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Scenes from Pinellas Beaches as Hurricane Michael slips by

The Tampa Bay area once again avoided major impacts from a catastrophic storm as Hurricane Michael breezed through the Gulf of Mexico far offshore before barreling into Mexico Beach on Florida’s panhandle. While the area avoided any catastrophic damage, strong currents and a slight storm surge left Pinellas Beaches a wreck.

Dead fish washed up all the way to the garbage cans at Madeira Beach.

At Madeira Beach, the stench of rotten fish and the respiratory sting of red tide was still in the air as dead fish still dotted the shoreline and were washed up far further up the beach than they had been before the storm.

Kite surfers took advantage of the wind south of Madeira Beach.

The rough waters pounding the beach along Madeira Beach and other local beaches churned up foam that blew along the shore as a few curious residents and visitors surveyed the effects of Michael’s wrath in the Gulf.

Rough waters created foam along the shore line.

The waves on beaches from St. Pete Beach north to Madeira Beach where Florida Politics surveyed the damage rivaled Florida’s east coast on a calm day. There were a handful of surfers braving the wind and currents – and red tide – but they could only be seen driving over John’s Pass far out in the distance.

Waves along Pinellas Beaches were choppy, but big enough to surf.

At Treasure Island, the iconic expansive beach was largely intact. Some standing water pooled in the sea oats and the beach was littered with seaweed and still a few dead fish from red tide.

Treasure Island looked almost unscathed.

St. Pete Beach might have seen the worst effects from the surf and periodic heavy rains. Portions of the beach were had lakes of water pooled into mini-ponds. The Beau Monde hotel went from a beach front property to a literal waterfront property.

Water pooled along the Beau Monde hotel, flooding the beach front access from the hotel pool.

A quick drive through St. Pete Beach and Sunset Beach neighborhoods showed no signs of flooding – just some minor standing water. People were out walking their dogs during breaks in the rain and enjoying the reprieve from what has been a blisteringly hot October.

Caddy’s on the Beach in Sunset Beach was packed with bar-goers despite the weather, but the beach itself was empty … except for an ironic bench.

This bench might not have been referring to the post-Michael beach.

Photos by Janelle Irwin Taylor and her daughter, Zoe.

Janet Cruz to collect relief supplies for victims of Michael

Florida House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz is accepting hurricane relief supplies to aid residents in the Florida Panhandle affected by the monstrous Hurricane Michael that made landfall Wednesday afternoon near Mexico Beach.

The storm made landfall as a strong Category 4 hurricane, with wind speeds only a couple of mph shy of a Category 5. A quick survey of damage showed some homes destroyed as the wind tore off roofs and storm surge engulfed single story homes.

Tampa Bay area residents can drop off relief supplies from 9-5 seven days a week.

Suggested items include nonperishable packaged or canned food, juices, snack foods, paper plates and plastic utensils, flashlights, batteries, new blankets, first aid kits, toiletries, baby and adult diapers, toys, books and games for children and pet care items.

“By all reports, Hurricane Michael is poised to inflict major destruction on the Panhandle, impacting the lives of thousands of our fellow Floridians,” Cruz said. “I am encouraging residents to drop-off critical supplies at my office to help those affected in their time of need and that we all pray for those in the path of this storm.”

Hurricane Michael is now the strongest storm to ever hit the Florida Panhandle.

Cruz’s Tampa office is at 2221 North Himes Avenue, Suite B.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, about 200,000 homes were without power because of the storm and that number is expected to rise. Utility workers cannot begin assessing damage and making repairs until tropical storm-force winds subside and working conditions are safe.

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to give an update on hurricane status and damage assessed so far at 6 p.m.

Scott requested a Major Disaster Declaration from President Donald Trump Wednesday to expedite federal assistance for communities affected by the storm. Florida already received a pre-landfall Emergency Declaration to assist with federal aid.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, Hurricane Michael was passing through the inland portion of the Florida panhandle and heading north toward Alabama and Georgia.

