Though the Federal Emergency Management Agency is dealing with Hurricane Harvey damage and other incidents around the country, elected officials said Tuesday at the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center that they were confident that money would available for people hurt by Hurricane Irma.
“The idea that this is going to run out of money next week, that’s not going to happen,” said U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, standing in front of media and officials at the EOC. “We’re good for the immediate response.”
DeSantis, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. John Rutherford were among those visiting the center, and Rubio and DeSantis said they would try to help keep emergency FEMA dollars flowing to individuals and businesses hurt by Hurricane Irma.
As lawmakers visited, County officials were still trying to understand how much help will be needed, gathering damage estimates on Tuesday afternoon, said Linda Stoughton, St. Johns County emergency management director. Those details should be available in the next couple of days, she said.
As they are recovering, county residents can now apply for individual assistance through FEMA, Stoughton said, available at disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362.
FEMA can help people who are uninsured or under-insured, she said.
As for the tour by Rubio and others on Tuesday, Stoughton said officials wanted to see if the EOC had unmet needs.
“It’s important for the community for our leaders in Washington to see what we’re going through, especially because we’ve had back-to-back storms — and [it’s] very important on the money side that they know that the county is still recovering from Matthew and now will be rolling very quickly here into a recovery from Irma,” Stoughton said.
DeSantis said he and others are pushing to have the reimbursement process through FEMA move faster, noting that local governments are still waiting for Hurricane Matthew reimbursements.
“It doesn’t do them much good if they have to wait a year like we have with Matthew before they can get reimbursed,” DeSantis said.
Rubio said he’d heard that some people had just started moving back home after Matthew when Irma hit.
“So it is heartbreaking. … There are people now who are going to have to live outside of their homes for a substantial period of time, and there is funding available through FEMA for assistance,” he said.
Though the picture of the county’s damage wasn’t yet complete, the damage from Irma appeared to be more widespread across St. Johns County than the damage caused by Matthew less than a year ago, Stoughton said.
That also appeared to be the case across Florida.
Rubio said he hadn’t toured St. Johns County yet, but planned to visit sites Tuesday — a post on his Twitter account showed a home in Vilano Beach that had fallen onto the shore.
“Just visited #Vilano in St. Johns County,” according to Rubio’s tweet. “Significant damage to coastal homes and dangerous conditions in many others.”
At the emergency operations center, he said he’d been in Key West on Monday.
“To think the same storm that did that damage over there did this damage over here gives you a sense of the scale and scope of the challenge ahead for the state of Florida,” Rubio said. “Usually when you tell someone a hurricane hit Florida, they’ll say, where did it hit? Did it hit St. Augustine? Did it hit Miami? Did it hit Naples? Did it hit Key West? And the answer is, yes. It hit them all.”
Rutherford recalled the group’s visit to Davis Shores after Hurricane Matthew.
“Davis Shores and other areas on the island were really devastated,” Rutherford said about Matthew. “This is something that keeps happening. … I think this is a time for us to really maybe turn to the Army Corps of Engineers and ask, is there a permanent fix to stop this flooding in Davis Shores? … We need to start looking into not just mitigation … We need to start looking into prevention, as well.”