A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 400

A.G. Gancarski

Jacksonville in ‘rescue’ and ‘assessment’ mode, post-Irma

As Jacksonville policy makers struggle to deal with the consequences of a historic hurricane, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry noted Monday afternoon that the city is still in “rescue” mode.

“A Cat 3 surge and Tropical Storm conditions,” Curry said, has been unseen locally in 150 years.

“That’s why we gave people plenty of time to evacuate,” Curry said, “now here we are.”

The city, in large part because people in low-lying areas did not evacuate, is still in “rescue” mode.

And some don’t want to be rescued.

“If you were on the second floor today, and decided to wait out the [flooding],” Curry said, “flood waters are not going to recede” anytime soon.

Recovery from the storm comes later, as impacts are still being addressed from widespread wind damage and flooding.

And that flooding isn’t slated to abate for days in neighborhoods by the St. Johns River, such as Avondale, Riverside, and others, where rescues have been underway: 100 of them Monday at this writing.

The high tide may go down a foot over the next several hours; however, flooded streets by the river will still stay flooded over the next week.

On Monday, Curry witnessed “first-hand” rescues, noting that professionals are stepping up, but “neighbors helping neighbors” also.

That neighborly spirit will be needed over what Curry says could be a week-long event, one in which power restoration will be slow to come for the 250,000 in the dark, part of what Curry called a larger “strain on the entire state.”

“Professionals will bust their butts to get power back on,” Curry said.

JEA CEO Paul McElroy said that power restoration would be slow.

“Storm assessment,” McElroy said, is happening now along with cut and toss efforts from the city.

However, “even if we had clear access,” McElroy cautioned that the winds are just below 40 MPH.

Once the winds die down, JEA has 500 crew members ready to work in the field: vegetation experts and line workers, ready to go 16 hours a day.

Meanwhile, the beach communities are still evacuated, and city leaders cautioned that, while “working aggressively” to let residents back in, it has to happen in a “safe, orderly manner.”

Rob Bradley: People will be ‘stunned’ by rural impacts of Irma

In its perilous path north across the Florida peninsula, Hurricane Irma certainly wreaked havoc in major cities. However, Sen. Rob Bradley knows better than most how hard hit rural counties were by the storm.

Many of those counties are in his district, which includes swaths of Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Marion, Suwannee, and Union Counties.

“There has been understandable focus on the Keys and south Florida, and then Tampa and Orlando as the hurricane moved north. People are going to be surprised, even stunned, when the storm leaves our state and everyone sees what has happened to parts of northeast Florida,” Bradley noted Monday.

Some impacts — such as those on north central Florida and the Big Bend — Bradley has yet to assess.

Others are known, including major impacts for Clay County, which Bradley said is “significantly impacted.”

“Black Creek, Swimming Pen Creek, Doctors Lake and other tributaries of the St. John’s River are experiencing record flooding events,” Bradley noted.

“Clay County went from 30,000 to 200,000 people over the past 40 years,” Bradley added. “It’s fair to say that all of these new residents haven’t experienced anything like this.”

As in major cities, the “focus remains 100 percent on protection of lives.”

“Emergency management teams and law enforcement are literally walking the neighborhoods, making sure that there aren’t any immediate life safety events to address,” Bradley noted.

 

Jacksonville riverfront residents face new threats from record high tide

A walk through Jacksonville’s Avondale neighborhood Monday morning revealed the destruction Hurricane Irma had wrought.

But even as the storm was headed out, more danger follows Monday afternoon, via record high tides.

Avondale, along with Riverside and Downtown, got the worst of the flooding; Avondale also got some of the most brutal winds, the kind that take out trees older than most of the human residents.

Downed trees knocked out stoplights in some places, power lines in more places, suggesting that restoration will be no easy fix.

A more immediate worry for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, and the city’s first responders: rescuing those who are in houses close to the river, houses under threat from a rising high tide coursing in from the St. Johns River into some of the most exclusive properties in the city.

We saw Curry and Mousa in a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office vehicle this morning, in between media briefings.

Curry’s priority: saving lives at this point, as the tide will sweep in this afternoon. Rescue efforts are underway for people who are stuck in properties subject to river rise.

And those rescue efforts, and restoration efforts, will be challenging operations — with coordination of local and state resources, including three teams -22 LEOs- of pre-staged FWC officers en route to Jacksonville areas where flooding is reported.

Time is of the essence in those cases. For those not fighting Irma’s last major high tide in Jacksonville, concerns are more quotidian, including power restoration; 259,000 JEA customers lacked electricity shortly after 11:30 a.m.

“Most of the state is without power right now,” Curry noted in the briefing.