Rick Scott activates Florida Disaster Fund for Michael relief

Gov. Rick Scott activated the Florida Disaster Fund to support those impacted by Hurricane Michael, a dangerous Category 4 storm expected to make landfall in the Panhandle Wednesday afternoon. 

The Fund provides financial support to communities throughout the state in times of disaster.

Contributions can be made at the Florida Disaster Fund website or by texting DISASTER to 20222 to make a one-time donation of $10.

Duke Energy has already committed $50,000 to the fund.

“As the state’s official fund for disaster response and recovery, the Florida Disaster Fund is an excellent way for the private sector and individuals to financially support Floridians affected by Hurricane Michael,” said Volunteer Florida CEO David Mica Jr.

The Florida Disaster Fund is a private fund officially established to respond and recover to natural disasters in the state. The Volunteer Florida Foundation administers the fund.

The foundation will allocate funds to disaster relief organizations active in Hurricane Michael recovery efforts.

Donations to the fund are tax deductible.

To give, checks should be made payable to the Volunteer Florida Foundation and have “Florida Disaster Fund” in the memo line.

Send checks to:

Volunteer Florida Foundation

Attention: Florida Disaster Fund

3800 Esplanade Way, Suite 180

Tallahassee, FL 32311

Meteorologists consider Hurricane Michael the worst storm to hit the region in more than a century, with an expected 12 inches of rainfall in some areas and storm surges reaching 13 feet.

Extensive flooding could completely cover homes, Scott warned during a briefing Wednesday morning.

The Tampa Bay area may also be affected, as Michael could create surges as outer bands reach the region.

Mandatory and voluntary evacuations were ordered in 22 of Florida’s 67 counties and 140,000 residents in the Panhandle were asked to leave.

Relief efforts are already underway as the Florida National Guard stands by for rescue operations. Utility crews are on standby for power restoration after the storm passes.

Airbnb extends ‘Open Homes Program’ to Tampa for Hurricane Michael evacuees and relief workers

Short-term lodging service Airbnb and some of its hosts are offering free places to stay for displaced neighbors and relief workers deployed to help with storm recovery before, during and after Hurricane Michael.

The program runs through October 29.

More than 170 property owners are participating in the Open Homes Program as Hurricane Michael barrels toward the Florida Panhandle. Participating areas include parts of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

Qualifying users can register for a free stay on Airbnb’s website.

The Open Homes Program boundaries extend from Valdosta northeast to Savannah, south to Melbourne, Florida, and then continues west to Tampa and north again to Valdosta. Another area includes Mobile, Alabama northeast to Atlanta and south to Macon, Georgia.

Cities include Tampa, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Melbourne, Lakeland, Orlando, Ocala, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, Lake City, Valdosta, Savannah, Atlanta, Macon, Montgomery, and Mobile, among others.

Hurricane Michael is expected to be a catastrophic weather event with extreme winds and high storm surge. The storm strengthened overnight to a Category 4 Hurricane with winds up to 145 mph. The storm could strengthen as it reaches the Panhandle.

Landfall is expected Wednesday afternoon. Hurricane-force winds are expected to extend 45 miles from the storm’s eye with Tropical Storm-force winds extending much farther.

Evacuations were issued in 22 of Florida’s 67 counties including 140,000 residents in the Panhandle.

Some Tropical Storm-force winds and gusts are expected in parts of the Tampa Bay area as the storm’s outer bands reach the region. Tampa Bay could also see storm surge of 2-3 feet causing flooding in low lying areas.

Sandbags were made available throughout the Tampa Bay region on Monday and Tuesday ahead of the storm. Some flooding has already been reported in parts of Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco counties.

Coastal erosion is also expected along Tampa Bay area beaches.

Pinellas and Hillsborough county schools remain open Wednesday, but the districts are monitoring the storm as it passes off the west coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ken Hagan, Stacy White crushing competition in Hillsborough Co. Commission campaign cash

Two Hillsborough County Commission races look like they might be landslides based on campaign finance activity. Incumbents Ken Hagan and Stacy White are crushing their opponents in the money battle.

