Biden approves disaster declaration

Published: Aug. 31, 2023 at 12:04 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE — President Joe Biden on Thursday approved a federal disaster declaration to help state and local recovery efforts after the Category 3 Hurricane Idalia slammed into North Florida’s Big Bend region and caused widespread damage.

The disaster declaration will make federal money available for people affected by the storm in Citrus, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee and Taylor counties. Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning in the Keaton Beach area of Taylor County before sweeping north into Georgia.

“Damage assessments are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed,” the White House said in a news release.

The announcement came as Gov. Ron DeSantis and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell viewed damage Thursday morning. They were scheduled to hold an afternoon news conference in Steinhatchee, a coastal Taylor County village that sustained heavy damage.

The federal declaration opens the door to such assistance as grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, the White House news release said.

DeSantis has requested a major disaster declaration for 25 counties, seeking “expedited federal assistance” to help pay for debris removal and provide temporary housing.

Biden’s action makes federal money available to the state, local governments and certain non-profit organizations for emergency work. The money is provided on a “cost-sharing basis,” the White House said. Also, federal money is available for hazard-mitigation measures statewide.

During a news conference Thursday at the state Emergency Operations Center before the White House announcement, Criswell said the federal government was committed to supporting the relief efforts.

“I’m here today to join the governor and see first-hand the impacts on the communities so we can determine what level of assistance and what other programs we’ll need to bring in to help support those people that were in the storm’s path,” Criswell said.

“We are going to make sure that we always have the resources here from the federal family to support the current efforts, but also the ongoing recovery efforts that may be needed in these communities that were impacted by Hurricane Idalia,” Criswell added.

DeSantis went to the Taylor County city of Perry after the storm Wednesday and said clearing debris and downed trees would be a “huge effort.”

“There’s going to be a lot that’s going to be required to be able to clean this up, and to get everything back up and running again,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said that some aspects of recovery in the area could take months.

“You have people’s lives that have been at risk. We don’t necessarily have any confirmed fatalities yet, but that very well may change. And then you have people whose livelihoods have been turned upside down, so they’re going to need support,” the governor told reporters.

To donate to The Florida Disaster Fund, click here.