Faced with a major hurricane that still could land anywhere on Florida’s east coast, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday he has expanded his emergency declaration to all 67 counties.
Speaking in the Brevard County Emergency Management Operations Center in Rockledge, DeSantis said he also will be asking President Donald Trump to issue a federal emergency declaration.
DeSantis’ initial declaration Wednesday covered only 26 counties.
The governor announced the expanded emergency as Hurricane Dorian makes its slow slog through the western Atlantic from the Caribbean toward Florida, where it is expected to arrive between late Sunday and late Monday, almost anywhere along Florida’s east coast.
The expansion came after DeSantis received updates on the storm during visits to the National Hurricane Center in Miami and the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center.
“This provides state and local governments ample time, resources and flexibility to prepare as the exact landfall location of Hurricane Dorian continues to fluctuate,” the governor’s office said in a news release announcing the executive order.
“All residents, especially those along the east coast, need to be prepared for possible impacts,” DeSantis said. “As it increases in strength, this storm has the potential to severely damage homes, businesses and buildings, which is why all Floridians should remain vigilant. Do not wait until it is too late to make a plan.”
DeSantis called the uncertain landfall the greatest challenge at this point both for nervous Floridians and officials trying to position supplies and resources ahead of the storm’s arrival.
The state has 800,000 gallons of water and about one million meals available to provide to storm stricken areas. Florida, federal authorities, and disaster aid groups also are wanting to position all other storm relief equipment and supplies.
This is DeSantis’ first hurricane as governor and it’s potential is major. Dorian could crash ashore early next week on Florida’s East Coast as a Category 4 storm, with winds topping 130 mph, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday. It also is large and slow moving, expanding its potential impact.
“Our plan is to do more prepositioning of assets,” he said when asked what he is hoping to do differently this year. But with the storm’s uncertain course, “If it’s the entire state, up and down the coastline, that’s going to be a challenge.”
DeSantis urged Floridians to pay attention to news reports to keep up with prospects of evacuations. He said mandatory evacuations may begin Saturday.
When enough is known to announce evacuations, DeSantis said he has asked the Florida Department of Transportation to waive tolls on the toll roads.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is meeting by phone at 3 p.m. Thursday with school district superintendents and university officials to assess what they need do, DeSantis said.
The governor cited gasoline positioning as a major challenge. He said the state has significant reservoirs of gas now, but he is asking for additional supplies to be brought in from Georgia and Alabama.
Wednesday’s executive order lifted restrictions on hours of service and truck weights for fuel trucks, due to reports of high demand for gas.
“There is a lot of fuel in Florida, it’s just when a gas station runs out, the trucks have to bring it in from the port,” DeSantis said Thursday afternoon.
The executive order allows mobilization of the Florida National Guard.
But “with a track like this, it’s uncertain where to deploy them,” DeSantis acknowledged after a briefing Thursday morning at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
DeSantis said his administration is also working on water supplies, seeking to have more trucked in from out of state.
He said he spoke with Trump, who offered his full support.
State Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said rather than getting fixed on tracking models that may bounce around, people along the East Coast should be planning for a Category 3 or Category 4 landfall.
“Continue to pay attention,” Moskowitz said. “I don’t want someone to say, ‘It’s going to spin off the coast’ and then they don’t go and make a plan. The only thing that has been consistent about the storm is its inconsistencies.”
The “cone of probability,” which offers a general idea of where the storm could make landfall, stretched Thursday afternoon from the central Florida Keys to south of Savannah, Ga., though it was centered on the East Coast of Central Florida.
DeSantis said he is counting on operators and local officials to make sure that nursing homes and other highly-vulnerable facilities are prepared. This comes after the 2017 tragedy at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where 12 patients died from heat in the sweltering, powerless days following Hurricane Irma.
Florida now requires nursing homes to have emergency generators or plans for evacuation to places that do. DeSantis said 94.6 percent of the state’s nursing homes are in compliance.
Earlier this week Hollywood police arrested four people from the 2017 tragedy, charging some with homicide. More arrests are expected. DeSantis cited the arrests as clear warning to nursing home operators to be prepared this time.
“It sends a very clear message that if you are entrusted with these people’s lives, it’s really your responsibility,” DeSantis said.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.