Hagan has raised more than $500,000 in bid against Democrat Angela Birdsong for the District two seat covering north Hillsborough County currently held by Victor Crist. Crist is running for Hagan’s District 5 countywide seat.

North Hillsborough, which includes both rural and suburban areas, is historically conservative and Hagan has won it before. He won that seat in 2002, 2004 and 2008.

Birdsong has raised just $30,000 and has less than $200 remaining in her campaign account.

Hagan isn’t wasting time with infusing his campaign with nickel and dime contributions. Nearly half of his 36 contributions during the last two weeks of September were $1,000, the maximum allowed. Most of his latest campaign haul came from real estate professionals and developers, followed by construction and contracting businesses, engineering and consulting.

All of Birdsong’s contributions came from individual donors, not corporations, groups or business.

Hagan spent $4.300 during the latest campaign reporting period including on advertising with La Gaceta for $231 and various campaign support staff.

Birdsong spent $7,800 with most of that going to Blue Ticket Consulting in St. Petersburg for advertising.

White, the Hillsborough County Commission District 4 incumbent, is also stomping his opposition in campaign cash. The Republican has raised more than $200,000 for his reelection to his highly conservative east and south Hillsborough seat.

Those contributions were largely high dollar with more than half of his 20 contributions during the last two weeks of September at $1,000 each. Not one contribution was less than $100. Checks came largely from real estate and construction and development professionals and businesses.

His Democratic opponent, Andrew Davis, has raised just over $10,000 to date and spent all but $1,100 of that. Davis brought in just $100 during the latest reporting period.

He spent $1,800 on yard signs and printing.

Panhandle braces for ‘devastating’ Hurricane Michael

Florida is ready for a robust storm response after Hurricane Michael passes through the Panhandle, Gov. Rick Scott said during an 8:30 a.m. briefing Wednesday morning.

Michael is expected to make landfall Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm with winds up to 145 mph.

“This is devastating,” Scott said. “This is the worst storm the Panhandle has seen in more than 100 years.”

The state has more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel ready to respond after the storm passes, Scott said. However, he cautioned those who chose not to evacuate emergency responders cannot come out during the storm.

“The time to evacuate coastal areas has come and gone,” Scott said. “If you are in an inland county, you may still have time to evacuate. [But] if it is not safe to leave your home, do not leave.”

There are 54 shelters open across the Panhandle and Big Bend and more will open depending on need.

The state has activated and staged 3,500 National Guard members and 100 Florida Highway Patrol troopers for storm recovery and response. Another 300 officers are available for deployment in the Panhandle if necessary.

There are 135 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission personnel ready for deployment, and the agency has plans to use shallow draft boats, all-terrain vehicles, airboats, and four-wheel drive vehicles for storm response.

Local law enforcement is standing by at bridges to close them when conditions become too dangerous to navigate, and the Florida Department of Transportation has dozens of crews staged to clear roads to ensure supplies and rescue personnel can get into affected areas following the storm.

Engineering plans are already being developed to fix roads and highways.

The state is already prepared for a robust medical response. There are hospital augmentation teams with 22 staff, 90 ambulances, three special needs shelters, three federal disaster medical assistance teams with 105 staff, five disaster management-assistance strike teams with 35 staff and three disaster management-assistance team task forces with 42 personnel in place.

The Florida Department of Health is preparing with 50 nurses, two hospital emergency department teams and one emergency hospital to tend to the injured.

Scott said restoring power is a top priority after the storm. The state has 19,000 utility restoration workers ready to begin work once conditions are safe. The state is working with every utility company to post outage numbers regularly.

So far the Panhandle does not have any reported power or communication outages. Scott also said there had been no reports of widespread fuel shortages or outages, but after the storm, efforts will be taken to ensure fuel supplies are quickly replenished.

For those looking for fuel, Scott recommends using the Gas Buddy mobile app to find stations that still have supplies.

