WASHINGTON — As historic Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday, smashing records as the strongest ever to roar onto Florida’s panhandle, federal officials and lawmakers have prepared for the next steps.
- Federal officials prepare for Michael recovery efforts
- Florida senators are asking for help from federal agencies
"You’ll see a concerted effort at the federal level, at the state level, a unified effort to get as many services back online that our citizens are used to," Jeffrey Byard, the Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery with FEMA.
Federal officials are currently mapping out their response plans as Hurricane Michael continues to batter the south. Byard said there are nearly 3,000 employees in the field, assisting with the storm's aftermath.
“You’re going to see a lot of debris, major issues with access and transportation roads," Byard said. “A large search and rescue mission that will start immediately when it’s safe to do that. You’re going to have power outages. We will have limited water as far as waste water and water treatment plants are going to be down," he said.
Storm Prep Concerns
The state's emergency management chief accused north Florida officials of not sufficiently preparing for the storm.
Wes Maul, the director of the state's Division of Emergency Management, made those concerns known in an email sent to state legislators, county officials and mayors statewide.
Lawmakers and officials were aware of the blistering email exchange that happened Monday night, and it was not something they wanted to hear just hours before a major hurricane slammed into the state.
The email said that Panhandle officials were delayed in their storm operations when it came to sheltering and evacuation orders. Jeffrey Byard said he supported Maul.
"We don't look at criticism. What we want to do is look at what our operational priorities are, and that's going to be to save lives and to stabilize those critical life lines," Byard said. "We support director Maul, Gov. Scott and his team all the way to the locals. The best form of emergency management is going to be locally executed state managed and federally supported. We have a good model to go on in the state of Florida in this one," he said.
U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson said they were concerned about those who have chosen not to heed local warnings, though they didn't want to participate in the blame game over local preparations.
"I'm not going to get into a finger-pointing exercise at this point, or undermining local officials, because we're still getting ready for this to come in," Rubio said, hours before Michael's landfall. "We'll know more in the aftermath. Suffice it to say that the public has known and has been made aware of this for a number of days."
Asking for Federal Help
Both Florida senators are asking federal agencies for help as Hurricane Michael moves through the state, sending a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking for updates about coordination to prevent future tragedies such as the deaths of a dozen people at a South Florida nursing home during Hurricane Irma.
"We have deployable teams of about 35 doctors and nurses and technicians who we can send into nursing homes that are stranded. We work with urban search and rescue teams to extract patients in the aftermath of a storm," Azar said.
President Donald Trump approved Florida’s pre-landfall emergency declaration on Tuesday, which authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, which FEMA is under to coordinate disaster relief efforts and to provide appropriate assistance that is required. It’s still unclear if more funding will be needed.
“The storm has to happen first and then there will be an assessment of what the damages were and that’s what the funding is based on," Sen. Rubio said.
Sen. Bill Nelson said it's likely that the state of Florida will need more funding.
“With a Category 4 hurricane, this is going to be a lot of money that’s going to be needed in the future, so I’ll be working with Senator Rubio on getting those appropriations," Senator Nelson said.
If Congress approves additional disaster funding, it isn’t likely to happen before the midterm elections.