hurricanes

Scott pitches Florida budget — to Congress

The day after rolling out his state spending proposal, Gov. Rick Scott — who’s widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate next year — urged Congress Wednesday to include money in the federal budget:

  • Florida agriculture in future disaster funding;
  • Speed repairs on the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.
  • repay the state for helping displaced Puerto Ricans from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • reform the National Flood Insurance Program.

“Over the past two months, as Florida has responded to and now recovers from this devastating storm, we have identified critical areas in which the support of the federal government is essential to our full recovery,” Scott wrote House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today.

The letter outlining the need for federal assistance also highlights Scott’s $21 million 2018 state budget request for the citrus industry, the $50 million he’s asking state lawmakers for the dike, and the $12 million he’s proposing to assist students that need help learning English.

Read the letter here.

By Jim Turner.

 

Cruz and Co. and 1 million pounds of goods

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Rep. Janet Cruz and Evelio Otero

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is among the state lawmakers who’ve traveled to Puerto Rico to witness first-hand the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria.

Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, has also participated in an all-volunteer effort led by retired Air Force Captain Evelio Ortero, of the non-profit “Course of Action PR.” Ortero’s amassed millions of pounds of items ranging from wheelchairs to pet food at a Tampa warehouse, helped by hundreds of volunteers — many of them, like Cruz, with connections to folks on the island.

Cruz and Ortero will be joined by veteran lobbyist Chuck Hinson, who’s TECO’s VP of state and community relations, and Smita Patel, chairwoman of the 2017 India Festival Tampa Bay, at a press conference on Monday.

The press conference will focus on a “commemoration” of the shipment of more than one million pounds of relief supplies on a barge headed for Ponce, Puerto Rico.

“The barge will be delivering food, water, and other essential necessities for our American neighbors still struggling to recover from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The supplies had been housed in Tampa and were transported to Jacksonville last week, where the barge will depart from today,” a press release announcing Monday’s press conference said.

The press conference will be at 2 p.m. at the warehouse, 4916 S. Lois Ave., in Tampa.

 

Voters give Scott high marks for Irma, but thumbs down on evacs

Gov. Rick Scott scored high marks from Floridians for his handling of Hurricane Irma, but a new poll showed that his demands for mass evacuations may result in fewer people hitting the road the next time a storm threatens the Sunshine State’s shores.

A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research poll released Wednesday found Scott received “excellent” marks from 35 percent of the 625 registered Florida voters interviewed statewide in telephone surveys from Oct. 17 to Oct. 19. Another 31 percent described Scott’s storm response as “good.”

Another 25 percent graded Scott as “fair,” with 4 percent listing him actions as “poor” and 5 percent unsure.

Not surprisingly, his fellow Republicans gave Scott higher marks, with 89 percent of GOP respondents giving the governor “excellent” or “good” grades. Only 49 percent of Democrats polled put Scott in those top categories, while 62 percent of independents considered his handling of the storm “excellent” or “good.”

Scott has taken heat for a hike in debris removal rates in the Florida Keys, and for deleting voicemail messages from officials with The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills nursing home in Broward County. The calls were made as residents, many of them elderly, overheated after the facility lost air conditioning due to the deadly storm. Fourteen residents eventually died.

But voters’ overall satisfaction with how Scott managed the storm — which impacted nearly every part of the state after making landfall in the Florida Keys on Sept. 10 — can’t be good for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is likely to face-off against the governor in his bid for re-election next year.

A University of North Florida poll of registered Florida voters released Monday put Nelson and Scott in a near dead heat, with 37 percent supporting Nelson and 36 percent for Scott. Another 20 percent undecided.

More importantly, the statewide poll by the school’s Public Opinion Research Lab, found that nearly half of the voters queried — 49 percent — couldn’t say how Nelson is doing as senator, a position he’s held since 2001. The poll, conducted from Oct. 11-17, had a 3.39 percentage point margin of error.

The Mason-Dixon poll, conducted via landline and cell phones, had a 4-percentage point margin of error.