Scott warned that even after the storm, flooding will be a major issue.

“Communities are going to see unimaginable devastation,” he said.

Some parts of the Panhandle will see 12 inches of rain, and storm surge is expected to be between nine and 13 feet.

“Water will come miles inshore and could easily rise above the roofs of houses,” Scott said.

Storm surge is also expected in other parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast including in the Tampa Bay area. Storm surge could reach 2-6 feet, “which is still life-threatening,” Scott said.

“Do not take chances,” he added. “We can rebuild your house, but we cannot rebuild your life.”

Weathering Hurricane Michael with a baby or toddler? Here’s how

Infant and toddler advocacy and education group ZERO TO THREE is offering 10 tips to parents before, during and after Hurricane Michael as the storm prepares to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle Wednesday afternoon.

In a matter of hours overnight, the storm grew in strength from Category 2 to a Category 4 hurricane, fueled by the warmer-than-usual Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane-force winds extend about 45 miles from the storm’s eye with tropical storm force winds extending much further.

Some tropical storm force winds could be felt in parts of the Tampa Bay area as outer bands roll through the area. Coastal flooding is also expected as storm surge affects nearly the entire Gulf Coast.

Follow safety tips and evacuation procedures.

Collect emergency supplies you may need: water, canned goods, paper products, medications, and batteries. Don’t forget diapers, formula and baby-friendly foods as well. If you can’t find bottled water, fill as many containers as you can. Fill your gas tank, withdraw some cash from the bank, and identify your evacuation route and nearby shelters. If you are told to evacuate, then gather what you need and do so.

Pay attention to your facial expression and body language.

Your baby or young child is watching your nonverbal cues to decide whether they are safe. Take a moment to breathe and relax your face and shoulders. These small physical shifts go a long way in creating a solid sense of safety for your child.

Notice your tone.

It is perfectly normal during this time to have anxiety in your voice, but your baby can sense your fear at as early as three months. Stay in the present moment. The larger picture may be downright scary. But if everyone is physically safe, remind yourself that you and your family are OK. By being aware of your tone, and keeping your voice calm, you can help your little one feel safe.

Keep routines consistent.

You will surely be stressed and overwhelmed prepping or packing. But try to keep your young child’s daily schedule as normal as possible. It can help your child if you can maintain some of the routines of their day-to-day lives, such as predictable meals and bedtimes. Knowing what to expect can help children feel physically and emotionally safe — it might help you feel more grounded as well.

Bring along a cherished toy or blanket and extra snuggles.

If you are planning to evacuate, make room for one of your child’s special stuffed animals, blankets, small toys or books. This special item can help your child as you all adapt to a new place for a few days or longer. Young children may need more soothing physical touch than usual during this time as well. When surrounded by everything new, your little one is probably going to want their most loved and familiar person (you!) close by at all times.

Let your children know what’s coming next.

While you are navigating the storm, life may be chaotic. Understanding what might come next can help children feel more safe and secure. Even in situations where you need to move quickly, tell children what is about to happen. “We are getting ready to go to a place where we’ll be safe during the storm. There will be many other families there and we’ll all stay safe together.”

Shield your child from frightening conversations or images.

Keep the details of the storm away from your children as much as possible. Babies can experience fear early in life, starting at 3-5 months. If you are in a place, like a shelter, where you can’t easily move away from an intense conversation, tell your child a story or sing a song. This can be a good distraction strategy.

Play, sing and tell stories.

While you may not feel much like playing, try to find some time to connect with your child in a playful way. This is a form of normalcy for them and helps them feel close to you.

Know that during this time your child may seem to lose some skills they’ve already gained.

It’s perfectly normal for a child to “lose” some developmental skills during periods of intense family stress. For example, a child who is potty-trained may begin having accidents or a child who is a good sleeper may begin waking up at night. Your child may also show less self-confidence and independence and want to stay close to you and be held more than usual. This “clinginess” is a way for them to feel safe and close to you, which is so important to them now.

