Coun­ties irked over old, un­paid storm claims

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Gray Rohrer

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE — Faced with bills pil­ing up from Hur­ri­cane Irma, coun­ties hit by Hur­ri­canes Her­mine and Matthew last year said Thurs­day they are still wait­ing on fed­eral pay­ments for de­bris re­moval and road re­pair re­lated to those storms.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials in af­fected ar­eas are get­ting im­pa­tient wait­ing for the funds to be ap­proved by the state.

“Matthew, that’s over a year ago,” said Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lu­cie.

Wes Maul, in­terim di­rec­tor of the Flor­ida Di­vi­sion of Emer­gency Man­age­ment, said he was work­ing to push the pay­ments from Her­mine and Matthew through the sys­tem to get them to the coun­ties, but the process takes time. The re­quests have to be vet­ted by FEMA and by state of­fi­cials. He added that he’s mov­ing to up­date soft­ware so lo­cal gov­ern­ments can track their claims more eas­ily.

“Ob­vi­ously there’s still a lot that needs to be done on the Her­mine and Matthew side, and I look for­ward to help­ing to solve those problems,” Maul told a House com­mit­tee set up to look into hur­ri­cane pre­pared­ness Thurs­day.

Statewide, there are $340 mil­lion in claims from Her­mine and Matthew that have been sent for state re­view, he said. About $50 mil­lion has been paid out and an­other $13.8 mil­lion is ex­pected to be paid out in the “next few days.”

Maul also asked for pa­tience for the com­ing Irma claims.

“As it re­lates to Irma, that process is just be­gin­ning,” he said. “It’s go­ing to take a while be­fore we get all of those costs brought in from the coun­ties, roll it up ... and be­gin to write those project work sheets.”

The Irma claims, though, are mount­ing fast.

“It’s a huge hor­ri­ble cleanup mess that we’ve got to deal with,” Martin Sen­ter­fitt, Mon­roe County emer­gency man­age­ment di­rec­tor, said of the de­bris strewn about his county. “The county has spent over $30 mil­lion to this point and we haven’t even got­ten to the big spend yet.”

Be­sides the slow FEMA claims process, of­fi­cials from the Keys to St. Johns County spoke of un­pre­pared shel­ters and fuel short­ages that gummed up evac­u­a­tion plans.

St. Johns County ad­min­is­tra­tor Michael Wanchick talked about an el­derly wo­man left at a shel­ter dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Matthew with­out med­i­ca­tion or med­i­cal records who “started to crater” but was later saved by a doc­tor who hap­pened to be at the shel­ter.

“Those sit­u­a­tions should not ex­ist,” he said. “The cur­rent [emer­gency] plan doc­u­ments say they won’t, but there’s just not enough en­force­ment and I don’t think that is­sue has been taken se­ri­ously enough.”

Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Mi­ami, who chairs the com­mit­tee, said the panel will be look­ing into how to en­force evac­u­a­tion plans by nurs­ing homes in the wake of 14 deaths at a South Flor­ida nurs­ing home in the af­ter­math of Irma.

“We want to be proac­tive at the state level and we want to make sure that ... they’re re­quired to have very spe­cific plans in place that they’re sup­posed to work on with the lo­cal gov­ern­ments,” she said.

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