December 10, 2022

Some Florida residents are asking for more federal aid after Hurricane Ian

Fort Myers Beach, Fla. – Like many conservative residents of storm-ravaged Southwest Florida, Pamela Schwartz has long been concerned about government spending. But Ms. Schwartz said federal aid could not come soon enough as she stood amid the boats swept away by Hurricane Ian, destroyed homes and heavy losses.

“It’s time for them to step up,” Ms. Ian’s devastating storm surge flooded a garage in Fort Myers Beach, Schwartz said. She was already frustrated after trying to file a federal storm claim. “This is what we pay our taxes for.”

Hurricane Ian inflicted its worst damage and highest casualties in many deeply Republican counties, where Trump flags adorn yards and trucks and many voters express hostility toward President Biden and the federal government in general.

On Wednesday, Mr. Both leaders shared bipartisan pledges as Biden visited damaged areas of the coast and met and shook hands with one of his potential 2024 challengers, Gov. Ron DeSantis. Both have said they are putting aside partisan differences in light of the disaster that killed at least 120 people in Florida, according to state and local officials. It is believed that The highest number of deaths recorded by a single tornado in the state since 1935.

But rebuilding devastated cities and repairing destroyed roads and power grids will require federal money and long-term cooperation between a Democratic White House and a Republican governor. In a polarized political climate five weeks before the midterm elections, the storm that toppled homes and washed away critical roads didn’t change many residents’ negative views of Washington.

In interviews this week around the region, some residents praised the governor while criticizing the federal response. Mr. They praised DeSantis for issuing storm alerts and visiting damaged areas, and many were satisfied with the response of their local government officials. Questions about the timing of Lee County’s eviction order.

“Our governor is great,” said Jay Kimble, a maintenance worker at Fort Myers Beach who lost everything. “I know he’s going to do everything he can to get us back on our feet. I’m not a Biden fan.

The five hardest-hit counties along the southwest Florida coast — Charlotte, Collier, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota — are, on average, older and whiter and have a smaller proportion of Latino residents than the rest of the state. Those districts overwhelmingly voted for former President Trump in 2020.

Lee County, where Ian made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, is the region’s most populous, with about 756,000 people, and has steadily grown as an affordable, low-tax retreat for Midwest transplants and especially retirees.

This week, residents said they’re having trouble navigating the process of applying for federal disaster relief and don’t see much evidence of federal boots on the ground.

Some barrier-island residents, unable to get any government officials to visit the islands to check their homes, said they instead turned to volunteer flotillas that sprung up in ports.

John Lynch, 59, whose bright yellow house on Matlacha, a strip of land between the mainland and Pine Island, now rattles menacingly over the shifting sands, looks like most of the supplies are distributed and distributed by churches and neighbors. By the government.

“Day by day, nothing,” Mr. Lynch said about government assistance.

On Tuesday, Mr. Lynch went to the mainland to stock up on food and candles, and to get dry shampoo and coffee creamer for neighbors who didn’t leave their homes.

After a disaster of this magnitude, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is responsible for coordinating the response among federal agencies and working with state and local governments. It has faced repeated criticism over the past few decades for its slow emergency response, especially after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We understand that the road to recovery will be frustrating, but we are here to help and will do everything we can to help all Floridians recover from this disaster,” Jeremy M. Edwards, a FEMA. the spokesperson said in an email.

Nearly 4,000 federal officials are working on hurricane relief efforts in Florida, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said Wednesday. The agency approved $70 million this week for Ian survivors, which analysts say has resulted in more than $40 billion in property damage claims alone. The agency said it has set up food and water distribution sites and is sending teams to shelters and people’s homes in 11 districts to begin applying for disaster relief.

“The needs are going to be tremendous,” said James Kendra, director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Disaster Research. “In a case like this, nothing happens fast enough for the victims.”

On Wednesday Mr. In a joint appearance with Biden, Mr. DeSantis thanked the president and praised the coordination from the White House “from the beginning.”

But on barrier islands destroyed by damage to roads and bridges, residents expressed frustration over pressure from authorities to clear during the cleanup and inadequate assistance from FEMA.

“People don’t really have a lot of places to go,” said Jamie Sargent, 37, a business owner in hard-hit Pine Island, “and I need help.”

Local residents on Pine Island recall seeing the United Cajun Navy, a nonprofit group whose members respond to disasters, ex-military members and their own neighbors pilot boats through muddy waterways and check on stranded people. As they took the basic supplies, they asked, “Where’s FEMA?” is a constant refrain.

Even without electricity and water, they refused to leave – instead demanding that the government allow them to build a temporary bridge to restore access to the island, Mr. What DeSantis said Wednesday came true. However, residents of the island and nearby communities said they felt neglected.

“FEMA, the government, they don’t give a crap about people here like us,” said Chris Buxton, 49, who escaped the storm in a low-lying area of ​​North Fort Myers and waded into his small white rental home.

On Tuesday, there was more No electricity, mister. Buxton’s van was dead, and his belongings lay in a soggy pile in the front yard. The maintenance manager Mr. said that none of the government relief workers went to the neighborhood. Buxton said.

Mr. DeSantis voted against hurricane aid for the New York region when he was a freshman in Congress in 2013, but he tried “Put politics aside” He requested emergency federal reimbursement immediately after Ian’s attack last Wednesday.

“When people are fighting for their lives, when their livelihoods are at stake, when they’ve lost everything – if you can’t put politics aside, you can’t.” He told Tucker Carlson of Fox News last week. In recent days, Mr. DeSantis assumed a more familiar battle posture. He chided reporters for questioning why officials in Lee County, where at least 58 people died in the storm, delayed issuing evacuation orders until the day before Ian made landfall.

At a briefing Tuesday, he talked about the post-hurricane looting in the context of immigration, referring to three people arrested on suspicion of recent looting as “illegal aliens.” “Shouldn’t Be Here” Applause from the crowd around him.

Fear of looting was rampant, and residents vowed to protect their property at all costs—Mr. DeSantis echoed this stance when he said “the rights of Floridians to defend themselves and their homes will be respected.” Rick Rufenacht, a 65-year-old retiree, said he was thankful for at least the local law enforcement response.

“Police are walking up and down the street, tracking looters,” he said. “You feel safe when you see them.”

Fort Myers Beach’s long-term recovery will need to be privately funded, with homeowners getting insurance refunds and developers rebuilding, Mr. Rufenacht said.

“Keep the government out of the area,” he said.

Jennifer Reid And Mitch Smith Contributed report.