The political aftermath of Hurricane Ian’s strike on Florida is intensifying over the massive federal aid needed to restore devastated communities and the question of whether those most vulnerable to extreme weather should be rebuilt.
As the death toll rose to 76 in the Sunshine State and crews struggled to restore power, attention turned Sunday to long-term relief and reconstruction, a process that will take years and it is likely to be controversial.
And while the disaster has led to a limited truce between political rivals within the state and in Washington, there are emerging recriminations, for example, over whether evacuation orders in one of the hardest-hit areas, battered Lee County , they gave people time to flee.
As residents begin a statewide cleanup operation and those in the worst-hit regions recover what they can from destroyed homes, the enormous financial cost, along with the human trauma, of the storm is becoming obvious
In the short term, a debate is already growing over how much federal aid should be and how quickly it can be delivered, always an issue in a embattled Congress where hurricane rebuilding aid often sparks fierce partisan battles.
On a longer time horizon, Ian’s devastation is also raising questions about how Florida, in particular, will face more likely monster storms in the future as climate change accelerates. Political leaders are already grappling with issues such as the need for more affordable flood insurance, the quality of housing and the wisdom of building on exposed shorelines after homes and streets were swept away by Ian’s storm.
Two of those leaders, Florida Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, covered Sunday’s policy talks, calling for swift aid and deflecting questions about previous GOP reservations for similar aid for other states.
Rubio warned on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he would vote “no” on any aid package for his state if lawmakers tried to spend on pet projects that could delay implementation and increase its cost.
“I’m going to fight for him to have pork. That’s the key,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash.
“We are able in this country, in Congress, to vote for disaster relief … after key events like this without using it as a vehicle or a mechanism for people to burden themselves with things they don’t they’re related to the storm,” Rubio said. who faces re-election in November.
Florida’s senior senator has been accused of hypocrisy for asking the Senate Appropriations Committee to work on a relief package that could reach billions of dollars even after opposing aid for to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast in 2012. Rubio claimed that specific legislation had been “loaded.” with a bunch of stuff that had nothing to do with disaster relief.”
But the controversy is a reminder of how even with the acute need in Florida, providing aid to the state quickly will be complicated, especially as Puerto Rico also seeks federal funds to rebuild after Hurricane Fiona last month. which still hit the citizens. struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria five years ago. Maria, which left many islanders without power for months, sparked a prolonged standoff between Democrats and then-President Donald Trump, who argued the need for more federal funding for the island.
So far, the bitter politics that rocked Florida ahead of the midterm elections have mostly given way to humanitarian concerns in the wake of the storm. Rubio, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is also facing re-election, and others have praised the initial effort by the Biden administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to increase relief supplies and assets to Florida. And President Joe Biden will assess future needs when he visits Florida on Wednesday with first lady Jill Biden, following his planned visit to Puerto Rico on Monday.
It is already becoming clear that some devastated areas in Florida will be uninhabitable for at least months and could reinforce concerns about the impact of migration to the state by Americans who love their own seaside paradise.
Rubio, for example, told ABC’s “This Week” that the barrier island of Sanibel had essentially been “flattened.” And he told Bash on “State of the Union,” for example, that places like Fort Myers Beach, which he described as “a part of old Florida,” could be rebuilt, but would never be the same.
“Some of those places that had been there for so long are gone,” Rubio said.
Scott, Florida’s junior senator, wrestled with the question of whether some homes should be rebuilt, given the risk of dangerous future hurricanes and the struggle many Floridians have to get flood insurance for their properties.
“I was in Kissimmee yesterday and there was some flooding up there. And they weren’t in a flood plain. Nobody was told to get flood insurance. And they probably had about a foot of water in their houses, and they were completely shocked,” Scott told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“I think you have to look at… should you build in places?” Scott said. “I think these places are places people want to live. They’re beautiful places. So what you really have to do is say, ‘I’m going to build, but I’m going to do it safely.'”
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, meanwhile, said homeowners needed to be increasingly aware of the challenges posed by climate change and extreme weather conditions.
“I think the important thing is that people need to understand what their potential risk might be, whether it’s on the coast or inland and along a river or even in Tornado Alley. People need to understand what their risk is,” Criswell told “State of the Union.”
“We need to make sure that as we rebuild, we are at least rebuilding to current building codes that will protect and reduce the impacts of these storms.
“And people need to make informed decisions about what their risk is and, if they choose to rebuild there, making sure they do it in a way that reduces their threat.”
As always after hurricanes, the actions of local, state and national authorities are under scrutiny. There is growing attention in Lee County, Florida, where many of the hurricane’s deaths were reported.
The country did not issue an evacuation order until Tuesday despite earlier warnings of storm surges that would destroy much of its housing and infrastructure as the storm roared ashore on Wednesday. The county’s emergency plan suggests the order to leave, which came a day after several neighboring counties issued theirs, should have been issued sooner.
DeSantis has defended local authorities, citing uncertainty in data and the storm’s path. And Scott, a former Florida governor, told “State of the Union” there would be an evaluation of the decisions made in Lee County.
“What I’ve always tried to do as governor is say, ‘OK, what have we learned in each of these,'” he said.
Sanibel Fire Rescue Medical Director Dr. Ben Abo told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Sunday that he would not be surprised if the death toll rises significantly on the island as relief efforts continue, but that he gave support the decisions of Lee County authorities.
He also stressed the need for individual responsibility for safety as hurricanes approach.
“It seemed like a lot of people needed to be asked, which they were warned about beforehand. We’re trying to give the best advice, which is, ‘Hey, get out of there while you can.’ If you can get out earlier, the better,” Abo said .
“I’m seeing that a lot of people still stayed.”