‘500-year flood event:’ Gov. DeSantis discusses statewide response as Ian’s rains fill Florida

1st 72 hours dedicated to rescue, recovery efforts, assisting displaced Floridians

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference Thursday morning at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee to discuss the latest official outlook regarding what is now Tropical Storm Ian.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis updated Floridians at multiple news briefings Thursday to discuss the state’s ongoing response to Hurricane Ian.

DeSantis described the large-scale recovery efforts underway in hard-hit areas, primarily in South Florida, at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

[TRENDING: SATELLITE, TRACK, MODELS: Tropical Storm Ian aims for Atlantic after swamping southwest Florida | Ian: County-by-county impacts in Central Florida | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

“These first 72 hours are really (about) life safety, and then working to restore the main services—power, fuel and communications—and there’s massive numbers of people on the ground working 24/7 to do that,” the governor said Thursday evening. “Of course, it’s too early to know exactly what the needs of everybody is going to be, but we obviously anticipate some Floridians may end up being displaced from their homes.”

DeSantis said the Florida Disaster Fund, spearheaded by First Lady Casey DeSantis, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are offering financial assistance to residents impacted by Ian, including those living in Orange, Osceola, Polk and Seminole counties.

Seminole County Emergency Management is beginning the task of assessing the full scope of damage done to the county by Ian.

“FEMA has approved our request to add some of the Central Florida counties into the individual assistance,” DeSantis said. “As the storm has moved through the state, it has caused a lot of problems with really historic flooding in parts of Central Florida and into northeast Florida and so it’s important that those folks also have the ability to get assistance if they need it.”

He said those who wish to help, either financially or by volunteering in person, can find opportunities on the Volunteer Florida website.

“It’s much better to donate financially than to send items,” he said. “And we really appreciate the thought when people want to send water, (when) they want to send these things, but you know, Florida (nonprofits) and others have been contracted for this.”

DeSantis also added 2.02 million power outages were reported statewide, just shy of 10% of Florida’s population in the 2020 Census.

“If you look, there’s 1.5 million outages in seven southwest Florida counties. Lee and Charlotte are basically off the grid at this point. Sarasota has a quarter of a million without power, Hillsborough 222,000, Pinellas 150,000, Manatee 129,000. The Charlotte and Lee reconnects are really going to likely have to be rebuilding of that infrastructure, and so there are linemen, there are crews that are on their way down right now, but that’s going to be more than just connecting a power line back to a pole,” DeSantis said.

As of Thursday, rain from Ian had led to dozens of high water rescues throughout Central Florida, with more stranded vehicles revealed as time passed and the sun rose behind clouds to illuminate scores of flooded roadways.

“Right now if you look in Central Florida, you’re looking at potential major flooding in Orange and Seminole counties, St. Johns River all the way up potentially into Northeast Florida and Jacksonville. The amount of water that’s been rising and will likely continue to rise today even as the storm is passing is basically a 500-year flood event,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis was accompanied at the conference by Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Department of Emergency Management, who said the state is working to see resolutions in the next 72 hours as the storm still poses a major threat to areas including Central and Northeast Florida.

“That 72-hour clock is that we search first, we secure and then we stabilize. That is what the focus of the state’s response is gonna be over the next 72 hours,” Guthrie said, suggesting people complete a FDEM shelter in place survey by visiting floridadisaster.org/report.

In Kissimmee, multiple high water rescues began Thursday morning as rain from what is now Tropical Storm Ian flooded roads, leaving vehicles stalled and stranded..

Florida Florida’s first lady, who organized Volunteer Florida to activate the Florida Disaster Fund alongside corporate partners, spoke as well, thanking those assisting recovery efforts both at their desks and waist-deep in Ian’s floodwaters.

“I just want to say on behalf of the governor and myself, everyone here who’s working at the Emergency Operations Center, all of the men and women who have not left since this disaster began; to all of those people across the state, first responders, I want to say ‘Thank you,’” DeSantis said.

President Joe Biden on Thursday declared a major disaster exists in Florida due to damage from Ian, approving a request made by the governor the day prior. DeSantis said Thursday that while the approval was appreciated, it did not entirely fill the rubric, largely granting federal funds to be used in select counties instead of the entire state.

President Joe Biden on Thursday declared a major disaster exists in Florida due to damage from what is now Tropical Storm Ian, approving a request made by Gov. DeSantis the day prior.

“I just spoke with the president this morning and he offered support. I told him, ‘Thanks for this, but because the storm has moved inland and caused a lot of potential damage in the center part of our state that we were going to be asking for those counties to be expanded and included there, but for now we have approval for Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota. That will allow individual Floridians to seek individual assistance from FEMA, and that will be something that, as you have people that have been displaced due to the catastrophic impacts of Hurricane Ian, that’s going to be something that’s going to be necessary,” DeSantis said. “We have been granted 100% federal assistance for Category A and B upfront for 30 days to ensure we can quickly move forward into the system response and recovery situation. FEMA has, as I mentioned, activated individual assistance for those in need of help who qualify, you go to fema.gov or you can call 1-800-621-3262.”

According to a statement from the White House, Biden told DeSantis he would send his FEMA administrator to Florida on Friday to check on response efforts and to determine where additional support is needed.

Watch the full news conference in the video player at the top of this story.

Rain from Hurricane Ian flooded Lake Eola in downtown Orlando.

The governor also held another news conference at Charlotte County’s Emergency Operations Center in Punta Gorda on Thursday. DeSantis, state Chief Financial Officer and Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis, Guthrie and Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy described the situation in the county, noted so far as one of the worst hit in Florida by Hurricane Ian.

“I’m really impressed with the resiliency that we’re seeing here in Charlotte County. This is not anything anyone wanted to deal with, but if you go back 72 hours before landfall, most of southwest Florida was not even in the cone, and then you have a situation where you’re staring down the barrel of a hurricane making landfall at 155 miles an hour. So the response here, and just the way people have reacted, has been very, very impressive, and we understand this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more that’s going to need to be done and the state of Florida is going to be good partners with the folks here at the local level,” DeSantis said.

Lee County, too, was left especially damaged in the hurricane.

“Well, Sanibel is destruction. I mean, for those of you who haven’t been, it’s a beautiful place, really neat community, and it got hit with really biblical storm surge, and it washed away roads and washed away structures that were not new and could withstand that. There have been a number of people that have been identified and brought off the island safely and those efforts are ongoing, not only with- the Coast Guard has been involved in that, our USAR teams and as well as local law enforcement,” DeSantis said.

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About the Authors:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.