Florida begins to shift to recovery efforts in Big Bend following Idalia’s wrath

By: - September 1, 2023 11:55 am

Kevin Guthrie (left), head of the Florida Division of Emergency Management; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (center), and Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez (right) at a Friday morning press conference at the State Emergency Operations Center. Sept. 1, 2023. Credit: Screenshot, Florida Channel

Florida has begun to shift from search and rescue operations to recovery operations, as homes and businesses have been destroyed by Hurricane Idalia and thousands of people remain without power in the state’s Big Bend region.

“I was able to go yesterday and meet with some of the business owners [in Horseshoe Beach] that had really significant damage, and I think it was a difficult situation – very raw,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee Friday morning.

The governor reported that 476,000 accounts have had their electricity restored since Hurricane Idalia swept through Florida on Wednesday. The counties with the greatest number of power outages – Taylor, Madison, Lafayette, Hamilton, Suwanee, Jefferson and Dixie are located at Florida’s Big Bend, where Idalia made landfall. (Big Bend is the arch that connects the Panhandle to the peninsula. It’s also the area of Florida’s state capital, an uncommon target of hurricanes.)

Duke Energy is reporting that of their more than 21,000 accounts in Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Taylor, Dixie, Columbia and Suwanee counties, about 80% are currently without power. Only Taylor and Dixie counties are on the Gulf of Mexico, while the others are in Florida’s north-central interior or on the state’s border with Georgia.

DeSantis also detailed state programs to distribute supplies and capital to those affected by Idalia.

Points of Distribution (pods) have been opened in affected counties to provide food, water, ice or tarps; there are seven meal distribution centers run by Florida’s partner non-profits, with locations in Perry, Live Oak, and Cross City; the Department of Children and Families will set up a Family Resource Center in Perry with crisis counselors and an economic self-sufficiency staff; and Florida Commerce will open a Local Government Emergency Bridge Loan Program to help businesses while they wait for insurance funding.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said distribution centers will be set up at Madison County and Horseshoe Beach to provide housing and supplies from the state’s nonprofit partners, which include Mercy Chefs, Operation BBQ Relief, World Central Kitchen, and various Catholic charities.

Guthrie also said that search and rescue efforts have been finalized in fifteen counties and will continue in Madison, Suwanee, and Lafayette counties on Friday. 

“As search and rescue comes to a close very soon, we are immediately shifting into recovery efforts to get communities back on their feet as quickly as possible,” Guthrie said.

Shevaun Harris, secretary of the Florida DCF, reported that schools have reopened in 58 of Florida’s 67 counties, a number she expects to grow over the weekend.

“Children are also uniquely impacted by storms, which is why I’m so glad that we’re going to continue to focus on making sure that our schools are open,” Harris said. “We can’t forget that our children need to be back in the classroom.”

The Florida Department of Education has yet to announce any school reopenings for Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor.

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Christian Casale
Christian Casale

Christian covers education, politics, and whatever else interests him for the Florida Phoenix. He has previously worked as a reporter and editor with the Independent Florida Alligator.