Even by Florida’s hurricane-hardened standards, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ian is agonizing — and the full extent of the damage has yet to be calculated. As of Friday afternoon, barely 48 hours after the Category 4 storm tore through southwest Florida, leveling roads, bridges, buildings and homes, Ian had caused at least 21 deaths and left 2 million Florida customers without power.
The immediate task, of course, is to reach survivors and to provide life-saving shelter and essentials. That will require a Herculean effort and tight coordination by federal, state and local agencies, all of whom will play a critical role in getting storm victims back on their feet. In the coming days and weeks, three tasks seem especially vital to the recovery.
Federal leadership. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has its hands full, managing the ongoing relief effort in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona, the new disaster in Florida and readying for the impacts from Hurricane Ian as it bore down Friday on the Carolinas. FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell was in Florida inspecting the damage on Friday and tweeted that “the entire federal family is committed to responding and supporting Floridians for however long it takes.” That’s reassuring. The agency must meet the needs of these disaster areas in a timely manner. The administration and Congress should provide FEMA what it needs to stabilize these crises on the ground and to kick-start the cleanup and rebuilding effort.
Helping with insurers. Florida’s property insurance market was a mess long before Ian smashed ashore near Fort Myers. But now tens of thousands of Floridians whose homes were lost or destroyed face the additional struggle of dealing with their insurers. Jimmy Patronis, the state’s chief financial officer, who oversees insurance, needs to help Floridians navigate the claims process. Many property owners have lost everything, including photographs and documents they may need to process an application. Many victims are also suffering from anxiety, economic hardship and personal loss. The state needs to assist these Floridians and ensure they are not stymied by predatory business practices or bureaucratic hurdles.
Beyond bottled water. With businesses destroyed, and thousands of homes leveled or unfit for habitation, southwest Florida faces a range of needs over the medium term. Governments and nonprofits will need to provide temporary housing over a sustained period of time. The state will need to expedite jobless claims and help assist workers and small employers access the social safety net. Public transportation also will be more important as residents who lost their vehicles or income struggle to get to and from their destinations. Residents need to feel they are on track to regaining a sense of normalcy. And they need to see a sense of urgency and sustained commitment to the massive reconstruction job ahead.
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Average Floridians across the state can help, too, by donating to a reputable charity that assists storm victims and by urging elected officials in every corner of Florida to make the recovery effort a statewide priority. Ian showed that hurricanes are an unpredictable, indiscriminate punisher. They are a reality of living in Florida, which require everyone to pull together with an efficient, coordinated and compassionate response.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.