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DeSantis announces Disaster Recovery Center in Fort Myers; bridges to barrier islands to be accessible

Hub will include a myriad of state agencies and insurance carriers

By CJ HADDAD / cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com - | Oct 4, 2022

Governor Ron DeSantis announced the state’s first Disaster Recovery Center will be at the Lakes Regional Library in Fort Myers.

DeSantis made the announcement at the site during a press conference Tuesday afternoon, and said efforts to gain access to the barrier islands is in the works.

The governor said he visited Pine Island for the first time on Tuesday, and that repairs to the bridge are underway and should be navigable this week.

“(The people of Pine Island) asked us for support and held devise a solution,” DeSantis said. “We looked to maybe ferry people, but I’m like, ‘You know what, let’s just patch this bridge.’ So it turns out, we’re going to have that bridge patched this week.”

DeSantis said as soon as the bridge is passable, Publix will be able to get additional supplies and run on generators. Additional lineman have also been recruited to help restore power.

“I will say, I probably saw more debris on Pine Island than any place I’ve been other than Fort Myers Beach,” DeSantis added. “Pine Island Bridge will be done this week.”

Making the bridge to Pine Island passable is something DeSantis said he’d like to see in Sanibel for the heavily damaged causeway. He said there is currently a contract up for bid for a company to “patch” the causeway and added he has not visited Sanibel yet but plans to on Wednesday.

“Now that’s a little bit more of a difficult fix than Pine Island because it’s broken in multiple ways, but I think you can get a temporary solution there to be able to restore access to Sanibel and Captiva,” DeSantis said.

His vision is to have all of the barrier islands work in conjunction, setting up a command and control element at five different locations. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said at each location there will be a local member of unified command, state member, and federal FEMA representative. Those sites are to be located in areas such as Fort Myers Beach, Captiva, and Pine Island, with assistance to other barrier island locations.

“Our view at the state level is that you do all of this stuff on parallel tracks, you don’t wait until one thing is done and then start the next,” DeSantis said. “Let’s start them all and move them forward. It will really help those barrier islands start moving in a forward direction.”

DeSantis said there have been more than 2,300 recuses by urban search and rescue teams made up of over a thousand personnel, checking on more than 79,000 structures to check on occupants.

“There is more urban search and rescue capability in Florida since this storm than has ever been in one state since 9/11 when they were in New York City,” DeSantis said.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis added, “These men and women are working tirelessly. And sometimes there’s bad news. But they live for the life they save. They find people and it’s a game-changer. It’s nourishment to their soul and makes them work that much harder. They’re saving lives and doing everything possible.”

DeSantis said during the most recent budget meeting foe the state, a disaster relief fund of $500 million was created.

“We plan for these things and we pray that they don’t happen, but you’ve got to be ready in case they do,” he said., adding the 500 million is what was used for pre-storm efforts and bringing thousands of additional utility workers to the state.

“I think Lee County is the lineman capital of the United States,” DeSantis said. “Cape Coral needs attention now.”

Guthrie added, “If the governor wants to see a lineman on every block, I’m going to put a lineman on every block. You won’t be able to go out your front door in Cape Coral without seeing a lineman very quickly.”

The Disaster Recovery Center in Fort Myers will be open daily from 9 a.m to 6 p.m. to serve residents as a hub of information and resources. DeSantis did not individuals do not need to come to the site to receive FEMA assistance, and could certainly still do so online if possible.

“This is a one-stop shop where people can show up, it’s safe and secure, there’s internet,” Patronis said.

There will be a total of 10 state and federal agencies on site, as well as FEMA assistance, temporary housing assistance disaster loan assistance, re-employment assistance, countless insurance companies, and more.

DeSantis on Tuesday activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Loan Program, where $50 million is available ($10 million for agricultural businesses). The short-term loans are 0% interest for small businesses that suffered economical injury or physical damage due to Hurricane Ian. The program runs until Dec. 2, 2022 or until all funs are allocated.

“We have the ability to up the anti on that program if we need to,” DeSantis said.

Patronis will set up shop at the site with an “insurance village” of sorts for claim assistance.

“We are here until you are made whole,” Patronis said.

The site also includes five Starlink devices courtesy of Elon Musk, giving those in the area access to the Internet.

Guthrie is working to establish other Disaster Recovery Centers in the area this week.

DeSantis said as of Tuesday afternoon, there had been 3.2 million meals, 18 million bottles of water, and 87,000 bags of ice deployed to South Florida via pods.

The Blue Roof program provided by the Army Corps of Engineers has arrived in the area, where free, higher‐quality blue tarps are available.

“No one should be paying for a blue tarp,” Patronis said.

Guthrie said communities are ahead of schedule on getting water back.

The City of Fort Myers Water Treatment Plant is on generators pumping 8.6 million gallons per day at 60-PSI.

In Cape Coral, all generators for inoperable lift stations have arrived and install has started.

Guthrie said more than 200,000 have already applied for FEMA assistance and individuals have already been registered at the Fort Myers site.

Guthrie said Lee Memorial Hospital should be fully operational by Wednesday morning with the capability of up to 1,000 beds.

First Lady Casey DeSantis is spearheading a relief program at floridadisasterrelief.com where donations made will be used for Hurricane Ian damages. In total, the fund has raised nearly $35 million dollars.

“I’m asking everyone across the state of Florida, and really the nation, to contribute to this fund,” Casey DeSantis said. “We want to make sure that in addition to the resources that are available from the state and the federal government, and from FEMA, that we have these private sector dollars that will be utilized to help folks get back on their feet.”

For information on economic resources, visit www.floridadisaster.biz.

DeSantis is scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden on Wednesday during his trip to Southwest Florida.

Lakes Regional Library is at 15290 Bass Road in Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaDisaster.org/info.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj