Gov. Ron DeSantis says Florida will appeal the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) decision to decline assistance after tornadoes hit Charlotte and Lee counties earlier this year.
The Republican Governor has instructed the state Division of Emergency Management, headed by Director Kevin Guthrie, to appeal the case. The agency has already started that process, he told reporters in Fort Myers on Friday.
“Despite the federal government’s choice to decline assistance, it’s our view in the state of Florida that we need to remain committed to helping the people of Lee and Charlotte counties,” DeSantis said.
He also called it unfortunate that President Joe Biden’s administration denied federal support.
“Since Biden’s been President, it seems like whatever they can do to thumb their nose at Florida, they try to do it,” DeSantis said. “I mean, they cut our monoclonal antibody funding. It’s true.”
The Governor also criticized the Biden administration for slow-walking the state’s plan to purchase prescription drugs from Canada.
“I think it’s a mistake to use politics with this,” DeSantis continued. “I think you got to help people when they need it, and that’s what we’ve done in the state of Florida.”
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said he was on the ground within minutes and witnessed the devastation firsthand. He described downed power lines and lives turned upside down.
“Talk about the Biden administration and their continuous failures,” Marceno said. “We’ve seen them fail on the international level, the national level, and now the state and (unfortunately the) local level.”
DeSantis held his news conference in front of a mobile home damaged in one of the recent tornadoes. The residents, Tony and Ellie Costalas, thanked the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, for keeping their home safe from looters to give them peace of mind despite the devastation.
“They’ve done a wonderful job, Governor, and we’re working on getting our homes started to get repaired because we love it here and the people in this park are very good,” Tony Costalas said.
DeSantis said 158 homes were destroyed or sustained major damage and almost 300 residents were displaced. Many of them were elderly and vulnerable Floridians, he added, and 84% receive Social Security.
Guthrie told reporters the recovery started immediately at the local level.
“But now we’re at that point where we need federal support,” he continued. “It’s another tool in the toolbox that we have in the mantra of locally executed, state managed, federally supported.”
The National Weather Service confirmed two EF-1 tornadoes touched down in Charlotte County on Jan. 16, and an EF-2 touched down in Lee County the same day, according to NBC-2. One of the tornadoes near Placida damaged 35 homes. No one was injured, but more than 300 people were displaced from their homes for various reasons, including power outages. There were also reported tornadoes in Collier County that day.
DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Lee and Charlotte counties on Jan. 21.
The state Emergency Management division on Jan. 24 requested help under the Individual Assistance programs run by FEMA, including the Individuals and Households Program, the Disaster Case Management Toolbox, the Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program, Disaster Legal Services and Disaster Unemployment Assistance.
At that point, many impacted homes still did not have power or utility service, and many lacked water because of broken pipes.
FEMA officials ruled the damage from the storm was not extensive enough to warrant federal response.