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DeSantis, FEMA Promise Relief from Hurricane Michael

Governor's Press Office

Governor Ron DeSantis and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long returned to Northwest Florida this week, as the region continues its recovery from Hurricane Michael.

Among their stops, DeSantis and Long toured Tyndall Air Force Base and the tiny coastal town on Mexico Beach, the latter mostly destroyed by Michael.

“Bottom line is, I want people in northwest Florida to know that, even though I wasn’t governor when the storm happened, I realize that these things just don’t right themselves in a day. It takes a long time, this is a long effort,” said the Governor.

More than three months after Michael made landfall in Bay County, much of the Panhandle still has scars. While in Panama City, Long announced FEMA trailer housing would open soon.

“First, move people out of shelters into places you can rent; into hotels,” said Long. “We’re bringing travel trailers and manufactured homes to the area to get people a little more stable in their community. Trying to find housing when you’ve had a tremendous amount of the housing stock damaged is incredibly difficult.”

State officials have estimated Michael — a Category-4 making landfall October 10th in Mexico Beach — created about 20 million cubic tons of debris. Much of it still strewn across the region. DeSantis has directed the state Division of Emergency Management to expedite 2.8 million dollars in state matching funds for debris removal in Mexico Beach.  

“The better the cleanup, and as people see that we are not forgetting about this and that it’s getting better, people are more likely to move back,” said the Governor. “We want, ultimately, Bay County to bounce back stronger than before.”

FEMA’s Brock Long says the sheer volume of debris from the storm means the cleanup process will take a long time.

“We have to take a deep breath and understand that large-scale disaster recovery takes many years,” Long said. “It’s not just a matter of a month. While a lot has been accomplished, we realize we have a long way to go.”

In addition to up-fronting disaster relief money to local governments, the Governor says he’ll push the White House to increase federal reimbursements for debris cleanup. 

Meanwhile, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis says residents are still getting in the paperwork to file claims, but he believes there’s a better, faster job to be done.

“We have experienced over 130,000 insurance claims directly related to Hurricane Michael,” Patronis said. “Seventy-six percent of them have been closed. As I have told the insurance industry, that’s not good enough.”

The longer the claims process is drawn out, says Patronis, the more likely residents will seek other forms of relief. And that could open the door for widespread fraud.

“As recovery is utmost [the] focus of [Wednesday’s] meeting, I need to make sure that our citizens of northwest Florida don’t get damaged twice by the storm,” said Patronis. “We’ve got all types of outsiders that see an opportunity here to benefit from the insurance claims process. And we’ve got to do everything in our power to protect ‘em.”

According to data posted on the state Division of Elections website, Michael ran up a five billion dollar tab in covered losses.