Gov. DeSantis views the damage Hurricane Sally left behind in Escambia, Santa Rosa counties

Gov. Ron DeSantis describes the state's response to Hurricane Sally during a news conference in Pensacola on Sept. 17, 2020. Source: Screenshot

State officials are investigating how a barge came unmoored during Hurricane Sally and heavily damaged Three Mile Bridge across Pensacola Bay, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday after surveying storm damage in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

During a news conference at Pensacola International Airport, a reporter asked the governor whether negligence was suspected in the accident, which sent a section of the bridge to the bottom of the bay.

“FDOT is looking into that,” he said, referring to the Florida Department of Transportation.

But he added that Sally’s late ”wobble” to the east — off a course that appeared headed to Mississippi, may have caught people in Pensacola off guard.

State leaders had assumed that was a possibility and prepared for it, staging emergency responders and supplies nearby just in case, DeSantis said.

“I’d much rather have precautions taken and then not have to use what every resources,” he said.

“Clearly, it’s done a lot of damage,” DeSantis said of the barge. “If you live in some of those areas and don’t have access to that bridge it will be very difficult for people go get around.”

The bridge carries U.S. Highway 98 between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze. It’s been damaged before, the Pensacola News Journal reported, including in 1989, when a different barge strike closed it for 224 days and forced a 45-mile detour.

DeSantis and his entourage — including First Lady Casey DeSantis, emergency management director Jared Moskowitz, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson IV, and Lt. Gov. Janet Nuñez — arrived aboard the U.S. Coast Guard plane they’d used to conduct an aerial survey of the storm damage.

Sally made landfall as a strong Category 2 storm just west of Pensacola, bringing strong winds, storm surge, and heavy rainfall.

The survey revealed some areas with standing water, DeSantis said.

“Like down in Perdido Key, you kind of have homes and there was just water — it was almost like the home was an island,” he said.

Elsewhere waters had appeared to have receded leaving damage that wasn’t apparent from the air. Ground inspections will be necessary, he said.

There have been no reports of fatalities in Florida, the governor said, but the 500 National Guard members he’s deployed have performed more than 100 rescues and Fish and Wildlife Commission officers have done 20 in addition to those by local first responders.

Restoring power is a “major, major” imperative, he said. At the peak of the storm 250,000 homes were without electricity; some 40,000 have seen it restored. He’s told Highway Patrol officers and DOT officials to “do whatever you need to do” to help repair crews access line breaks.

The state has deployed 200 generators to run traffic lights and truck-mounted light towers so that repairs can continue over night, he said.

Additionally, the state has sent in 972,000 bottles of water and 179,000 meals and is establishing mobile kitchens.

Eight-five residents of an assisted living facility that lost power were transferred to another facility owned by the same company while observing COVID-19 protections, the governor said. He did not mention whether the home had a working generator, as required by state law.

“Continue to watch the local news. Listen to local officials as new advisories may come out. And, of course be careful around standing water — it can be very, very hazardous,” the governor said.

Additional information is available at floridadisaster.org, he said.