If you and your child weathered the storm together, you may find that your child cries or fusses more, or seems to be too withdrawn, even after the event.

This means that children are still feeling unsure and unsettled. They will need extra cuddling, play, and attention during this time, which can be tough since it is likely you will be facing many demands in the aftermath. Be sure to tell your child when you have to leave him or her (avoid “sneaking out”), and consider using a routine — like a special kiss or song — to make the goodbye easier. If your child’s behaviors persist, think about talking with his or her health care provider or seeking out a mental health provider with experience in supporting young children. It is common for both children and adults to need some additional support following a scary and sometimes traumatic event.

David Shapiro, Margaret Good rally Sarasota voters around Democratic slate

Democrats running in the Sarasota-Bradenton area banded together at an event organized by the progressive group Indivisible.

State Rep. Margaret Good, the incumbent in state House District 72, and Democratic Congressional candidate David Shapiro, who thus far mustered a serious campaign for Florida’s 16th Congressional District, rallied the crowd of activists from both Indivisible’s Northeast Sarasota chapter and the Sarasota Democratic Party.

“I am proud to share the field of battle and walk along a slate of incredible Democratic candidates,” said Shapiro.

The event lured more than 100 volunteers and campaign professionals to the Selby Library in downtown Sarasota.

Margaret Good addresses Indivisible in Sarasota.

Good, whose special election win in District 72 in February has helped fuel enthusiasm among Democrats throughout the region, told Florida Politics there’s hope to expand the party’s presence in the region.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work all of our candidates up and down the ballot are doing,” she said.

“We are working together — knocking on doors, making phone calls, and finding the resources we need to communicate with voters.”

The event drew a range of candidates from Congress down to hospital board.

Among the notables, state Senate District 23 candidate Faith Olivia Babis, state House District 71 candidate Tracy Pratt and state House District 73 candidate Liv Coleman.

Pratt, a Bradenton attorney, said the angst over President Donald Trump’s surprise win in 2016 inspired candidates to run, and environmental disasters like red tide only energized the base more.

“I’ve been involved in community organization for two decades but I have never seen the energy I have for the last two months running for office.”

Olivia Babis, Liv Coleman and David Shapiro greet volunteers.

Babis, who would be the first disabled member of the Florida Legislature is she wins her Senate race, said voters were connecting with all candidates.

And Coleman said the entire election landscape feels radically different. She noted her own recent endorsement from Emily’s List as an oddity in a race where such groups rarely get involved.

What will this mean four weeks from now? Every legislative candidate sans Good trails their opponents in monetary contributions.

But Democratic leaders felt confident in the quality of candidates this year. Jo Bloom of Indivisible also said progressives and mainline Democrats this year were working in tandem in ways unthinkable just two years ago.

Club for Growth poll puts Ross Spano way out front in Kristen Carlson matchup

A new poll by WPA Intelligence, a Republican polling company, puts Ross Spano 7 points ahead of his Democratic challenger, Kristen Carlson, in Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Anti-big government group Club for Growth Action commissioned the poll for the district that covers parts of Hillsborough, Lake and Polk counties.

The poll  also showed Spano with advantages in name recognition and party affiliation.

Spano scored a 56 percent name ID from survey respondents and among those who offered their opinion on the Dover state Representative, he scored a plus-14 in favorability. Carlson scored 25 percent in the name ID portion of the survey and had a plus-6 favorability rating among the 16 percent of voters who shared their opinion.

The poll also asked respondents how they would vote in a generic election between a Republican and a Democrat and the GOP came out on top by 4 points, 48-44 percent, with 8 percent undecided.

Swapping out the generics for the head-to-head slated for the ballot saw Spano take a 46-39 percent lead over Carlson. While his lead is larger than that of a generic Republican, undecideds jumped to 15 percent in that portion of the poll, a possible ray of hope for Carlson’s chances in the R+13 district.

