Crist gets close view of damage

Aug 22, 2008

President triggers federal help with declaration of emergency

Florida Today--August 22, 2008

On Day 5 of Tropical Storm Fay’s assault on Florida, President Bush declared a federal emergency as the storm continued its slow march across the top of the state.

The declaration came as Gov. Charlie Crist toured Fay’s wake of damage in rain-soaked and windswept Brevard County. More than 2 feet of rain has fallen on parts of the Space Coast, and forecasters said similar downpours could await North Florida and the Panhandle if Fay keeps up its stutter-and-stall progress in coming days.

Crist traveled to hot and humid Brevard on Thursday afternoon — where the rain had stopped for the moment — inspecting flood and tornado damage.

After a visit to encourage Brevard County emergency responders, Crist went to Lamplighter Village, a community of about 600 manufactured homes near Interstate 95.

"I couldn’t believe all the water," Crist said. He took in the damage in a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission swamp buggy.

State officials conducted damage assessments in Southwest Florida, where Fay came ashore on Monday, and went into Brevard Thursday.

"These numbers will assist us, as we head into the recovery phase of our operations," said Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "We want to ensure that we get an accurate assessment of the damages that have occurred, so our residents can receive the assistance they need to recover."

The declaration clears the way for federal reimbursement of up to three-quarters of the cost of debris removal and infrastructure repair from Fay.

"Nearly all of our 67 counties will have been impacted by the time Fay leaves our state, and these funds will help our local and state partners recoup the costs of keeping Floridians safe," Crist said.

In a morning briefing, Crist and other state officials urged those in the path of Fay to remain vigilant and watch for rising waters.

"The expectation is Fay will continue to spread this 8 to 15 inches (of rainfall) along all of the Interstate 10 corridor," state meteorologist Ben Nelson said.

In Barefoot Bay, Crist strode up to 86-year-old George Bryan at his Periwinkle Circle home.

"Are you all right? Do you have enough water?" Crist asked.

"Yes, I’m fine," Bryan said.

Crist a few minutes later announced that the White House had approved the emergency declaration.

At the same time, Crist announced that Florida Surgeon General Ana Viamonte Ros and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole will stay in Brevard to supervise recovery.

Florida National Guard members have been deployed in Brevard County.

They helped in rescues from flooded neighborhoods Wednesday night and Thursday, leading them through chest-high water.

"There’s a lot of people who didn’t have insurance so they just didn’t want to go," said Pfc. Anthony Suitto, a 25-year-old Guardsman from Cocoa.

At the end of the day, Crist stopped at a Barefoot Bay community center, and announced to about 20 residents that help was on the way with the new disaster declaration. The crowd cheered.