After several days of prep, federal emergency officials on this Sunday must now wait to see just how much damage Hurricane Irma does to Florida, as for the second time in the last few weeks, a strong tropical system could set the stage for billions of dollars in federal disaster relief needs.
“My administration is monitoring Hurricane Irma around the clock,” the President said in a Saturday tweet. “We will do everything possible to help save lives and support those in need.”
“Hurricane Irma looks like it is going to be a really bad one,” Mr. Trump said at a meeting of top Cabinet officials meeting at Camp David.
“We’re as prepared as you can be,” Mr. Trump added.
After hurricane computer models initially put the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region into the bulls eye, now the focus is the Gulf Coast of Florida, from Naples north through Fort Myers, and up to Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The last major hurricane to strike that side of Florida was Hurricane Charley, which struck on August 13, 2004, coming ashore at Punta Gorda.
The storm originally was forecast to move on a line to hit Tampa Bay, but made a sudden right turn, doing over $13 billion in damage.
On Friday, the House gave final approval to $15.3 billion in additional disaster aid – mainly for Hurricane Harvey – as officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency said they would likely need another infusion of resources by the end of September to deal with damage from Irma.
The storm prep basically ended on Saturday, as the first waves of strong storms began to hit the Miami and Fort Lauderdale area, as late Saturday night, Irma began to make its ominous trek into the Florida Straits.
“Gulf Coast High School still has plenty of seats available in the auditorium,” officials from Collier County, Florida announced on Saturday, as Naples area residents looked for possible shelter from the storm.
“If you are in an evacuation zone, now is the time to leave,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
As the sun went down on Saturday, many in Florida were making their final calculations on what they should do – stay, find a shelter, or get on the road out of town, if they had enough gas.
A quick post on Facebook asking how people were drew an immediate response from my many radio listeners down in Florida, as a number of responses showed some staying put, while others decided to make a last minute dash to the north.
“My daughter and family decided to leave Tampa for our house in Atlanta at around 6 pm,” one woman wrote. “They are making good time.”
“Had friends leave from Sarasota tonight, reported light traffic, and they were able to get gas,” wrote another.
But others decided to sit tight.
“I’m staying put,” a long time friend of mine told me, who lives in St. Petersburg.
“Have two friends coming over to stay with me,” he said, flashing the stubborn streak that he’s had his entire life. “Hoping it weakens as it moves north.”
Many others were making that same calculation.