hurricanes

Janet Cruz heads to Puerto Rico for relief effort

IMG_2281

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.

Dems ask Scott for relief centers to aid in expected Puerto Rican migration

As conditions continue to deteriorate in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, Florida Democratic legislators are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to set up relief centers for Puerto Rican evacuees.

Friday’s ask comes as Scott, who traveled to the island yesterday, meets with President Donald Trump in Washington to give him an update of what’s going on in Puerto Rico and the Sunshine State, still recovering from Hurricane Irma.

The situation in Puerto Rico is growing dire, the Democrats wrote in a letter to Scott.

“Now more than a week removed from Maria’s landfall, nearly 3.4 million Puerto Ricans remain without power, the telecommunications grid for the island is in tatters, citizens are running low on cash due to the lack of functioning ATMs necessary to purchase supplies and are faced with an inability to process debit transactions, and large areas outside urban centers remain inaccessible as roads continue to be blocked by fallen debris or are washed away completely,” incoming Senate Minority Leader Jeff Clemens, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, and a handful of House and Senate members wrote to Scott.

The disaster could result in “hundreds of thousands” of evacuees fleeing to Florida, home to more than 1 million Puerto Ricans already, the Democrats wrote.

“To prepare for this influx of hundreds of thousands new Floridians, we believe it is vital that the state respond proactively to ease their transition and reduce the mental and financial strain this process is sure to inflict on many families,” they wrote.

The “relief centers” could provide”one-stop access to local, state, and federal officials who could offer guidance on housing aid and availability and other services, the Democrats suggested.

The request for the relief centers comes a day after Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio called for the “cavalry” — in the form of the U.S. military — to come to the rescue in Puerto Rico.

 

Dems mauling Maul’s disaster creds

11887981_10107398994417691_1121254288952911243_n

Democrats and other critics of Gov. Rick Scott are creating a storm over Wesley Maul, the governor’s pick to head up the Florida Division of Emergency Management with two months left in the hurricane season.

The Florida Democratic Party questioned Maul’s qualifications, who’s now the division’s chief of staff and will take over as interim head of state emergency ops from Bryan Koon on Sunday.

“We need an experienced leader at the helm of our emergency management operations, and no one would disagree that Wes Maul is totally inexperienced and unprepared for such an important role,” FDP spokeswoman Johanna Cervone said in a statement. “Rick Scott has a clear record of propping up unqualified political appointees, but this is unacceptable.”

American Bridge 21st Century PAC, a progressive “super PAC” that targets Republicans, also piled on, outlining the resumes of prior division leaders to highlight the contrast with Maul.

“Wesley Maul’s resume would only be impressive to Tallahassee lobbying firms,” American Bridge said in a memo released Thursday. “He has only one year of experience working at the Division of Emergency Management. He has no degrees or professional credentials in emergency management. Just four years ago, Maul was a mattress delivery associate while enrolled in law school. Following that, he was a travelling (sic) aide to Rick Scott, handling the governor’s personal calendar and making sure the governor stuck to his schedule.”

Here’s the snapshots of Maul’s predecessors, provided by American Bridge :

  • Koon (Division of Emergency Management Director from 2011 to present), previously served as director of emergency management for WalMart. He was also a watch commander for the White House Emergency Operations Center.
  • David Halstead (2010-2011), had been with the division since 1998, including the 2004 hurricane season when he was an emergency services branch chief.
  • Ruben Almaguer (2009-2010), was a deputy director at the division after having worked as a division chief for the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department.
  • Craig Fugate (2001-2009), had also been a deputy director for the division before being appointed to the top job by Gov. Jeb Bush. Fugate, a Democrat, had spent a decade as emergency manager for Alachua County.
  • Joe Myers (1993-2001), was director of emergency management in North Carolina for eight years prior to taking the job in Florida.

Maul, who joined DEM in May 2016, spent about three years in the governor’s office. His duties, according to Maul’s LinkedIn page, included running Scott’s daily schedule and coordinating travel.

Prior to going to work for Scott, and while earning his law degree at the University of Florida, Maul spent a year as a delivery associate at Mattress Town of Gainesville, which the LinkedIn page said increased “average daily delivery capability by 211% through improved inventory analysis, logistics, and sales operations.”

In a press release announcing Koon’s departure this week, Scott called Maul a “valued member” of his team since 2013.