CD 15 covers Brandon and Polk City as well as Lakeland and Dover, where Spano lives. The district is highly conservative. It favored Donald Trump 10 percentage points in 2016, but a previous poll found Spano and Carlson polling within the margin of error with Spano only having a slight edge over his Democratic opponent.

The two are in a heated contest to replace outgoing Congressman Dennis Ross, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election. Ross scored a 15 point victory over his Democratic challenger two years ago.

Carlson launched a television ad last week touting her record fighting special interests and specifically mentioned a case in which she successfully sued for better food labeling after an out-of-state orange juice manufacturer was selling its product to public schools as 100 percent pure when the juice actually contained other additives like sugar.

Spano’s campaign called her out for hypocrisy because she had also worked on behalf of local orange juice manufacturers on testing methods for a banned chemical. Carlson defends that issue, saying the products imported from Brazil were being tested in highly concentrated form and would have passed inspections if they were tested in their diluted forms, which is how consumers would drink the juice.

Kimberly Overman trailing Todd Marks in Hillsborough District 7 campaign cash

Todd Marks is leading the campaign finance charge in the Hillsborough County District 7 race by more than double, according to the most recent campaign finance reports available.

Marks has raised $244,000 as of the end of September. His closest competitor, Democrat Kimberly Overman, raised $112,000. A Green Party candidate, Kim “Klarc” O’Connor, has just $26,000.

Marks pulled in $68,000 during the last two weeks of September. He received 106 individual contributions, half of which were for the maximum allowable under Florida election law, $1,000.

Only five of his contributions were for less than $100.

Marks took a surprise victory in the Republican Primary for the countywide seat after being massively outraised by Aakash Patel who pulled in nearly $500,000 during the campaign. He’s running for the seat currently occupied Republican Al Higginbotham who is not seeking re-election.

Marks, a Tampa attorney, brought in dozens of contributions from real estate and land development companies and groups. He also received several notable contributions including $1,000 each from the Kimmins Corporation and Kimmins Construction. Friends of Dana Young, a political action committee supporting Florida Senator Dana Young and other conservative candidates, donated $1,000.

TECO also dropped $1,000 on the conservative candidate.

Marks spent $3,400 during the most recent campaign finance reporting period. Of that about $1,900 went to Lutz-based Swift Advisory Services for campaign work and $1,250 to political consultant and former defeated Hillsborough County School Board candidate Kelso Tanner for campaign consulting.

Marks has $83,000 left in his campaign coffers.

His closest competition, Overman, only has $12,000 left in the bank. She raised $35,000 during the final two weeks of September and spent $36,000.

Overman received 83 individual contributions including a $20,000 cash infusion from the Hillsborough County Democratic Party. More than a third of Overman’s contributions were from Hillsborough County residents who cut checks for less than $100 each.

The Plumbers and Pipefitters political action committee dropped $1,000 on the Democrat, as they’ve done in other local races supporting Democrats. Tampa City Council members Luis Viera and Harry Cohen each contributed $100 and $250, respectively. Cohen is running to replace Bob Buckhorn as Tampa Mayor.

Ray Chiaramonte, former executive director of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority and Overman’s former opponent in the County Commission primary, donated $100.

Current Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp kicked in $250 and Gilbert Sainz, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner’s husband, donated $250.

Overman also received $500 from a Democratic Muslim group and two local workers unions.

Overman spent $20,000 on advertising with Visual Communications in Tampa, $12,000 to State Craft Digital in Orlando for digital campaign material and $2,000 to Tampa-based Good Guy Signs.

O’Connor also spent money on advertising with the USF Oracle ($1,500) and the Osprey Observer ($400). Those two ad buys are strategic moves for a liberal Green Party candidate trying to capture young and environmentally conscious voters.

Though the countywide seat Overman and O’Connor are seeking has been held by a Republican for more than a decade, an increase in voter engagement during the Trump-era could give liberal candidates a decent shot by capturing higher percentages of the urban votes in the downtown core and lower-income communities.

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