U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a first-term Democrat representing Florida’s 5th Congressional District, is no stranger to the counties of the district.
That holds especially true for some of the most grievously storm-impacted areas, such as Leon and Gadsden counties, areas he has known since he was born.
While Hurricane Michael made landfall in Bay County, the storm wreaked havoc well beyond the eyewall. And much of the district Lawson grew up in is slated for a “long recovery,” he said Thursday.
“This afternoon, I had an opportunity to get out and assess some of the damage in Gadsden and Leon counties. From what I could see, Gadsden seems to have been hit pretty bad, and that’s not to minimize the damage across the district and around the state,” Lawson said.
“As of now, we know that there are four storm-related deaths in Gadsden, and I suspect there will are several more. The devastation is severe — downed trees spilt down to their base, destroyed homes and businesses. I grew up in Gadsden, and I can tell you, there were parts of the area I did not recognize because of the destruction,” Lawson added.
“Across both Leon and Gadsden, there are many families who are without power and many families without homes. Cell service is spotty so people are having a difficult time contacting their loved ones,” Lawson said.
“I’ve already begun to work with federal, state and local officials to help get the resources that we need to begin the long process of recovery. In fact, we began the process before the storm hit. We were able to anticipate some of the needs because of what we went through last year with Irma,” Lawson noted.
Lawson was on the ground in Duval County, on the eastern edge of the district, after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
He noted differences between the storms, yet similiarities in post-storm needs.
“One of the key differences between Irma and Michael is that Irma was a slow-moving storm, which caused a lot of flooding. Michael was a much more powerful windstorm. Among the similarities, everyone needs food and access to food, and I have already petitioned Gov. Scott and the USDA to activate Disaster Food Assistance benefits, as I did following Irma. One of the many benefits of this will allow SNAP recipients to get hot meals from restaurants,” Lawson said.
“As with Irma,” Lawson added, “many families will need help accessing FEMA, insurance, and other federal programs to begin the recovery process. Having gone through this with Irma, my staff and I have the experience and we know exactly what to do.”
Lawson noted that the Major Disaster Declaration approved by the White House Thursday is a “tremendous help,” and said that he has been on the phone with FEMA.
If the post-Irma process is any indication, a lot more of those phone calls are ahead.
CD 5 includes eight North Florida counties: Duval, Leon, Gadsden, Baker, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Columbia.