From the Capitol

Hurricane Irma caused quite a stir throughout the State of Florida as we waited to see which path it would take northward last month.  Irma finally made landfall on September 10th at Cudjoe Key as a Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour. She then hit Marco Island shortly thereafter and greatly weakened while traveling north through the peninsula and into Georgia and the Atlantic. It was the most intense hurricane to develop in the Atlantic since 2005 and the first Category 5 to ever strike the Leeward Islands.  Hurricane Maria quickly followed as a Category 4 hurricane hitting Puerto Rico on September 20th, wrecking havoc on the power grid and destroying the island’s agriculture. Puerto Ricans are arriving in Florida, primarily Central Florida, as a temporary or permanent plan to escape the damage.

Floridians were strongly encouraged to prepare this hurricane season, but Irma took it to a new level. Stores across the state were constantly restocking shelves with water, generators, flashlights, batteries and other necessities prior to the storm. Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties so citizens could get prescriptions filled, move away from flood zones, and gas could be distributed to key population points. He also suspended tolls on the Turnpike to expedite evacuations.

The costs of the aftermath of Irma are still being calculated. Insurance losses are high, with Citizens Property Insurance Corporation expecting at lease $1.2 billion to be paid from its surplus. Total insurance claims could top $5 billion, but the storm could eventually reach close to $100 billion in total damage.

Agriculture took a huge hit, suffering a potential staggering $2.5 billion in losses. Sugar alone lost an estimated $383 million, and citrus growers were reporting crop losses from 40 percent in Central Florida to 100 percent in Southwest Florida.Sixty-seven percent of residents lost power at some point and the state closed 168 of its 174 state parks; all but one have reopened.  To see the status of parks, go to FloridaStateParks.org.

The Florida Legislature was forced to cancel their committee meetings in September due to the impending arrival of Irma, but resumed their meetings the week of October 9th. The rest of the schedule looks like this, with the first day of session being on January 9, 2018:

October 23-27

November 6-10

November 13-17

December 4-8

The federal government offered some relief to the state.  FEMA has approved over $700 million in assistance so far and free lunches were available until October 20th for students in 48 counties, thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For timely information on continuing relief efforts, visit FloridaDisaster.org.

With two Category 5 hurricanes so far, Floridians remain on high alert for the rest of the hurricane season, which ends November 30th.  While less than 5 percent of U.S. landfall activity occurs after October 20th, there is always the potential for a late-season storm; think Hurricane Kate which hit the Panhandle on November 21,1985.

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