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Gov. DeSantis announces $1.1 million raised for victims of January tornadoes in Lee and Charlotte Counties

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John Davis, WGCU
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Gov. DeSantis announces the award of $10,000 checks to 43 victims whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged by tornadoes that touched won in Charlotte and Lee Counties on Jan. 16.

Governor Ron DeSantis, on Friday, returned to the same tornado-ravaged mobile home community in South Fort Myers that he visited on Feb. 18 to announce the distribution of relief money to victims. Florida continues to challenge the denial of individual assistance requested from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

DeSantis announced that $10,000 checks have been distributed to 43 victims whose homes were damaged or destroyed when an EF-2 tornado touched down in Charlotte County and an EF-1 tornado touched down in South Fort Myers the morning of Jan. 16.

A damage assessment conducted by federal, state, and local agencies found that 158 homes were destroyed or severely damaged and about 300 people were displaced. In Lee County alone, damage to residential properties comes to an estimated $7.1 million with an additional $1.2 million in damage to commercial properties.

Last month, DeSantis noted that the tornado disproportionally impacted vulnerable seniors as 84% of those impacted are people receiving social security.

The process of accepting and soliciting donations is being managed by the Charlotte Community Foundation and Volunteer Florida and the money is being distributed through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

DEO identified another $7.4 million in support for tornado victims through various existing state programs.

“I had the Republican party of Florida kick in $100,000. We also had a lot of different businesses across Florida that have put in significant amounts of money as well. So we thank them,” said DeSantis.

On Feb. 15, FEMA notified the Florida Division of Emergency Management that the federal agency had denied Florida’s request for individual assistance to victims, saying the severity and magnitude of the damage was not beyond the capabilities of state and local governments. The Division of Emergency Management has appealed that denial, and DeSantis said there’s no clear timeline on when FEMA will respond to that appeal.

DeSantis said he was “ticked off” with FEMA’s denial of individual assistance and repeated his accusation that the decision is a political ploy.

“To deny tornado victims just because of politics is wrong,” said DeSantis.

The disaster aid checks distributed Friday account for just over 38% of the $1.115 million raised so far, and DeSantis is encouraging more victims to apply.

Applications for assistance and donations can both be made at FloridaDisaster.org/assistance.

After stopping in Fort Myers, DeSantis headed to Ocala, where Marion County officials estimate more than $15 million in damages was caused by a tornado that tore through the region Saturday.

The state has requested individual disaster assistance for victims of that tornado as well, and DeSantis said Florida will likely get a response to that request before FEMA responds to the appeal for aid to the victims of the Jan. 16 tornadoes.