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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Hurricane Ian Aftermath: Death Toll Rises as FEMA Focuses on Recovery and First Responders

The U.S. Coast Guard reported this morning that their teams have so far rescued 225 people and 74 pets from the District Seven area of responsibility.

The death toll in what could be the costliest hurricane in Florida history rose to at least 65 today as local, state and federal personnel collaborated to get the power back on and shelter those left without a home by Hurricane Ian’s devastation.

“We know that we’re going to have a long road to recovery ahead of us,” Federal Emergency Management Administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters this afternoon in Winter Park, Fla., a community near Orlando that suffered severe flooding.

“We have already started the planning efforts for what it’s going to take to rebuild these communities,” Criswell said, stressing that focus would be placed on making homes and infrastructure more resilient in the rebuilding process.

Criswell was joined by U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell, who is in Florida checking in on the well-being of first responders.

“Their nature is to respond in spite of their own families being in peril,” Moore-Merrell said.

USFA is monitoring the physical needs of first responders as well as monitoring  behavioral health impacts, and ensuring resources are in place to help first responders suffering from the stress of disaster response.

President Biden approved a major disaster declaration, under which the federal government will cover 100 percent of debris removal, for the state after the Category 4 hurricane hit Wednesday. After leaving Florida, Hurricane Ian made landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1, bringing extreme flooding to coastal cities and heavy rain up through the mid-Atlantic states.

Florida’s Division of Emergency Management said Friday that more than 800 urban search-and-rescue team members were at work and there were 42,000 lineman responding to more than 1.9 million reported power outages. Five thousand Florida Guardsmen were activated to assist Hurricane Ian response operations, along with up to 2,000 Guardsmen from neighboring states. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas activated the DHS Surge Capacity Force on Wednesday, which is composed of 7,500 members from other federal agencies who can assist FEMA’s disaster response.

A state website is collecting reports on missing persons related to Hurricane Ian: http://missing.fl.gov.

More than $10 million in donations were collected in the Florida Disaster Fund in its first 24 hours of operation. To contribute, visit www.FloridaDisasterFund.org or text DISASTER to 20222.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported this morning that their teams have so far rescued 225 people and 74 pets from the District Seven area of responsibility. USCG has deployed 16 rescue helicopters, 6 fixed-wing aircraft, and 18 rescue boats and crews to help Floridians.

“Our Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific Strike teams are going door-to-door to help those in need in the Fort Myers Beach area,” USCG tweeted today.

“I am incredibly proud of our workforce who live in the very communities they’re now supporting,” Commandant Linda Fagan said.

Biden said Friday that “we’re just beginning to see the scale of that destruction” in Florida from the storm “likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history.”

“I say to the rest of Americans: Just imagine yourself in that situation. Water rising. Walls collapsing. Streets turned literally into rivers. Charter boats on top of automobiles. Watching the home and the community you worked so hard to establish literally washed away,” Biden said. “And folks across the country are now waiting to hear from parents and grandparents who live in Florida, just hoping and praying they’re okay.”

FEMA issued the following updates on Ian response Friday:

  • “The federal government deployed a Search and Rescue Coordination Group comprised of FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, Customs Border and Protection and the state of Florida to help coordinate rescue efforts with local officials. Gov. DeSantis said more than 700 rescues occurred following landfall thanks to these resources.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard is using helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for immediate search and rescue response. The Department of Defense has more than 1,200 highwater vehicles and 25 watercrafts supporting search and rescue operations.
  • More than 44,000 mutual assistance power crew personnel are assessing damage and making repairs, with additional teams ready to start restoration, weather permitting. Crews are on standby in areas preparing for Ian’s landfall in Georgia and South Carolina.
  • More than 160 generators are available at Craig Field in Alabama, with more arriving today. The first Generator Staging Base in Immokalee is open with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 249th Engineer Battalion on site. An additional 60 generators are being shipped to a second generator staging base in Avon Park, Florida.
  • More than 250 congregate shelters are open in Florida serving more than 33,300 people. Florida Department of Emergency Management deployed several hundred shelter support staff to assist open special need shelters.
  • Volunteer agencies including the American Red Cross, Florida Baptist, Salvation Army, Feeding Florida, Farm Share, Midwest Food Bank, Operation BBQ Relief, Mercy Chefs and World Central Kitchen are preparing to perform feeding operations. FEMA and its partners have capacity to serve tens of thousands of meals per day,
  • FEMA teams delivered 1.1 million meals and 1.6 million liters of water to the state of Florida. Other water and food supplies will be delivered pending safe conditions post-storm impact. FEMA is securing an additional 6.6 million liters of water and 5.5 million meals.
  • FEMA activated a medical support contract for ambulances and paratransit seats. All 300 requested National Disaster Medical System assets arrived in Florida, including 400 ambulances, 15 bariatric paratransit ambulances and four rotary aircraft to evacuate medically vulnerable individuals in nursing homes and other medical facilities as needed.
  • FEMA’s Incident Management Teams, Mobile Communications Operations Vehicles and Mobile Response Support teams are deployed in Atlanta, Miami, Tallahassee and Orlando supporting response efforts.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a Public Health Emergency and deployed a 38-person disaster medical assistance team to Miami, and two other teams to Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. HHS also deployed health and medical task force teams and pharmacists.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks. Additionally, officers will be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.”

Additional information from FEMA:

  • “Florida survivors who live in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and Seminole counties can apply for federal assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov, by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362) or by using the FEMA App. Survivors using a relay service, such as a video relay service, captioned telephone service or others, can give the FEMA operator the number for that service.
  • Small Business Administration disaster loans are available to businesses, homeowners, renters and nonprofit organizations in Florida counties approved for individual assistance. Applicants may apply at disasterloanassistance.sba.gov under declaration #17644. For help, call 800-659-2955 or send an email to [email protected].
  • If you are one of the 1.6 million Floridians with flood insurance, report your loss immediately to your insurance agent or carrier. Be sure to ask them about advance payments. Need help finding your insurance agent or carrier? Call 877-336-2627. To learn more about how to start your flood insurance claim, visit Floodsmart.gov.
  • Mental health resources are available. Survivors experiencing emotional distress can call or text the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990. The national hotline provides free 24/7, crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. Deaf and Hard of Hearing ASL callers can use a videophone or ASL Now.
  • Florida residents who did not evacuate but now need to leave their home can visit www.floridadisaster.org/shelter-status for open general and special needs shelters in Florida. If you do leave your home, do not leave pets or animals behind. You can also register other members of your household and your pets on Shelter in Place Survey (arcgis.com) to help local first responders locate you.
  • Florida residents can call the Florida State Assistance Information Line at 800-342-3557 to receive up-to-date information regarding Hurricane Ian.
  • Medically dependent residents of Florida who need electricity to operate medical equipment, transport services to evacuated due to a medical condition or need help getting medication during a disaster can register for assistance at FloridaDisaster.org/SNR.
  • The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has free reunification assistance for children and families impacted by disasters. If you or someone you know is missing a child related to a disaster or any other incident, please immediately call 911 and then 800-THE-LOST for assistance.
  • Visit Hurricane Ian | FEMA.gov for information and resources available for Florida residents affected by the storm. The page will be available in Creole, Simplified Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and Vietnamese.”

How to help:

  • “Please do not self-deploy. If you want to volunteer as part of the Hurricane Ian recovery, visit Florida’s official volunteer portal at VolunteerFlorida.org to find volunteer opportunities.
  • Volunteer to help. There will be volunteer opportunities for months, often years, after the disaster. A list of agencies with volunteer opportunities can be found on the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster website at www.nvoad.org.
  • Cash is the best donation.  After a disaster, people always want to help, but It’s important to donate responsibly. When people support voluntary organizations with financial contributions, it helps ensure a steady flow of important services to the people in need after a disaster. You can make a donation at www.volunteerflorida.org/donatefdf or text DISASTER to 20222.
  • Before donating supplies connect with organizations working in the affected area to identify what is needed, how much is needed and when it is needed. Used clothing is never needed in a disaster area. Unwanted donations can overwhelm charities on the ground because they need to be received sorted.
  • If you need assistance locating a missing friend or relative call the Red Cross at 800-733-2767 and provide as much detail as you can to assist us in potentially locating your missing loved one.”
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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