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WASHINGTON – As the likely 12-18-foot storm surge from catastrophic Hurricane Ian swells outside parts of the western Florida coastlines near the storm center, an outpouring of federal resources have moved into the region in preparation for potential impacts and recovery efforts in the aftermath of the storm.
It's a worst-case scenario for Southwest Florida, FOX Weather hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross said on Wednesday, as the large diameter of the strong winds will cause a surge about as high as it can be.
President Joe Biden approved an Emergency Declaration for the State of Florida on Saturday within hours of receiving the request from Governor Ron DeSantis, to ensure resources are pre-positioned in advance of potential storm impacts.
"No Florida request has gone unfulfilled," Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said. "So whatever Florida has asked for, it's either they have it, or it's been pre-positioned."
As of Wednesday, there are more than 1,300 federal response workers on the ground in Florida to support emergency preparations, including operations, planning, power restoration, debris removal, and urban search and rescue. FEMA Regional Administrator Gracia Szczech is also embedded in Florida to ensure needs are met.
In addition, officials have pre-staged 110,000 gallons of fuel and 18,000 pounds of propane for immediate deployment and personnel and equipment to support distribution. The Army Corps of Engineers has pre-staged 300 personnel to support power and fuel assessments as soon as the storm passes.
In the corridor where winds of Category 3 or 4 strength occur, Norcross said there will be massive damage to structures, with damage even outside that zone. Southwest Florida homes are not designed for these winds.
"These winds are going to be in excess of hurricane-force winds that are going to be in the Tampa Bay region," Rubio said. "There is going to be storm surge … it's going to be bad. If I'm in the Tampa Bay area, I would not go back to your home, or back if you're in an evacuation zone, when everyone needs to stay out until the all-clear – which is probably not going to be for most of the state until very late Thursday or early Friday."
Biden spoke to the mayors of Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater – all areas likely to be hit – on Tuesday about the storm's path.
"They're focused on the safety of their communities, and they're doing everything they can to get people out of harm's way," the president said. "I have a lot of personnel down there already. We're here to support them in every way we can."
And part of that support is the various generators and installation teams in place to provide temporary emergency power to critical infrastructure.
Regarding food, 3.7 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water in Alabama are available to send in at a moment's notice. The White House also has 300 ambulances already in the state, working alongside local officials.
After the storm passes, FEMA's established federal search and rescue coordination group will deploy by sea, air and land as soon as needed.
Local power companies, like Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, and Tampa Electric, have 30,000 personnel ready to assist in power restoration. Thousands more are being made available through utility sector mutual aid agreements with neighboring utilities in other states, the White House said.
The Department of Health and Human Services has deployed a 38-person disaster medical assistance team to Miami. Two other disaster medical assistance teams have been deployed to Robin Air Force Base in Georgia. More staff is anticipated in the next 24 hours.