The not-so-good news: Agencies largely in ‘assessment’ phase The good news: Sunny skies in the forecast
Assessment. That was the word of the day late Saturday morning, as federal officials conducted a press call organized by FEMA, as at least 1.3 million customers remained without power and many without running water in Florida.
The Army Corps of Engineers reported “infrastructure assessment teams” in the area. It’s also assessing navigation near Sanibel and “what we are up against in establishing ferry operations” said Brig. Gen. Daniel Hibner.
Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis announced five more Urban Search & Rescue Teams are being deployed to Florida, for a total of 16 teams that are working lifesaving missions related to Hurricane Ian. The newly deployed teams include New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Missouri, and Massachusetts. The deployed contingent will add to Florida’s six US&R Teams and five teams from other states, including two Virginia teams, and ones from Texas, Ohio and Indiana.
The US&R teams have completed nearly 1,000 human interactions, which is defined as a breadth of engagements by US&R team members including providing lifesaving care and facilitating evacuations. The teams have also completed over 28,000 assessments of damaged structures. With additional deployed firefighting support teams, there are over 1,300 personnel being coordinated through the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Meanwhile, FEMA’s Sheri Fink talked about “impact assessments” going on throughout Southwest Florida, with priorities being search and rescue, commodity distribution, power and water restoration, and debris removal. FEMA had 2,000 employees on the ground here as of the conference call, mainly helping those in shelters access services, but plans are for workers to go door-to-door as recovery continues.
“Hundreds” of volunteers are in Southwest Florida now, said Anthony Tornetta of the Red Cross. He urged those without power to “go to a shelter, get something to eat, get some information, charge your devices, check in, and get help.”
Search and rescue continues to be the priority, with FEMA reporting 23 confirmed fatalities to the Lee County Sheriff’s Department’s 35. “It is with a heavy heart that I say that number," said Sheriff Carmine Marceno, in brief remarks at the Lee County Emergency Operations Center Saturday. He added that further information was not yet available on those dead due to attempts to reach next of kin.
The sheriff also said that there have been from 600 to 700 rescues made. In the FEMA press conference, Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson of the Coast Guard Seventh District, headquartered in Miami, reported rescue of 4,000 people in combined federal, state and local agencies.
One of the area Coast Guard stations was demolished, said McPherson. While search and rescue is a priority, so far “far fewer” people have been in need of medical assistance, with most in need of rescue being stranded, he said. FEMA’s Fink, however, reported 145 health care facilities impacted to some degree statewide.
Secondary priorities for the Coast Guard are opening area ports and waterways, with only Fort Myers remaining closed currently; and assessing pollution and debris in the area, including capsized boats and spills from marine fuel.
The “decaying” storm system continues to creep northward, having made a second landfall near Georgetown, South Carolina Friday afternoon.
The biggest problem locally is malfunction at the water distribution center in Lee County. “We’re partnering with local county and area public works to find a resolution to that,” said Army Corps Brig. Gen. Daniel Hibner. It’s “an issue of transmission lines specifically because of the buoyancy of the transmission lines for the water and the unprecedented amount of water coming up. We have bending and breaking of those lines. Actual repairs are being done by the county” with help from neighboring counties by agreement, he said.
The sunniest outlook came from Michael Musher of the National Weather Service: “Florida’s forecast looks really really good over the next four to five days with very limited chance of precipitation.”
By the numbers, as of an 11 a.m. press conference with FEMA on Saturday, Oct. 1:
- 23 confirmed fatalities
- 4,000 in Florida rescued by combined efforts on land, sea and air, the large majority from the barrier islands
- 145 health care facilities impacted
- 400 people and 100 pets rescued by Coast Guard
- 2,000 FEMA employees now on the ground
- 1.3 million customers without power in Florida
- 44,000 personnel staged across Florida “in the power sector”