Fishing boats docked. [Photo by Chris King]
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday said the state will seek federal help for the fishing industry in the Big Bend region, as cleanup efforts moved into a second day from the devastation caused by Hurricane Idalia.
Meanwhile, the state reported its first confirmed death related to Idalia, while utility workers still had about 135,000 customer power outages to tackle from the Category 3 storm, many in sparsely populated areas of North Florida.
The governor’s plan to seek help from the U.S. Department of Commerce for the fishing industry followed White House approval of a separate request for a major disaster declaration.
The declaration, in part, set the stage for federal reimbursement of costs for debris removal. It also will provide assistance for people in seven rural counties that took the brunt of Idalia, which made landfall Wednesday morning in the Keaton Beach area of Taylor County before sweeping north into Georgia.
“This is an important part of the economy here,” DeSantis said of the fishing industry while at the Steinhatchee Marina at Deadman Bay. “This has obviously been interrupted, and it is going to be a blow to a lot of folks who are involved in that industry.”
DeSantis made the comment after touring Cedar Key, Horseshoe Beach and Steinhatchee with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell.
"I've seen a lot of really heartbreaking damage," DeSantis said. "I think when people lose a church, when they lose their home, when they lose a business ... you could see this was really --- the day after the impact --- a lot of these folks in, like, Horseshoe Beach, they came this morning to see. And so, it was all very raw. When you have your whole life's work into, say, like a business and it ends up under five feet of water, that's a lot of work that you've got to do going forward."
DeSantis made a similar aid request last year for the recreational saltwater-fishing industry and commercial fisheries in Southwest Florida following Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm.
While DeSantis said Thursday that “we did not get that after Hurricane Ian,” the website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, part of the Department of Commerce, lists the request as “pending.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is expected Saturday to visit the region hit by Idalia.
The disaster declaration signed Thursday by Biden will make federal money available for people affected by the storm in Citrus, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee and Taylor counties.
The federal declaration opens the door to such assistance as grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, a White House news release said. Also, money will be available to help with debris removal and emergency-protective measures in the designated counties. The federal government will pick up 100 percent of such costs for a 30-day period "of the state's choosing," the release said.
Additional funding is under consideration.
Criswell said during the Steinhatchee visit that in addition to her observations of “a significant amount of flooding damage,” FEMA is using aerial and satellite imagery to make comparisons of the region before and after the storm to get “a true impact of the overall damage to the area.”
“And so, we'll use all of that information to help determine what additional programs potentially need to be added,” Criswell said.
The state’s first confirmed death from Idalia involved a traffic fatality in Alachua County. DeSantis said people in the Big Bend region “made good decisions, protected themselves,” and the forecast for the storm turned out to be accurate.
“It had been eying the Big Bend many days ago,” DeSantis said. “And that's what ended up happening. So, I think people, particularly in this area who were in the way of a potential significant storm surge, they did take the proper precautions."
By comparison, medical examiners confirmed 149 deaths from Ian, nearly half in Lee County.
DeSantis and others have repeatedly pointed to the uncertainty of storm forecasts for Ian, which at one point was projected to head to Tampa, with parts of Southwest Florida outside the tracking cone. Ian made landfall Sept. 28 in Lee and Charlotte counties.