DeSantis pledges chartered flights for Floridians stuck in Israel

The death toll of the latest Israel-Hamas war has continued to rise, including the number of Americans who have been killed.
In this file photo, Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event on Oct. 5 in Tampa.
In this file photo, Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event on Oct. 5 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 12, 2023|Updated Oct. 13, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Thursday declaring a state of emergency over the Israel-Hamas war, saying Floridians needed help evacuating from Israel. The order came days after Hamas attacked the country, sparking a war that has already claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people in Israel, at least 1,500 in Gaza and 27 Americans.

“Specifically, this order enables the Florida Division of Emergency Management to bring Floridians home and transport necessary supplies to Israel,” it reads.

Alecia Collins, spokesperson for the Division of Emergency Management, said that the division “is arranging for chartered flights home for Floridians currently in Israel,” as well as for the transport of “supplies” there.

Collins did not immediately respond to emailed follow-up questions, including whether state government personnel would be involved with these flights, how many flights there would be and what supplies were being sent. The executive order directs officials to activate both the Florida National Guard and the Florida State Guard “as needed” to be part of the emergency response.

It is unclear how many Floridians are currently trying to leave Israel. DeSantis’ office stated that “there are more than 20,000 Americans, including Floridians, in Israel who wish to return home but are unable to do so.”

McKinley Lewis, spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, said Scott’s office has been communicating with “dozens of individuals and groups regarding Floridians currently in Israel.”

Media reports have emerged of some Floridians having trouble getting out of Israel, including a church group of 54 people from northeast Florida that was touring biblical sites when the war broke out. On Tuesday, News4Jax reported that the group had safely crossed the border into Jordan and was awaiting a flight back to the U.S.

The executive order, which was filed while DeSantis was in New Hampshire for his presidential campaign, criticizes the federal government, saying President Joe Biden’s administration “has failed to launch any form of rescue or evacuation operations for Americans.”

Around the same time the order came out Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Department of State announced it was similarly planning to arrange charter flights starting Friday for American citizens and their families “who have been unable to book commercial transit and seek a safe means of departing Israel.”