U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds is praising the deployment of Coast Guard and national resources to Southwest Florida following Hurricane Ian’s landfall. Now, the region needs water and immediate help with infrastructure.
The Naples Republican was in Washington when the storm struck. He flew up earlier this week, he said, when storm forecasts still suggested it would hit further north in the state.
He has signed onto bipartisan letters from the delegation calling for President Biden to declare a state of emergency and major disaster for the state. Biden on Thursday declared a major disaster in nine counties, including three — Charlotte, Collier and Lee — that Donalds represents in Congress.
While Donalds said he hasn’t had the chance to closely listen to Biden’s remarks, he acknowledged the declaration will be helpful. The most important thing right now, Donalds said, is for his constituents to be able to access Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) resources directly.
“People need to be able to make individual declarations to FEMA for assistance and aid,” Donalds said.
Search and rescue remains the top priority. Donalds praised both FEMA and the state Division of Emergency Management for deploying resources immediately. Now, the area has started the process of assessing what must come next.
In terms of immediate needs, Donalds said that after speaking with first responders and government leaders in the region, potable water remains a pressing concern. “In Lee County, the water system is not running,” he said.
He’s also deeply concerned about bridges out that connect Sanibel and Pine Island to the mainland. Many residents who weathered the storm in their homes remain stranded and in need of assistance.
He’s in communication with the Army Corps of Engineers about finding ways to provide immediate assistance to residents so they may drive on and off the island.
Asked the areas that most need support at the moment, Donalds rattled off nearly every coastal community in Florida’s 19th Congressional District: Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach, Matlacha, Pine Island and Bonita Springs.
He also said Cape Coral and Fort Myers suffered significant winds and flooding, and downtown Naples was devastated. He’s scheduled to talk with Marco Island leaders about how that community — the southernmost major barrier island in his district — fared, and what they may need from the federal government.