After flying to Puerto Rico, visiting the ports, and touring some of the island by air, Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday evening that Florida is ready and in good position to help, though many of Puerto Rico’s challenges are distinct from Florida’s experiences, being an island with limited roads, many washed out from Hurricane Maria’s devastation last week or which soon could be from rising waters.
Scott said he’s seeking to organize donations to be shipped out through Florida ports, offering “Florida’s playbook” on hurricane recovering, including dealing with the federal government red tape, and preparing Florida for whatever’s necessary to absorb what could be a large influx of long-term evacuees.
“But the whole goal for them is, I want to help Gov. [Ricardo] Rosselló to be successful,” Scott said after flying back and landing at Orlando Sanford International Airport Thursday night. “So my point today with them was, OK, tell me what your needs are and I will do everything we can to help.”
Yet he also cautioned the big challenge at the moment is getting supplies, food, water, fuel, generators and other incoming aid from the Puerto Rico ports to the interior, because of limited diesel, trucks, drivers and passable roads. He said 5 percent of the island has power, and 28 percent of cell phone users have service.
Scott said Florida will be organizing its relief efforts for Puerto Rico by specific problems: “power, education, food and water, whatever can be helpful.” And that would include welcoming longterm evacuees, though he suggested that challenge has not yet been defined.
“We don’t know how many people are going to come here. What we are doing is getting prepared: what we do, how we can take care of those families,” Scott said. “We’re going through all those issues right now and we’ll work with our school districts and the airports and everybody.”
Scott said he’s spoken with Florida Education Secretary Pam Stewart about issues such as waiving class size rules and student counts used to determine state and federal funding.
“All those things we’ll figure out. One thing, we have to watch what’s happening every day and figure out how to respond to it. I have a good team of people and they’ll figure it out. Here’s what’s good about our state: One, we are a welcoming state; and two, we have a good budget. We’re running surpluses now, so we’re in a good position to be able to respond. And I believe the federal government will be a partner.”