Among those polled, 10 percent reported “very serious” property damage, while 50 percent suffered little or no property damage from the storm.

Those figures, along with the shifting storm track that put many evacuees into the eventual path of Irma, could help explain the reluctance to evacuate from the next storm revealed by the polling outfit.

“Next time round could be a different story, as many Floridians indicate they will rethink their actions,” Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker stated in a release. “Statewide, only 57% say that they will follow an evacuation order in the face of a hurricane similar in strength to Irma.”

The state has estimated that about 6 million people were ordered to evacuate, but it’s unknown how many actually took to the road. Many people who weren’t under evacuation orders decided to skedaddle.

Among those surveyed, 19 percent were ordered to evacuate and did. From that group, 71 percent said they would pack up for the next storm.

Another 14 percent of those surveyed didn’t heed the evacuation orders they were given. Among them, 19 percent said the next time they would hit the road.

Of those polled, 13 percent did evacuate despite not being in an evacuation zone.  Just over half, 57 of those people would leave home in the next storm.

Finally, of the 54 percent of Floridians polled that stayed put and weren’t told to leave, 62 percent said they “definitely would” evacuate if told to move out before the next storm.

By Jim Turner.

 

 

Rubio, Nelson to Trump admin: Fix roads & bridges in Puerto Rico

Keeping up their bipartisan stance on Puerto Rican aid, Florida’s U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are calling on President Donald Trump’s administration to make repairs to the island’s roads and bridges.

Damage to the transportation infrastructure is making it harder to get “essential aid and supplies” to Puerto Ricans a month after Hurricane Maria ravaged the U.S. territory, the senators argued in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and FEMA Director Brock Long.

“Recovery efforts in rural areas, and in communities throughout Puerto Rico, will continue to be slow if these infrastructure needs are not addressed. It is critical that FEMA and DOT work together to quickly reconnect isolated communities to the rest of the island, and begin the larger task of helping Puerto Rico rebuild its transportation infrastructure,” Nelson, a Democrat, and Rubio, a Republican, wrote in a letter to the administration officials today.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

As you well know, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 as a major storm that has left the island in disarray.  Now, more than a month later, many citizens continue to lack reliable access to essential aid and supplies due to infrastructure that has been critically damaged or destroyed. We are writing to urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to promptly assist and identify interim solutions for Puerto Rico in repairing its damaged roads and bridges.

During our recent visits to Puerto Rico, we witnessed the devastation this storm caused to the island’s infrastructure, including numerous bridges that were damaged or completely destroyed. The hurricane hit rural communities in Puerto Rico’s mountainous interior especially hard, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the island. It has been reported that small communities, such as Charco Abajo in rural Utuado, have resorted to replacing bridges with makeshift pulley systems to ferry supplies across the Vivi River. While the ingenuity on behalf of local residents has helped deliver supplies to areas that federal officials overlooked, it is not a sustainable or safe solution.

What are your agencies’ plans to ensure the delivery of aid to Puerto Rico’s isolated, rural communities in light of this infrastructure damage?

What interim solutions can be enacted to quickly restore access to these communities?

What are the agencies’ plans to help rebuild and repair roads and bridges on the island?

Recovery efforts in rural areas, and in communities throughout Puerto Rico, will continue to be slow if these infrastructure needs are not addressed. It is critical that FEMA and DOT work together to quickly reconnect isolated communities to the rest of the island, and begin the larger task of helping Puerto Rico rebuild its transportation infrastructure.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this matter.

 

Video: Marco Rubio bemoans lack of aid for citrus growers

Florida’s U.S. senators have made a bipartisan pitch for the citrus industry to their colleagues, but it’s unclear whether federal lawmakers will fork over the money to bail out Sunshine State growers devastated by Hurricane Irma.

The state estimates the citrus industry took a $640 million wallop, but ag experts, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, say that damage is actually much higher.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a speech on the floor yesterday bemoaning the fact that the Florida delegation couldn’t get aid for the citrus growers in the recovery spending bill.

