Politics

Fort Myers mayor says county acted

Washington — The mayor of Fort Myers, Florida, one of the areas hit the hardest by Hurricane Ian last week, defended the timing of evacuation orders given by Lee County officials as the storm neared the southwestern region of the state, saying they “acted appropriately.”

“Warnings for hurricane season start in June. And so there’s a degree of personal responsibility here,” Mayor Kevin Anderson said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “I think the county acted appropriately. The thing is that a certain percentage of people will not heed the warnings regardless.

Lee County officials issued their first mandatory evacuation orders on Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours before Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 in southwest Florida. The orders also came after calls from neighboring counties for their residents to leave Monday ahead of the impending storm.

Hurricane Ian devastated the region, and CBS News found the number of deaths directly or indirectly attributed to the hurricane to be at least 73 in Florida. Of those, 35 were in Lee County and 23 were in Charlotte County. As of Saturday morning, officials with the U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said roughly 4,000 people have been rescued in Florida.

Anderson said in Fort Myers, crews are working 16 hours per day to restore electricity and water to homes and businesses in the area. 

“Most of our damage was right along the river, and it was caused by flooding. I was in one of the worst hit areas yesterday in the east side of town,” Anderson said. “You can see the newer houses are intact, and they’re fine. But the older homes which were built lower, and not up to the current codes, they suffered more damage. So having solid good building codes is a key to this issue.”

Deanne Criswell, administrator of FEMA, said the agency’s focus is on helping those in Florida that have felt the most significant impacts of the hurricane.

“Right now, we’ve got a lot of staff, we got a lot of resources that are embedded across the state in Florida making sure that we are continuing the first priority which is saving as many lives as possible and getting the immediate assistance out to those that need it right now the most,” she told “Face the Nation.”

Criswell, who visited Florida on Friday and Saturday, said she saw the reach of the devastation from the storm, with many homes “completely destroyed.”

“We are going to make sure that we are getting the right people in there to help provide the temporary support right now, but the long term needs to help these communities recover,” she said.

She said the agency, which administers relief to those affected, is also going to work with partners such as the Small Business Administration and Department of Housing and Urban Development to help support families and communities.

“We’re going to work together on what those unmet needs are and what their long-term needs are, and make sure we’re providing the resources and the support to those communities, temporary and then long-term to get these communities back on their feet while they’re rebuilding,” Criswell said.

Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida, told “Face the Nation” that when he worked with FEMA as governor, the agency was a “good partner.” But Congress, too, may have to provide emergency relief to help the state recover. 

“We’ve made commitments, and we’re going to help our families, our businesses, our states and local governments, and as the federal government, we need to do our job,” he said. “Now, we got to watch how we spend our money. So always try to figure out how you pay for things.”

Scott noted that in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and while he was serving as governor from 2011 to 2019, the state updated its building codes to reduce the risk of damage from hurricanes. After this, he said, “we’re going to learn that we’re going to you know, have to continue to improve our building codes.”

Criswell, too, said that for people who lost their homes in the storm, they need to understand the risks as they begin to make decisions about rebuilding.”

“We need to make sure that we have strong building codes because we have risks all over, we’ve seen damage inland in the state, and we need to have building codes that can make sure that our properties can withstand the impacts that we’re seeing from these severe weather events,” she said.

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