But for those in flood-prone areas, such as San Marco, Avondale, Riverside, and others, it’s go time, Curry said, noting that he had ordered voluntary evacuations of these areas Wednesday.

The shelters, said Curry, are 20 percent full.

“We’ve got room,” Curry said.

“This is a Cat 3 type surge from a tropical storm,” Curry said, noting a 6 foot rise from normal water levels.

These are attributable to high tide and unprecedented rains from Irma. And full abatement will take a week.

The city will be closed through Tuesday, as the focus will be on recovery from the storm. The city’s helpline — 630-CITY — will be devoted to people who need rescue.

“We will keep you posted and updated,” Curry said.

“Let’s go take care of people.”

Irma wallops Jacksonville: historic floods, 250K+ without power

The morning of Sept. 11, 2017 saw the Jacksonville area waking up to the devastation left by Hurricane Irma, even without a direct hit as suffered out west.

Onshore flow rocked Jacksonville’s beaches in the wake of Matthew. Flood waters coursed through St. Augustine, yet again, along with low-lying areas, such as Downtown, Riverside, Old Mandarin, Broward Road, and San Marco. Impacts in many places exceeded that of 1964’s Hurricane Dora: the previous benchmark for the area; downtown saw flooding unseen since the 19th century. Docks throughout town: destroyed.

Tree damage was noticed even before Irma made its approach, a fierce Nor’easter serving as the hurricane’s warm up act; winds that gusted past Category 1 throughout the night only exacerbated that.

Meanwhile, the city itself was not spared. A symphony of exploding power transformers started before midnight and continued even as day broke, with well over 270,000 JEA customers without power at 9:40 a.m. — more than was the case in the wake of Matthew, even as the storm’s tropical storm force winds gusted to gales as the system made its exit.

The Beaches, evacuated days before, are in the dark.

Jacksonville, still waiting for federal reimbursements totaling $26 million from Matthew, was in no position to assess the financial hit taken early Monday morning. The city, Mayor Lenny Curry said before the storm, had “adequate reserves” to take a Matthew-sized hit. But, as the storm bore down on Jacksonville for over 12 hours with tropical storm winds and higher gusts, there were strong indications that hit may be harder than the one incurred last year.

Right now, Curry said it’s “too early” to assess financial impacts; right now, it’s about saving lives.

However, there was plenty that could be said. And as elsewhere in Florida, there is plenty to rebuild. But for some, the worst is not over.

“Serious storm surge,” Curry said, was along the river, bringing “serious flood risk.”

Those who need rescue from flood-prone areas are encouraged to put a white flag outside, to show they are in distress.

City and state rescue teams will be available. JFRD has already gotten one call per minute.

“3 teams -22 LEOs- of pre-staged FWC officers are en route to Jacksonville areas where flooding is reported,” asserted Gov. Rick Scott‘s deputy communications director, McKinley Lewis, after the briefing.

Flooding, said the NWS weather person, has already surpassed historic levels, and will only get worse with this afternoon’s high tide.

“The data that we had spoke to the seriousness of this storm,” Curry said regarding the evacuation.

There’s no data as to fatalities, but injuries via trees through houses and structure fires are another matter.

Kim Daniels claims Irma was ‘revealed to prophets first’

State Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat, may have had the most idiosyncratic reaction of any office holder to Hurricane Irma.

She claimed that God revealed it to prophets, an unusual reaction by a state lawmaker to a natural disaster that the state and the nation will take years to recover from.

Daniels posted to Facebook that “Chuck Pierce prophesied that a surge was coming to Fla in July (Open Heaven Conference in Tallahassee) He saw something coming up the middle of Fla and put a map of it on the screen. Nothing happens except God reveal it to prophets first.”

Indeed.

Daniels screenshotted a post from Rev. Gregory James of Tallahassee that further illuminated this prophesy.

“I Recall being present for a Heaven on Earth Conference in Tallahassee Fl in July withState Representative Kimberly Daniels … and the Apostle Chuck Pierce said Florida was about to experience a SURGE he placed the map of Florida up on the screen and declared that God wants Florida attention! As I’m listening to the Weather Channel they keep using the word STORM SURGE! STORM SURGE!”

Daniels, who entered politics in Jacksonville in 2011, has a history of idiosyncratic opinions,

It will be interesting to see how state and local policymakers respond to the theory that the mass destruction  of Hurricane Irma was a sign that “God wants Florida attention,” as Rev. James put it.

Jacksonville Republicans, meanwhile, are just as given to fatuous quasi-spiritual musings about hurricanes as God’s punishment.

Local Republican political consultant Raymond Johnson recently posited on his “Biblical Concepts Ministries” Facebook page that Harvey was Houston’s punishment for having had a lesbian mayor once.

