Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ relationship with the media has been prickly since the Republican leader took office in 2018.
In the wake of Hurricane Ian, which devastated the Sunshine State last week, DeSantis has seemingly lost patience with mainstream reporting and went on the offensive.
“How do you stand behind Lee County’s decision to not have that mandatory evacuation until the day before the storm?” a CNN reporter asked him.
DeSantis pointed out that the hurricane was expected to make landfall much further north.
“Well, where was your industry stationed when the storm hit?” the governor said. “Were you guys in Lee County? No, you were in Tampa.”
Local authorities “were following the weather track and they had to make decisions based on that,” DeSantis said.
“I will say, they delivered the message to people. They had shelters open. Everyone had an adequate opportunity to at least get to a shelter” in Lee County, DeSantis continued. “But a lot of residences did not want to do that.”
“Part of it was that so much attention was paid to Tampa” that some residents may have underestimated the storm in Lee County, but DeSantis pointed out it was “easy to second guess” decisions made at the time.
“Some of the neighboring counties did have mandatory evacuations before Tuesday,” the CNN reporter replied.
“Well, right, but if you look Tuesday morning they had moved the [storm tracking] model” south, which informed decisions in places like Sarasota, DeSantis replied.
“I was in Sarasota with them … when [authorities] were expanding their evacuations,” he said.
“It’s easy to say in hindsight,” DeSantis said. “We had most our supplies stationed in the Tampa Bay area. As that track moved, we shifted our response further south as well.”
Take a look for yourself —
Today: CNN reporter questions Governor DeSantis, hoping to push a misleading narrative about evacuation in Lee County.
He shuts that right down.
🔥His answer is professional, direct & empathetic… with ZERO tolerance for gaslighting.pic.twitter.com/Z8YVgcMXFl
— DeSantis War Room 🐊 #FloridaStrong (@DeSantisWarRoom) October 3, 2022
Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson also defended Lee County officials on Sunday from accusations that they were slow in ordering evacuations Tuesday ahead of the storm, a day later than some other counties in the area.
“Warnings for hurricane season start in June. So there’s a degree of personal responsibility here. I think the county acted appropriately. The thing is, a certain percentage of people will not heed the warnings regardless,” Anderson said on the CBS show “Face the Nation.”
With the death toll rising and hundreds of thousands of people without power in Florida and the Carolinas, U.S. officials vowed Sunday to unleash a massive amount of federal disaster aid as crews scrambled to rescue people stranded by the storm.
Days after Ian tore through central Florida, water levels have continued to rise in some flooded areas, inundating homes and streets that were passable just a day or two earlier.
“This is such a big storm, brought so much water, that you’re having basically what’s been a 500-year flood event,” DeSantis said at an event Sunday in Arcadia, north of Lee County.
At least 68 people have been confirmed dead: 61 in Florida, four in North Carolina, and three in Cuba.
Fewer than 700,000 homes and businesses in Florida were still without electricity Sunday, down from a peak of 2.6 million.
The weakened storm wreaked havoc as it drifted north, with the remnants forming a nor’easter that is expected to dump rain on parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania, weather officials said.
In Virginia, rainfall on the already inundated Chesapeake Bay could lead to the most significant tidal flooding event in the Hampton Roads region in the last 10 to 15 years, said Cody Poche, a National Weather Service meteorologist. A handful of coastal Virginia school districts canceled classes Monday, and local officials urged residents to prepare.
Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the federal government is focusing first on victims in Florida, which took the brunt of one of the strongest storms to make landfall in the United States. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden plan to visit Florida on Wednesday.
Flooded roadways and washed-out bridges to barrier islands left many people isolated amid limited cellphone service and a lack of basic amenities such as water, electricity, and the internet. Officials warned that the situation in many areas isn’t expected to improve for several days because the rain that fell has nowhere to go.
Criswell told “Fox News Sunday” that the federal government, including the Coast Guard and Department of Defense, had moved into position “the largest amount of search and rescue assets that I think we’ve ever put in place before.”
Still, she cautioned that dangers remain.
“We see so many more injuries and sometimes more fatalities after the storm,” Criswell said. “Standing water brings with it all kinds of hazards — it has debris, it could have power lines.”
More than 1,600 people have been rescued statewide, according to Florida’s emergency management agency.
In rural Seminole County, north of Orlando, residents donned waders, boots, and bug spray to paddle to their flooded homes Sunday.
Ben Bertat found 4 inches of water in his house by Lake Harney after kayaking there.
“I think it’s going to get worse because all of this water has to get to the lake,” said Bertat, pointing to the water flooding a nearby road. “With ground saturation, all this swamp is full and it just can’t take any more water. It doesn’t look like it’s getting any lower.”
Gabriel Madlang kayaked through several feet of water on his street, delivering sandbags to stave off water creeping toward his doorstep.
“My home is close to underwater,” Madlang said. “Right now, I’m just going to sandbag as much as I can and hope and pray.”
The National Guard and the Coast Guard were flying in helicopters to Florida’s barrier islands to rescue people. On Sanibel Island, the lone bridge to the crescent-shaped island collapsed, cutting off access by car for its 6,300 residents.
DeSantis said the state will start building a temporary structure this week to restore vehicle access to Pine Island, the largest of southwestern Florida’s barrier islands devastated by the storm.
“It’s not going to be a full bridge, you’re going to have to go over it probably at 5 miles an hour or something, but it’ll at least let people get in and off the island with their vehicles,” DeSantis said.
In North Carolina, the storm downed trees and power lines. Two of the four deaths in the state were from storm-related vehicle crashes. The others involved a man who drowned when his truck plunged into a swamp and another killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in a garage.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article