherty: Massachusetts lawmakers are asking Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to investigate whether the migrant charter flights organized by GOP Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis broke the department’s rules by allegedly misleading those on board. Sen. Ed Markey, in a letter to Buttigieg signed by five other members of the all-Democratic Massachusetts delegation and shared first with POLITICO, invoked a charter-broker rule issued during the Trump administration that prohibits charter operators from “misrepresenting” information like the “time of departure or arrival, points served, route to be flown, stops to be made, or total trip-time.

TRUMPLANDIA AND THE SWAMP

WRONG DIRECTION? — “‘Giant backfire’: Trump’s demand for special master is looking like a mistake,” by The New York Times’ Charlie Savage: “Former President Donald J. Trump’s request that a judge intervene in the criminal investigation into his hoarding of government documents by appointing a special master increasingly looks like a significant blunder, legal experts say. ‘Maybe from Trump’s point of view, creating delay and chaos is always a plus, but this has the feel of a giant backfire,’ said Peter M. Shane, a legal scholar in residence at New York University and a specialist in separation-of-powers law.”

— “The most high-profile Jan. 6 trial has the most D.C. jury selection process possible,” by POLITICO’s Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein

PENINSULA AND BEYOND

‘WE’RE GOING TO BE PUT ON BACKBURNER’ — As Ian batters Florida, Puerto Ricans fear being forgotten, by POLITICO’s Gloria Gonzalez: Puerto Ricans still trying to recover from Hurricane Fiona have a plea for the Biden administration: Don’t forget about us. Even before Florida suffered its own devastating hurricane landfall Wednesday, community and nonprofit leaders in Puerto Rico were criticizing the Biden administration for what they call missteps in the government’s response to Fiona. Those include not initially covering all of Puerto Rico in President Joe Biden’s declaration of a major disaster, as well as a slow flow of federal aid to communities that experienced catastrophic flooding after receiving 20 to 32 inches of rain.

— “U.S. issues ‘temporary and targeted’ Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona,” by McClatchy D.C.’s Alex Roarty and Miami Herald’s Syra Ortiz-Blanes

MEDIA MATTERS

SIGNING OFF — “A ‘fearless’ voice: Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts retiring after 31 years,” by Miami Herald’s Connie Ogle: “For more than 30 years, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts has entertained and enlightened millions of readers, first as a sharp-eared music critic with a deep love for classic R&B, then as a columnist tackling such complex subjects as culture, race, poverty and politics. Over the past several years, a divisive period in American history, the nationally syndicated Pitts captured America and its struggles from a progressive point of view. His writing was furious but insightful, ironic but eloquent. It was always compulsively readable. Now Pitts, who was hired by the Herald in 1991 and will be 65 in October, is retiring. It’s time, he said.”

ODDS, ENDS AND FLORIDA MEN

— “Florida reporter defends putting condom on mic during Hurricane Ian broadcast,” by New York Post’s Olivia Land: “A Florida reporter captured viewers’ attention Wednesday when the condom on her microphone flashed on the screen during an outdoor hurricane broadcast. NBC2’s Kyla Galer was reporting on Hurricane Ian’s landfall from a parking lot in Fort Myers, Florida, when viewers became distracted by the bulbous rubber casing on her microphone. ‘NBC 2 practicing safe microphone reporting during hurricane Ian,’ tweeted one viewer.”

BIRTHDAYS: NASA administrator and former Sen. Bill NelsonSteve Schale, Democratic strategist and chief executive officer at Unite the Country… Brent Kallestad, former Associated Press reporter