Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Florida officials concerned over initial estimates of Hurricane Irma tab

Posted By on Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 10:48 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO VIA NOAA/CIRA
State agencies spent $680.2 million after Hurricane Irma, with county government costs exceeding $1 billion, according to a draft of a report by the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness.

And while the state expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover most of the costs, the numbers —- separate from $2.49 billion spent by federal agencies in Florida —- will continue to grow, as the figures reported by the committee are more than a month old.

“Even now Hurricane Irma’s full damage to our state’s economy and industries is still being assessed, but initial estimates are concerning,” the draft report released Friday said. “In addition to emergency response costs, initial recovery costs were incurred for debris removal, temporary housing, food assistance, and other expenses. Although many of these costs are covered at least in part by federal assistance, state and local governments must bear some of the burden.”

The report was released before the committee was slated to meet Tuesday to consider 77 recommendations about the state’s response to Irma and the influx of people from Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria and how to prepare for future storms. Recommendations range from extending the Suncoast Parkway along the Gulf Coast as another northern evacuation route and setting up petroleum distribution centers throughout the state to imposing timelines to stop tree trimming and trash collection before storms so waste- management employees can prepare trucks and landfills.

Proposals advanced from the select committee will be go to other panels as lawmakers craft bills and the state budget during the legislative session that started last week.

The report said Florida is working to receive a storm designation from FEMA that would include a 90 percent federal cost share.

The state is expected to be responsible for at least $115 million of the local-government costs and 25 percent of what are known as “other needs assistance” payments, which include such things as medical expenses and funeral costs. Those payments are projected to be about $274 million, with the state’s share at least $68 million.

Federal “reimbursements for preparation and response efforts will be processed faster than reimbursements for recovery efforts such as longer-term infrastructure projects,” the report noted.

The report said long-term damage from the storm includes the loss of affordable housing in the Florida Keys, damage to wastewater and potable water infrastructure and severe erosion of large stretches of Florida’s coastline.

The report said the insurance industry faced $6.55 billion in property damages claims.

The Office of Insurance Regulation on Jan. 5 upped that figure to $7.2 billion.

The agriculture industry, which has been seeking a federal disaster-relief package, faces $2.5 billion in losses.

Hurricane Irma made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and pounded the state as it moved north. The storm created 18 tornadoes across the peninsula, caused at least 32 rivers and creeks to flood, and left 84 dead. The most shocking loss of life occurred at a Broward County nursing home, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which was evacuated Sept. 13, three days after Irma knocked out its air-conditioning system.

Eventually, the medical examiner ruled 12 deaths to be homicides due to heat exposure.

Power was knocked out to more than 64 percent of the state. The Federal Communications Commission reported that on Sept. 12, 82 percent of the cell towers in Monroe County, 73 percent in Collier County and 78 percent in Hendry County weren’t working. About 50 percent of cell towers were not functioning in another six counties, including Lee and Miami-Dade counties.

Evacuation orders were issued in 54 of the state’s 67 counties, as the storm’s projected track changed.

A record 6.5 million people evacuated, which forced the Department of Transportation to open the left shoulder for northbound traffic on Interstate 75 from the intersection of Florida’s Turnpike in Wildwood to the Georgia state line starting Sept. 8 and on Interstate 4 from Tampa to State Road 429 near Celebration for a few hours on Sept. 9.

The report acknowledged that even with the new technique, established before the start of the 2017 hurricane season, traffic congestion was found across northbound Interstate 95, the Turnpike and Interstate 75.

After the storm, the State Emergency Response Team distributed more than 6.7 million meals and 10.7 million liters of water, as well as over 71,000 tarps and 13,000 cots.

Nearly 700 shelters opened, housing 191,764 people at the peak of the storm.

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