Florida state agencies share resources and news regarding unemployment, education and more following Hurricane Ian

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Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, held the first state agency head press conference Monday morning following Hurricane Ian’s destructive path through Florida. Guthrie said he brought agency heads to the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee to “ensure that impacted businesses and residents have the resources they need to begin their recovery and rebuild.” Agency heads shared news regarding FEMA assistance, food distribution, power restoration, unemployment benefits, school closures and more.

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida on Sept. 28 as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm then downgraded to a tropical storm before passing through Central Florida on Sept. 29 and out into the Atlantic where it strengthened to a Category 1 storm before striking South Carolina on Sept. 30. Ian’s high winds and catastrophic storm surge brought destruction to cities like Fort Myers, Naples and Port Charlotte, before bringing heavy rainfall and dangerous flooding to the Orlando metro area and the Space Coast.

So far, 17 disaster-declared counties have been cleared for individual assistance from FEMA. According to Guthrie, more than 164,000 people have applied for assistance as of Monday morning.

Guthrie said 2 million residents have regained power thus far, with around 621,000 still without electricity. For those whose homes can receive power, it is estimated that households will have their power back by this Sunday. This does not include areas where power infrastructure has been destroyed.

To help feed impacted communities, 829,000 MREs and over 3 million bottles of water have been distributed thus far from Point of Distribution centers in Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Hardee, DeSoto, Highlands, and Collier Counties. Details on each center can be found on FDEM’s website.

Guthrie also took a moment to warn against scams masquerading as volunteer efforts, which can thrive following disasters like Ian.

“Remember, volunteer organizations are free. They will not charge you,” said Guthrie, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

When asked about the status of shelters, Guthrie said the next phase transitioning from emergency sheltering to short-term sheltering. Local emergency managers will begin consolidating shelters so that schools can re-open and just have the necessary facilities open.

“We may look at a regional strategy,” Guthrie said, “if individuals in that county get down to a number where we can open regional shelters.”

Others may be sheltering in hotels in Southwest Florida, though the structures may not be fully functional yet. The Division is working on getting hotels running water as soon as possible. Guthrie said his goal is to have water restored to 50% of Lee County homes and businesses in the next 72 hours as long as the structure can still receive water. His goal is for 100% of running water to return by Sunday.

Secretary of the Department of Economic Opportunity Dane Eagle announced that Disaster Unemployment Assistance has been activated for select counties. This is a benefit for persons who lost employment following Hurricane Ian who do not otherwise qualify for unemployment benefits. Eagle stressed that applicants must apply for standard unemployment assistance first and receive a decision before applying for disaster unemployment assistance. The deadline to apply is December 30, 2022.

According to Commissioner Manny Diaz of the Department of Education, 59 school districts shut down for at least one day at the height of Ian’s impact. As of this morning, 46 are open. Diaz said the goal is to open more by the end of this week. Charlotte County Schools, DeSoto County Schools, Hardee County Schools, Lee County Schools and Sarasota County Schools are closed until further notice.

If you are still missing a loved one, you can report a missing person here. If you would like to report yourself or someone else as safe, you can do so here.

About Melissa Feito - FPREN

Melissa Feito is a multimedia producer for Florida Storms and the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (FPREN). Reach her with questions, story ideas or feedback at mfeito2@ufl.edu.

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