“As Chief of Staff at DEM, Wes has worked countless hours helping lead our state through Hurricanes Hermine, Matthew and now Irma,” Scott said in the release. “Since earning his law degree at the University of Florida, Wes has devoted his life to serving the families of our state and I am confident in his ability to lead DEM as Interim Director as we continue to recover from Hurricane Irma.”

By Jim Turner.

Miami Beach Mayor Levine headed to Puerto Rico — with 7,000 pounds of supplies

DKlR-5-UQAAWr0XMiami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is heading to Puerto Rico with 7,000 pounds of critical supplies for the beleaguered island to address what he called a “humanitarian crisis”  after Hurricane Maria left the U.S. territory in tatters.

Levine, who hatched the relief effort over the past two days, chartered a cargo plane to deliver the goods. He’ll be joined by state Rep. Robert Asencio, a Miami Democrat, on the trip.

The duo are slated to meet with San Juan Mayor Yulín Cruz and other local officials and tour the damage tomorrow. (Check out these tragic pics posted by BuzzFeed yesterday.)

Aside from the humanitarian motivation for the trip to Puerto Rico, Levine’s visible support for the island won’t hurt if he decides to run for governor next year in Florida. The Sunshine State is home to roughly 1 million residents with ties to the island.

Levine has said he will make a decision on a bid for governor before the end of this year.

By Lloyd Dunkelberger and Dara Kam.

Triple-shot of storms prompt Nelson, other Dems to seek DACA extension

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and more than three dozen other Senate Democrats are asking President Donald Trump‘s administration to extend an Oct. 5 deadline for “Dreamers” to renew their status, due to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“These major hurricanes significantly disrupted day to day living and operations in these states and territories,” the lawmakers, led by Nelson and two others, wrote in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke today. “It would be appropriate for the government to extend the October 5, 2017 deadline nationwide to allow individuals adequate time to meet the government’s recent request.”

Trump and his administration announced earlier this month that the president intends to do away with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, a policy launched by President Barack Obama aimed at allowing undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country.

The Trump policy would allow some “Dreamers” currently enrolled in DACA to apply for renewal.

“Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico are still working to recover and will be for some time,” the lawmakers wrote. “An extension of the deadline would provide DACA recipients more time to collect the $495 application fee and gather the necessary documents to accurately complete the renewal application.”

Florida, where Hurricane Irma knocked out power for two-thirds of the state and resulted in historic flooding on both coasts, is home to an estimated 30,000 Dreamers.

 

Jameis Winston gets in the Irma relief game

924-winstonTampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston will hand off 400 Publix gift cards, worth $25 each, to Tampa Bay area victims of Hurricane Irma tomorrow.

The donation from the Florida State University alum is part of a relief effort with Feeding Tampa Bay and the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, Inc.

Feeding Tampa Bay will provide 35 pounds of food to each family at a late afternoon event at the CDC office on Hillsborough Avenue. The food goods are being offered after Irma knocked out power throughout the Tampa Bay area.

The CDC is targeting “areas of greatest need,” including residents of low-income communities and families with children and seniors, Ernest Coney, CEO and president of CDC of Tampa, Inc., said in a press release.

 

“The generosity of Jameis Winston, Feeding America and other local partners, allows us to continue to lift spirits and help families to get back on their feet,” Coney said.

— By Jim Turner and Dara Kam.

Hispanic Chamber passes the hat for Puerto Rico

With much of Florida still reeling from Hurricane Irma, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has launched a relief effort for a different disaster.

The chamber is seeking donations for victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico this week.

The organization has set a goal of $250,000 for its “Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief” initiative.

The money will be earmarked for emergency supplies such as bottled water, canned goods, dried foods, medication, pillows and blankets, shovels and hammers, and other necessary items, according to a press release issued by the Hispanic chamber Friday.

Florida is home to a growing number of Puerto Ricans, who have abandoned the island as its economic woes worsen. A report issued last year showed that the number of Puerto Ricans in the state grew by 94 percent between 2000 and 2014.

 “The island’s entire 3.5 million population is without power, and many residents need immediate medical relief,” Julio Fuentes, President and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said in the release. “It is important we do our part to help alleviate their pain and assist our fellow Americans as they recover and rebuild.”

By Jim Turner.