Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday didn’t quite attribute Hurricane Dorian’s dramatic turn away from Florida to prayers he and Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz separately left, written on paper, between the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Each note, left in observance of a Jewish tradition, urged divine intervention against any hurricane threatening the state.
“All I can tell you is [that] last week the storm was a beeline, a buzzsaw, across South Florida. And it kind of stalled out and turned pretty dramatically 90 degrees to the North,” the governor said during a news conference at the emergency operations center in Tallahassee
“If we had a hand in assisting that, I’m not going to argue with the Big Guy upstairs,” he said.
DeSantis called the news conference, he said, to announce that the emergency response to Dorian was winding down.
“This is kind of a wrap for us. Jared’s going to shut this down by the weekend,” he said, as emergency officials milled around, beyond a glass wall behind him, in the massive operations center. Now, the state will turn to fixing what damage Dorian caused in Florida. “We’re just going to hope that we get spared for the rest of the hurricane season.”
It had been “a close call for us,” the governor said. Dorian, a huge and destructive Category 5 hurricane, stalled over the Bahamas inflicting catastrophic damage and killing at least 20 people, at last count. But it never inflicted a direct hit on Florida.
“I think we all did the right things to take this storm seriously and prepare accordingly,” DeSantis said. He believes the experience taught lessons to state and local emergency responders that will guide their response to the next storm.
Initial reports suggest Florida suffered “tens of millions of dollars” in damage, the governor said. “A lot of beach damage. We obviously are still going to be getting some information on that.” He did not expect losses to match those from Hurricane Matthew, however.
Other reports suggest two deaths in Florida, DeSantis said – “somebody who was trying to trim trees, so it was an accident. There was another death, a gentleman who was in a shelter, very elderly, passed away.” He didn’t yet know that cause of death.
The governor dismissed a suggestion that President Trump’s pre-disaster declaration, authorizing federal assistance in advance of any landfall, might not fully reimburse local governments for their costs of opening shelters. “I think we probably will get it,” he said of federal money.
“These counties and the state, we did what you would want us to do. We actually took steps to prepare. The idea that, because the storm moved a little one way, that somehow they’re going to be left holding that entire bag, that sends to message to folks, ‘Well, maybe skimp on that next time.’ What that will end up leading to is, when a storm does hit, the damage will be worse from a federal perspective,” the governor said.
DeSantis added that he’d spoken with the president Wednesday night. “He basically said, ‘We’re going to help you out with whatever you need.’”
DeSantis declined to join calls by U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to extend temporary protected immigration status to Bahamians with families in the United States. The Bahamian government, the governor said, is encouraging locals to remain, given that large areas of the islands were undamaged.
“Those are not my decisions to make. Those are the decisions of the federal government,” the governor said.
The state announced while monitoring Dorian that some nursing homes had not complied with a new law requiring them to install electrical generators in case of power failures. DeSantis said Thursday that, in fact, those that lacked generators tended to have evacuation plans for their patients, which the law allows.
“A lot of the reason they did was because they knew there was scrutiny on this. I think the state’s efforts were helpful on that,” he said – adding that officials plan to review how well compliance worked.
Now Florida is prepared to send resources to the Carolinas as they cope with the storm, DeSantis said. He’s also prepared to send water supplies the state amassed for Dorian response to the Bahamas. Some of these supplies are near their expiration date, and “I don’t want that to go to waste if we have the ability to use that to help some folks.” The state could easily replace these stocks if another hurricane threatens, he said.
DeSantis said he has been in touch with John Rood, the U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas, about conditions in the archipelago and ways Florida could help.
He praised state and local emergency responders, but also the general population.
“It’s a frustrating experience, but I think Floridians by and large hung in there, and I want to thank them for what they did during this process.”