Officials start Hurricane Hermine cleanup but state cannot yet ask for disaster declaration
State and local officials in North Florida are responding to the first hurricane in 11 years, trying to get power back online and assess damage, Gov. Rick Scott said Friday in his first public address since Hurricane Hermine pummelled the state.
“We will spend the coming days assessing the damage and responding to needs of our Florida families and communities,” Scott said at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee
It’s still too early to ask that a federal emergency be declared, said Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
To do that, the state must meet a minimum amount of damage: $26 million in uninsured losses for statewide assistance or 300 significantly damaged, uninsured homes for the federal government’s individual assistance.
“We’re not there yet,” Koon said. “We’re definitely counting those up and it’s a possibility.”
First, the state’s priority is ensuring the hardest-hit counties are safe and getting power back online.
Scott has been in contact with local sheriffs and mayors in affected counties, but most say they don’t need state assistance. He heard last night from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, but said President Barack Obama has not contacted him.
U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, said Thursday night that she is ready to help request a declaration.
A state of emergency declared by Scott will remain in effect as the state responds to give emergency response officials authority over contracts and spending to facilitate cleanup.
Thus far, just one death has been attributed to Hermine. In Marion County, a tree fell and hit a homeless man, Scott said.
But danger persists as downed power lines electrify standing water.
“Just because it’s clear outside does not mean it’s safe,” Scott said.
The state has deployed national guard units to Crystal River with instructions to move north up the coast, addressing any problems in communities hardest hit by the storm. A further 6,000 national guardsmen are ready to respond, Scott said.
He also praised first responders, including those in Pasco and Hernando counties who saved at least 18 people from rising flood waters.
“Heroes across our state answered the call last night to help,” Scott said.
Across North Florida, many are without power. In Wakulla County, where the storm made landfall, 99 percent do not have electricity. In Leon, it’s 68 percent.
In Tallahassee, downed trees block major roadways and street lights are out. Scott has spoken to Mayor Andrew Gillum and Sheriff Mike Wood, who are working to get power back online. They told the governor there are no unmet needs the state can help with.
Trees fell at the Governor’s Mansion, where Scott waited out the storm and around the Emergency Operations Center in the Southwood area of Tallahassee. After power went out, Koon said generators kicked in to keep the state’s emergency response online.
“The structure here worked exactly as it was supposed to,” he said.