By T.J. Muscaro
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned residents to be “vigilant” on Aug. 27 as Tropical Storm Idalia begins its move toward the state’s Gulf Coast.
Idalia is expected to become a hurricane by late afternoon on Aug. 29 and make landfall in Florida as early as Aug. 30, Mr. DeSantis said during a press conference at the state’s emergency operations center in Tallahassee.
The storm could hit the state as a category 2 hurricane, with winds upwards of 90 miles per hour, and a significant storm surge is expected to hit many of the coastal areas, he said. The governor on Aug. 26 declared a state of emergency for 33 Florida counties in preparation for the storm.
These storms can wobble, he said, noting that Hurricane Ian wasn’t expected to decimate Southwest Florida as it did in 2022. He urged Floridians along the entire Gulf Coast to “be vigilant,” even if they find themselves currently outside the projection tracks known as the “cone of uncertainty.”
Idalia, as of 4 p.m. local time on Aug. 27, was centered about 95 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, moving northeast at 3 miles per hour, with sustained winds of 40 miles per hour.
The Republican presidential candidate was scheduled to be out of state this week, but he elected to stay.
“We’re locked in on this. … We’re gonna get the job done. This is important. So people can rest assured we’re we’ve always been ahead of the curve on this,” he said. “We are going to have resources staged, and we’re going to execute a response here this week.”
The governor was joined by Kevin Guthrie, executive director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
“Every tropical storm, every hurricane is different, and this is no exception,” Mr. Guthrie said. “We cannot gauge our ability to withstand future hurricanes based on prior experiences. This will not be Hurricane Hermie. This will not be Hurricane Ian.”
They outlined the state’s proactive plans to counter the storm’s damages and addressed the discovery of gas being delivered from the Port of Tampa being cross-contaminated with diesel fuel.
“Our emergency operations center will go to level 1 with round-the-clock activity starting at 7 a.m. tomorrow,” Mr. DeSantis said.
The governor has mobilized 1,100 National Guard troops, along with 2,400 vehicles designed to operate in high waters, and 12 aircraft for potential rescue and recovery efforts.
“If you are in the path of this storm, you should expect power outages, so please prepare for that,” Mr. DeSantis said. “Particularly … if this storm ends up coming in the Tallahassee region, there’s a lot of trees that are going to get knocked down, the power lines are going to get knocked down—that is just going to happen. So just be prepared for that.”
Mr. DeSantis explained that the state would be staging a majority of its resources in Marion County and other parts of North Florida because of what he described as a strategic advantage that would “give us the flexibility—in case the (storm) track changes—to be able to mobilize the resources where they need to go.”
Cooperation With Local Officials
Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Guthrie also stressed that cooperation with local municipalities and private companies is essential to executing the best response to the impending storms.
“What we would say to the municipalities and other electric outfits is please be willing to accept this mutual aid so we can get the power back on as quickly as possible,” Mr. DeSantis said. “When we had hurricanes in the places that accepted the mutual aid early, they got the power back on a lot quicker. So please, these resources are going to be there. Let’s all work together to get the power back on.”
The Florida Department of Transportation also expanded weight and size requirements for emergency vehicles to be able to get supplies into the affected areas as fast as possible.
When asked about evacuation orders, Mr. DeSantis explained that it’s up to the local governments to take those actions.
“The reason the state doesn’t do an evacuation order is because evacuations are effectuated by local officials,” he said.
“It’s got to be ‘bottom-up’ because they’re the ones that are controlling how the traffic is going to flow, how people are gonna go, whether there are shelters or not, that is just not done by the state.”
“Utilize this time now to sit down with each and every member of your household and communicate your plan,” Mr. Guthrie said to Florida residents. “Make a plan if you haven’t done so, and make sure you focus on those household members or even your businesses.”
Shelters are expected to be opened in several counties.
“Medically dependent Floridians and those with access and functional needs can receive extra assistance during a disaster through the state special needs registry,” Mr. Guthrie said.
The registry can be found at FloridaDisaster.org.
Addressing a Different Tragedy
Mr. DeSantis opened the emergency meeting by addressing the slaying of two black men and one black woman at the hands of a “racially motivated” 20-year-old white male at a Dollar General Store in Jacksonville, Florida.
The attack occurred on Aug. 26.
“Florida—the state, and its people—condemn the horrific racially motivated murders perpetrated by a deranged scumbag,” he said. “Perpetrating violence of this kind is unacceptable. And targeting people due to their race has no place in the state of Florida.”
Mr. DeSantis said the state would “ensure the college has adequate security, just like we’ve done when our Jewish day schools have been receiving threats.”
“We’re not going to allow, in the state of Florida, our HBCUs to be targets for hateful lunatics like the guy yesterday,” he said.
Melanie Sun contributed to this report.