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Staff Reports

Free meals for Irma kids

Students who go to school in counties that were hit hard by Hurricane Irma will be getting meals on the federal government’s tab.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Monday announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture accepted his request to allow students in 48 counties subject to a FEMA Major Disaster Declaration to receive free school meals through the National School Lunch Program.

These changes, in effect Sept. 18-Oct. 20, will potentially affect over 3,000 schools and 2.5 million children, a press release said: “The department is requesting additional flexibilities as counties are being declared major disaster areas and as requests are submitted by counties. As such, additional counties could be added to the waiver in the coming days.”

The waiver includes these counties:

Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pinellas, Broward, Palm Beach, Glades, Hendry, Sarasota, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns, Brevard, Citrus, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Indian River, Lake, Marion, Martin, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Polk, St. Lucie, Seminole, Sumter, Volusia, Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Nassau, Suwannee and Union.

Parents or guardians can find additional information here or contact the department at 1-800-504-6609 or by emailing

Irma-related damage claims continue to trickle in to Citizens Insurance

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. had fielded 15,900 Irma-related storm damage claims at last count — a fraction of the more than 100,000 claims the company expects in the weeks ahead.

The tally was good as of 9 a.m. Thursday, company spokesman Michael Peltier said.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has yet to say how many claims it’s received notice of from Florida insurers. The plan is to post a running tally on the agency webpage.

Citizens is the state’s insurer of last resort, established by the Legislature to cover losses the private market prefers not to touch.

Peltier said managers expect claims to arrive in earnest as soon as policyholders who fled Irma can return home to survey any damage.

Florida Health Care Association issues statement on nursing home deaths

The Florida Health Care Association on Thursday called the deaths of eight South Florida nursing home residents who died after Hurricane Irma knocked out their power an “isolated incident” and “not representative of the larger long term care profession in Florida.”

The association advocates for “long term care providers and the elderly they serve,” according to its website.

“Florida’s long term care facilities and entire profession of caregivers join in expressing our deepest sorrow for the families of the residents who lost their lives earlier this week at one location,” the statement said.

“The investigation into this tragedy and the circumstances that may have contributed to it continues, and it would be inappropriate to comment on details until it concludes,” it added. “However, it is clear that this is an isolated incident and is not representative of the larger long term care profession in Florida.”

The eight deaths happened at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths were heat-related, adding that a criminal investigation is underway. The chief said authorities have not ruled anything out in the deaths, including carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

Gov. Rick Scott announced that he’s directed the Agency for Health Care Administration to issue an emergency moratorium for the facility, preventing it from admitting new patients indefinitely.

“Florida is a leader in long term care and the vast majority of facilities in our state uphold the highest standards for the residents under their care,” the association’s statement said. “Our centers’ top priority is always the safety and well-being of their residents, especially during the difficult situation a major hurricane creates.

“A natural disaster of this magnitude presents extreme challenges to every sector, especially those entrusted with the care of Florida’s aging seniors. We continue to maintain close communications with local, state, and federal officials and the appropriate utility companies and aid organizations to ensure that power is restored to every facility in Florida as soon as possible.

“As of this morning, we were informed that approximately 64 of the state’s 683 nursing facilities do not currently have full power services restored. We remain committed to providing vital support to meet the immediate needs of residents and staff until this crisis has passed.”

In related news, firefighters also helped relocate 122 people late Wednesday from two assisted living centers near Orlando that had been without power since Hurricane Irma.

In Coral Gables, an apartment building was evacuated after authorities said its lack of power made it unsafe for elderly tenants. And at the 15,000-resident Century Village retirement community in Pembroke Pines, where there were also widespread outages, rescue workers went door to door in the 94-degree heat checking on residents and bringing ice, water and meals.

The Associated Press contributed to this post, republished with permission. 

Don’t drink the (contaminated) water

It should go without saying, but state officials are asking residents not to use water during a “boil water” alert without boiling it first.

“If you are under a boil water notice and have no electricity and no way to boil water, use bottled water,” the state’s Department of Health said Thursday. Here’s the rest of their release:

Heavy rainfall, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate your water supply. Consuming water that is contaminated can cause gastrointestinal illness. Individuals cannot assume that a water supply in the storm affected area is safe to drink.

Your local utilities will announce if you are under a boil water notice and when water is safe to drink. Boil water notices are also posted on DOH’s website here.

If you need help locating bottled water, contact your local emergency management. For more information, visit or


Interstate 75 to stay open, state says

Happy news for hurricane evacuees trying to come home and other motorists: Interstate 75 will remain open, the Florida Department of Transportation said Thursday.

State officials had warned earlier this week that the engorged Santa Fe River was rising dangerously high under an I-75 bridge in Alachua County.

“Flood waters have been receding,” and “FDOT engineers and state meteorologists do not believe that the Santa Fe River will reach a level to make the interstate unsafe,” according to a press release.

The river’s high level will, however, force U.S. 41 and U.S. 27 to stay closed, the department said: “Once these highways are safe, they will be reopened to motorists.”

Federal funding OK’d for road repairs

Gov. Rick Scott announced late Wednesday that the Federal Highway Administration approved a $25 million Emergency Relief Quick Release Grant to support response and recovery efforts for Florida’s roadways and transportation system.

This federal funding will be used to conduct emergency repairs on roads, embankments, bridges or other infrastructure and help restore traffic on major roadways to ensure Florida residents and visitors can travel safely, according to a press release.