“Houstoun did have a lesbian mayor that so intentionally sought to legally persecute pastors that preached biblical truth. Hum something to consider in light of the scriptures???”

Lenny Curry: ‘I’m praying for the city, praying for you’

Even as Irma bears down on the West Coast of Florida, the mammoth impacts of the storm are felt in the state’s Northeast corner.

On Sunday night, Jacksonville got ready for a night that is expected to bring 12 hours of tropical storm force winds, massive flooding of low-lying areas, and other impacts.

“I’m praying for the city, I’m praying for you,” said Mayor Lenny Curry Sunday evening at a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center.

“It’s going to get very real after 8 PM.” Curry said. “Be at home or in a shelter. Stay off the roads.”

Curry, who had friends and family who didn’t evacuate storm ravaged Key West, spoke out of concern and practicality.

“If a place doesn’t feel safe,” Curry said, “get to a shelter.”

40 to 60 MPH winds, over the course of 12 hours, will present impacts — tests of the city’s infrastructure, just 11 months after Matthew presented its own challenges that cost the city $50M — $27M of it is still pending FEMA reimbursement.

“This is a long time for the city to take a beating,” Curry said, as outer rainbands squalled in, the presage of torment to come.

Irma is to the west of Jacksonville; however, tropical storm force winds range 200 miles to the east of the eye.

Law enforcement will be out of the field during the height of the storm, powerless to deal with issues.

And bridges, soon enough, will close as the winds top 40 MPH.

Assessment of damage will come Monday, as winds die down after sunrise.

With that, the long night has begun.

President Donald Trump approves major disaster declaration for Florida

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has petitioned the White House for a major disaster declaration for Florida, and as Irma closed in on Florida’s West Coast Sunday it was granted.

Governor Rick Scott said, “It’s clear that the entire country is standing with Florida as Hurricane Irma batters our state right now. I have heard from people all across the world that want to help and support Florida. It’s encouraging, and on behalf of all Floridians – we appreciate the support and constant collaboration.”

“I am thankful that President Trump, who I’ve spoken with multiple times this week, has been 100 percent supportive of our efforts and offered every resource of the federal government. Working with local emergency management professionals and FEMA, we will make sure that no expense is spared to help families respond and recover,” Scott added.

These much-needed resources include 100 percent federal reimbursement for thirty days in all counties for emergency protective measures.

After the thirty days, the Governor’s office asserts, the federal government will reimburse 75 percent of such costs. This includes both local and state expenses.

The federal government will also offer 75 percent reimbursement for debris removal. and individual aid for residents who suffered damage in Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough; Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pinellas, and Sarasota Counties.

There may be more help coming; the Governor’s Office notes that “the federal reimbursement percentage may increase as damage assessments are reported.”

Jacksonville: Outside Irma cone, but still ‘under the gun’

On Sunday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry updated locals on the impacts of Hurricane Irma, churning in the Gulf toward Tallahassee.

Though the cone has shifted west as variables have fallen away from the forecast, there will be tropical storm force winds with potentially stronger gusts, along with flash flooding and tornado potential.

“Do not be lulled,” Curry said, this is a “very wide storm” and people are urged to “hunker down.”

By 8PM, Jacksonville residents will experience sustained tropical storm force winds; by midnight, conditions will deteriorate rapidly, with winds of 40 to 60 MPH and higher gusts.

Jacksonville is still “under the gun,” said the NWS weather person. But the threat is less than it seemed earlier this week, and certainly less than faced elsewhere.

The city’s cut and toss teams are out already, clearing debris, as a Nor’easter has been an impact this weekend.

Meanwhile, Curry said to expect power outages from this “major statewide event,” with demand on power crews expected to be more significant than Matthew.

Curry attempted to be positive, urging people to score some “mental relief and root for the Jaguars.”

However, for Curry, there were personal worries: family and friends were in Key West when the storm hit, and some did not evacuate.

And there had been no word since the storm passed from them.

Why John Rutherford was ‘not happy’ with disaster relief bill

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford expressed real concerns to FloridaPolitics.com about the $15.25B disaster relief bill the House passed.

His specific issue: raising the debt ceiling without spending cuts to ameliorate the impact.

Rutherford is cognizant of the need for FEMA money for relief from Harvey and now Irma; however, not unlike Sen. Marco Rubio, who lambasted the measure as one of the most “politically cynical” deals he’d ever seen. Rutherford had serious qualms about the mechanism of the deal, which included a deal cut with Congressional Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.

