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DeSantis mobilizes national guard ahead of likely hurricane

POLITICO 9/25/2022 By Arek Sarkissian
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Miami. © Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Miami.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday said the state is mobilizing resources as Tropical Storm Ian bears down on the state, including activating 2,500 national guard troops and preparing more than 2 million meals for residents.

DeSantis, speaking to reporters during a news conference inside the state Emergency Operations Center, said the latest forecast shows that Ian will make landfall in Taylor County in northern Florida by mid-week. While the storm may weaken or change its current path, the governor urged people to begin preparing for a major weather event that could leave many Floridians without power for days.

“It's too soon to say that there's not going to be a wobble,” DeSantis said, later adding, “or there's not going to be any type of curvature back into the Florida peninsula.”

The National Hurricane Center in Miami stated that Ian is expected to hit the western side of Cuba before it heads toward Florida over the Gulf of Mexico, where warm waters could turn the storm into a major hurricane. Early forecasts show Ian will hit Florida as a Category 1 storm with winds up to 95 miles per hour.

DeSantis has already declared a state of emergency ahead of Ian. On Saturday, President Joe Biden announced an emergency for Florida, which allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin coordinating efforts before the storm.

Although DeSantis routinely criticizes Biden and his administration over issues like immigration, education and Covid-19 mandates, the Florida governor on Sunday thanked the White House for its assistance. DeSantis added that he’s been in contact with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell since Friday.

“They stand by ready to help, so we appreciate that quick action,” DeSantis said.

Biden was scheduled to visit Florida on Tuesday to campaign in Orlando with Democrat Charlie Crist, who is running for governor against DeSantis. The White House postponed the trip due to the impending storm.

DeSantis said the greatest threat is from storm surges, which occur as the storm comes on shore. Residents should also expect power outages and gasoline shortages as emergency crews work to repair lines of service during and after the storm.

“That's something that could happen with a hurricane of this magnitude,” DeSantis said.

Ian could be the first major hurricane to impact Florida during DeSantis' first term as governor. Hurricane Dorian had threatened to hit the state in August 2019 as a Category 4 storm, but it ended up being much weaker, only impacting the western edge of the Panhandle.

DeSantis said early forecasts show Ian could weaken before the storm hits the coast. But it will still pack plenty of rainfall that will cause flooding, a potentially deadly outcome. Flash flooding around greater Jacksonville after Hurricane Irma in 2017 left hundreds of residents with less than an hour to evacuate as coastal rivers bloated, leaving neighborhoods under water.

“It is expected to weaken by the time it makes landfall and would no longer be a major hurricane, but it will still have significant impacts,” DeSantis said. “You're talking about a lot of rain, you're talking about surge, and you're talking about flooding.”

During the press conference, DeSantis was joined by Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, who said the state has already moved 360 trailers carrying 2 million meals and 1 million gallons of water to areas along the Gulf Coast. The state has also removed roadway weight restrictions so that more trucks can bring in more supplies from outside the state.

Guthrie said people should begin gathering supplies now and closely follow evacuation orders and plans. To warn against unnecessary mass evacuations, Guthrie sought to remind people of Hurricane Irma, which led to more than 6 million people leaving their homes. He said about 2 million of those evacuees did not need to evacuate.

“I encourage all Floridians to not only continue these preparedness efforts,” Guthrie said, “but also, take the time to know their zone and know their home.”

Guthrie said DEM has received 122 requests from counties seeking help with preparing for the storm. The resources they requested are now en route, he said.

DeSantis said Ian's landfall prediction could be moved west as the storm inches closer to Florida, placing it in a path of areas of the Panhandle that have the lowest-income counties in the state. The same area was pummeled by Hurricane Michael after that Category 5 storm made landfall east of Panama City Beach in 2018, causing more than $18 billion in damages and 50 fatalities. Ian is not expected to cause as much damage as Michael.

"It would likely be more of a water and flood and storm-surge event rather than the type of buzzsaw that we saw with Michael four years ago," DeSantis said, "where any building that was not really sturdy was basically getting flattened."

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