Here’s part of his speech:

“You have the entire Florida delegation in the House in favor of it, and they couldn’t get it in the House bill. You have both senators here for it, it can’t be part of this year because if we change it and go back we’re going to lose time. No one can tell you why it’s not in there, no one can tell you they are against it being in there, but it’s not in there. So you sometimes begin to wonder, I guess you start to understand, why people look at this process and just shake their head.

So unfortunately it looks like that’s been foreclosed and obviously this thing will move forward. Senator Nelson just made that motion, and it was objected to, so it won’t be part of this package. But I just hope we think about those men and women, these families that own these groves—how do you explain this to them? And what happens if they go away? What happens if we lose this critical industry? It won’t just hurt Florida. I think it hurts the country, and I think it sets a precedent for other crops that might be threatened likewise in the future.”

‘Boners and Stoners’ in post-Irma Key West

IMG_8527Parts of the Florida Keys may still be struggling to shed the impacts of Hurricane Irma, but the irreverent spirit that makes Key West Key West is undiminished.

(Pictured above, Queen & King Key West III, Donna Harvey & David Johnson frolic with dinosaurs at the Ugly Jacket fundraiser.)

The island is all in for Fantasy Fest, the iconic bacchanal already underway that runs through Oct. 29.

“We’ve moved from scrubbing mold and mildew from our walls to decorating orange wigs to delight the parade goers,” Val Marmillion, captain of the Mystick Krewe of Key West Mardi Gras organization, said in a press release. “We call it storm therapy, where we gather together in friendship, share creativity, and tell each other that all will be okay.”

IMG_8638With this year’s theme “Time Travel Unravels,” Marmillion’s group intends to parade as “our pre-historic ancestors.” (That’s Krewe Parade co-chair, Bob Harvey, ready to ramble as the Bedrock Police Chief).

“Expect to see ‘Boners & Stoners’ passing out 8,000 toy blinking bones, as they parade their troubles away for a night,” the Krewe noted.

Fantasy Fest comes amid an effort to boost the state’s tourism industry in the aftermath of the powerful storm, which scarred nearly every part of Florida last month.

Visit Florida is spending $5 million to advertise to the world that the Sunshine State — particularly, the Keys — is ready for business.

Gone from the Keys tourism website are notices about avoiding debris on the U.S. 1 drive for “creative costuming, offbeat artistry and a blend of colors.”

After weeks of hosting relief crews and reconstruction workers, the island is now also hosting several dozen masquerade balls, costume contests for humans and pets, a toga Party at Sloppy Joe’s and even — new this year — a Zombie Bike Ride.

By Jim Turner and Dara Kam.

 

Janet Cruz heads to Puerto Rico for relief effort

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Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, with Evelio Otero, on Oct. 4. Otero collected more than 2 million pounds of goods for Puerto Ricans.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is headed to Puerto Rico today in conjunction with a relief effort organized by Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays and Moffitt Cancer Center.

Today’s flight will be the second to Ponce by Cruz, a Tampa Democrat whose ex-husband has family members on the island. She returned from her previous tour in tears, saying she was horrified by the dire conditions Puerto Ricans were living after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory.

Weeks after the storm ravaged the island, more than 80 percent of Puerto Rico remains without power and about a third don’t have water.

According to a press release issued by Cruz’s office this morning, the group will deliver 30,000 pounds of supplies, including food, water and medical necessities.

Cruz and the others also plan to bring back tissue samples “currently on the verge of spoiling that represent years of critical medical research” along with cancer patients and a group of nuns displaced by the storm.

“After disasters, it’s our duty as citizens to look out for each other,” Cruz said in the release. “We all must ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to help our Puerto Rican neighbors recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. I’m proud to have found such incredible partners in Major League Baseball, the Rays, and Moffitt to help aide in this effort.”

Last week, Cruz visited a Tampa warehouse where volunteers, led by Evelio Otero, were collecting items for Puerto Ricans impacted by the storm.