“Look, I was not happy with that at all. In fact,” Rutherford said, “I told some colleagues that I held my nose when I cast that vote, because I did not want to pass a clean debt ceiling bill, because I think we should put some mandatory cuts in there to help pay for some of this. But the President cut a different deal.”

“Look,” Rutherford added, “we can’t have FEMA running out of money in the middle of mitigation for Texas and Louisiana and shortly, Florida. I didn’t like it, but I had to vote for it.”

Some sources have reported that President Donald Trump disappointed GOP leadership by cutting a deal with the Democrats at the expense of conservative orthodoxy, such as that Rutherford espoused above.

Rutherford likewise was disappointed.

“I just thought he would give the Republican leadership the opportunity to respond to that first,” Rutherford said. “I can tell you there’s never been a debt ceiling raise without some mandatory spending cuts in there.”

Rutherford also has concerns about the long-term policy ramifications of such a move, seen by some conservatives as a sop to the center-left.

“This kind of drives home the point that I’ve been making about funding bringing people together, getting back to district-driven funding … funding creates a mutual need among Democrats and Republicans. This proves my point,” Rutherford said.

“I was at a budget meeting the other day,” Rutherford said. “I can tell you Republicans that I speak with are very concerned about raising the debt ceiling without mandatory cuts.”

That concern extends to Republicans currently out of office, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush, though “thankful” for FEMA funding, harbors concerns about America’s debt load — and the President’s alignment with Republican orthodoxy on deficit spending.

Bush noted Friday that America is in a “fiscal crisis,” with $20 Trillion in debt, and $60 Trillion in “contingent debt.”

Trump is “going to have to rely on conservatives and Republicans to carry out the agenda,” Bush said, though how much buy-in Trump has with conservatives at this point is an open question.

 

Lenny Curry: Irma a ‘serious threat’ to Duval County

Though Hurricane Irma’s cone of uncertainty continues to jog west, eliding some of Duval County in Saturday mprojections, Jacksonville still faces storm impacts to come.

And the hurricane warning covering the area reflects that.

High winds and downed trees will be a certainty no matter where the storm makes landfall, as will torrential rain and flash flooding. And in fact, a Nor’easter hitting the area Saturday afternoon ahead of Irma will exacerbate the impact of the rainfall that comes with the storm.

Fuel will be in short supply also, a consequence of local mandatory evacuations in coastal and low-lying areas ordered on Friday, as well as the mass exodus of travelers from storm-threatened South Florida in recent days.

As of Friday afternoon, 70 percent of Jacksonville gas stations had fuel. Updated figures will be provided as soon as we get them.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spent much of Saturday preparing for impacts, including a noon Emergency Road Access Team and Swift Water Team Briefing, where he was accompanied by other city officials.

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Chief Kurtis Wilson noted that Irma would be the “real deal for 12 hours,” with sustained tropical storm force winds blanketing the entire county.

A significant pressure for cut and toss, rescue, and utility units: the brunt of the storm will be on the less populated western part of the county, which has older developments and infrastructure.

Sheriff Mike Williams, mindful of a death last year by a JEA worker, noted that all of those on the front lines should “be safe” and not “push the envelope.”

Then Curry took the microphone, to applause.

“You shouldn’t be applauding me; you should be applauding yourselves,” Curry said. “Folks often say you’re the unseen heroes and that’s true.”

____

The 2 PM briefing dealt with weather, and Curry took pains to ameliorate a misconception that as the storm tracked west, Duval was out of the woods with the center of the storm expected to stay to the west of Jacksonville.

There is a “major risk outside the cone,” Curry said, with coastal flooding, sustained tropical storm force winds, and hurricane gusts all expected, along with a three to four foot storm surge along the Atlantic coast.

Irma, Curry said, is “not a West Florida problem only. Duval County is under serious threat.”

“Widespread wind damage is likely across the county,” Curry noted, with winds of 40-50 MPH expected, and higher gusts downtown, on the Westside, and along the St. Johns River.

Downtown, Riverside, and San Marco are prone to flooding, especially early Monday.

For those at risk, Curry said there is “plenty of room at shelters,” which are at 10 percent capacity (except for Legends in Northwest Jacksonville, which is full).

250 National Guardsmen have been deployed, Curry said, and 250 more are on their way, of Florida’s contingent of 7,000.

Power outages are expected; however, Curry said JEA has twice as many resources (such as poles) as they had after Matthew, with four times as much manpower.

And Jacksonville, Curry said, is prepared for the financial impact.

“We were prepared for Matthew. We are prepared for this one,” Curry said, noting the city’s finances are stable as a whole.

With two major storms threatening the Jacksonville area within the span of 12 months, Curry noted that future budgets will “take into consideration” these events, as they are becoming a more recurrent pressure for policymakers.

 

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