“I want to thank President Trump, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and the entire Administration for their commitment to helping Floridians impacted by Irma,” Scott said in a statement.

“The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is already responding in full-force to quickly repair Florida’s roads and transportation infrastructure damaged in the storm and this critical funding will enhance our efforts to ensure the safety of families as they travel through our state.”

FDOT is continuing to work with federal, state and local partners to fully assess storm damages across Florida’s transportation infrastructure.

The Federal Highway Administration is prepared to review and approve detailed damage inspection reports so that FDOT and local transportation agencies can begin repairs immediately.

The Emergency Relief program provides grants for the repair or reconstruction of federal-aid highways and roads on federal lands that have suffered serious damage as a result of disasters such as hurricanes.

Auto insurance likely covers flood damage to cars; FEMA also can help

If Irma flooded your car, don’t try to start it. You could do even more damage than the storm did.

That advice Wednesday from the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, or PCI, a trade association representing a broad swath of the auto, homeowners, and commercial markets.

Comprehensive auto policies typically cover water damage to vehicles, the organization said in a press release.

Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, can assist with “reasonable needs and expenses” for damage not covered by insurance.

“Owners will likely have to prove that liability insurance requirements were met at the time of the loss, and aid is likely to come in the form of a loan that they will have to pay back,” the association said.

PCI offered this advice:

Don’t try to start the car if the water rose above the floor boards or the seats are wet. You might cause more damage to the electrical system.

Crack the hood and check the air ad oil filters. If they’re wet, don’t try to start the car.

Finally, report the loss to your insurer and avoid additional damage by covering any broken windows. Report missing vehicles to the police.

“Like any total loss vehicle, the vast majority of insured vehicles will be disposed of via salvage auctions and branded as flood damaged or salvage according to the title laws of the state,” said Bob Passmore, assistant vice president for personal lines.

“While a properly restored and titled vehicle can be a very economical option to purchase a car, consumers should know what they are getting, because there is always a chance that there will be problems down the road with corrosion or of malfunctions in the electrical systems,” he said.

Flood damage is supposed to be recorded on vehicles’ permanent records — their titles. Car Fax is offering free flood damage VIN checks at, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau offers the same service at

Additionally, you can check the vehicle history at

Unscrupulous dealers sometimes “wash” auto titles of damage histories. PCI suggested asking sellers outright about damage, and checking titles for brands like “flood damaged” or “rebuilt salvage.”

You can check seats and carpets for signs of moisture, or suspiciously new-looking materials compared to the rest of the car. You should inspect for signs of rust and mold, including obvious cleaning product smells.

Moisture inside headlights and tail lights is a give-away, as is debris in spaces where water might collect.

A professional car inspection also is a good idea, PCI said.

Rick Scott: ‘Fuel and power Florida’s top priorities’

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday night said he’s “made it clear” that getting gasoline to the pumps and turning the lights back on are tied for his No. 1 priority.

Scott “will continue to aggressively work until every Floridian can return to work and their kids can go back to school,” his office said in a press release.

“Florida is an incredibly resilient state and now it is time that we come together and rebuild,” he said in a statement. “After visiting shelters this week and talking to people who evacuated due to Hurricane Irma, the number one thing I heard from families is that they want their power back on.

“We must make sure Floridians have the fuel they need to get home and back to work, and the electricity they need to live their lives,” he added. “We are making progress on both fronts, but I will not rest until we are 100 percent recovered.

“While power has been restored to nearly two million homes and businesses so far, there is much more work that needs to be done. I have directed every state resource to help with these issues, and we are working with local officials, public and private utility companies and the federal government to fill gas tanks and turn on the lights.”

Highlights of the release are below:

— The current power outage as of 6 p.m. Tuesday is more than 4.7 million accounts. Since Monday afternoon, nearly 2 million accounts have been restored. 

— All three of Florida’s major fuel ports are open and operational: Port Tampa, Port Everglades and Port Canaveral. Port of Panama City is also open and operational. Each is prioritizing fuel shipments and FHP is escorting fuel resupply trucks to gas stations.

— Scott has directed Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) cut and toss crews to work alongside utility crews across the state to clear road debris so power can be restored quickly.

— He also waived the taxes on fuel trucks entering the state and held daily calls with all fuel supply stakeholders, including Florida ports.

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday announced that the federal government has waived the Jones Act upon Scott’s request, which lifts additional rules and regulations to allow more fuel to get into Florida.

Also, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has approved an emergency fuel waiver which allows more fuel to enter the state.

Constitutional review panel cancels committee week

Citing Hurricane Irma, Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) Chairman Carlos Beruff has canceled the body’s first committee week that was scheduled for Sept. 18-19.

Beruff also said he was asking the commission’s Rules and Administration committee to reconsider the proposed Sept. 22 public filing deadline for amendments.

A new commission is selected and meets every 20 years to review and suggest amendments to the state’s governing document. Both public submissions and those from commissioners can be filed and considered.

“As Floridians recover and rebuild following Hurricane Irma, the CRC has canceled its first committee week (that) included a meeting of the full Commission,” said Beruff, a Manatee County-based homebuilder who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“The CRC will also reevaluate its public proposal filing deadline to help ensure that Floridians interested in the process can remain focused on their families during this time,” Beruff added. “Until a new deadline is recommended by the CRC Rules and Administration Committee, and approved by the full Commission, we will continue to accept all proposed constitutional amendments filed by Floridians.

“CRC business scheduled for the canceled committee week will be taken up during future meetings.”

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