The storm knocked out power for more than 2 million people in Florida by early Thursday, a figure that is sure to rise as the storm continues its way across the state. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned during a late Wednesday night appearance on Fox News that the hurricane will bring “one of the biggest flood events we’ve ever had. What remains to be seen is how much damage the wind did. Obviously it’s very significant.”
The White House said in its disaster declaration that damage assessments are continuing in other areas of the state, ”and additional areas may be designated for assistance after the assessments are fully completed.”
Biden’s approval comes a day after DeSantis officially requested the disaster declaration for the entire state. The entire Florida congressional delegation also wrote to Biden in support of DeSantis’ request.
“This historic hurricane will continue to impact the state for some time, and the full extent of damage will not be known for days. However, approving this declaration request will allowFloridians to be better prepared for the recovery phase,” the lawmakers said in a letter, led by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R).
The governor held multiple briefings during the week on the state’s response to the hurricane in Tallahassee and throughout the state. Florida prepared teams for search and rescue missions and activated 5,000 National Guard troops to assist in the recovery efforts. At least 40,000 workers are on standby to help restore power.
“This is going to be one of those historic storms, and it’s going to really shape the communities in southwest Florida and have a profound impact on our state,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “So we just ask people for their thoughts and their prayers.”
At least 2.5 million people were under evacuation orders in some areas, and while many fled to higher ground, some stayed in their homes. Officials on Wednesday advised people who remained in their homes in evacuation areas to shelter in place, including Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell, who said members of the Department of Defense, Department of the Interior and the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami have “robust search and rescue capability.”
Karen Baughman, 81, of Fort Myers, Fla., couldn’t evacuate her home before the hurricane struck and was hunkered down in her home on Wednesday. She said she felt safe and didn’t have any flooding in her neighborhood.
“I’ve been through three hurricanes here and only once did I have to go to a shelter,” she said in an interview. “My home felt safe. It’s always sounded worse — the predictions — than it’s been. And I didn’t really know where I would go.”
Zack Colman contributed to this story.