Billions likely needed for roads and bridges destroyed by Hurricane Ian

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Flooding is also a major concern further inland, with major airports in Tampa and Orlando shutting down, thousands of flights canceled and some airlines suspending operations until Saturday.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told MSNBC on Thursday that some airports are likely to remain closed for some time and urged people not to fly recreational drones into damaged areas, so emergency personnel are free. to operate.

Airlines have canceled thousands of flights to and from Florida, and while that will ease as the recovery begins in earnest, aviation disruptions are causing headaches across the country, with delays occurring at other airport hubs in Charlotte, North Carolina, Atlanta, Chicago and New York.

At least two major bridges have been decimated – photos showed part of the Sanibel Causeway missing – meaning that together some 20,000 people will be cut off from road access for the foreseeable future. The state will have to assess countless other bridges.

Congress is set to enact an interim government funding bill by midnight Friday, but it does not include disaster relief funding specifically for Hurricane Ian.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Senate GOP official, said it was not possible to include additional disaster assistance to respond to Hurricane Ian at the last minute, but that the disaster relief should have sufficient reserves for the immediate term, including for Ian.

The stopgap measure, which funds the government until December 16, provides billions of dollars in additional disaster relief to states across the country. It also allows FEMA to spend through the Disaster Relief Fund, which currently has about $15 billion, at a higher rate to respond to hurricanes that hit Florida and Puerto Rico.

“You have to assess all of this first,” Shelby said.

Additional disaster relief could find its way into a year-end government funding deal, he added. “It is possible. But sometimes it takes time to assess the damage,” he said.

“The Senate will stand ready to provide further assistance if needed,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in the Senate Thursday.

Devastation in Southwest Florida

The Sanibel Causeway is the only road link to the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, carrying more than 3 million vehicles per year over two spans and two man-made causeway islands. A piece of it washed up in the sea.

“I anticipate there will likely be other bridges that have sustained damage,” DeSantis said. “But once the bridges are inspected and determined to be safe, they will be reopened as soon as possible. But we know Sanibel Causeway and we also know the Pine Island Bridge – those two are not passable and will require structural rebuilds.

“We will find out” how the transport infrastructure is holding up, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) Said Thursday in an interview on Capitol Hill. “That’s one of the issues you face, and especially the bridges — all the bridges need to be checked. You saw that the Sanibel Bridge was damaged. The other thing that’s going on is that with all that water, all the roads close to the coast, there’s a lot of risk.

In Naples, slightly south of where Ian landed, the fire station was flooded and Scott said “there’s water from the bay to the gulf”. He said the top priority was rescue efforts, followed by reopening roads and restoring power and, third, keeping shelters open so people with flooded homes have a place to stay.

“You have to keep the shelters open, for people who need a place to live, because even in a place like Naples there will be a lot of people who need a place to live because of the amount of water there was,” Scott said.

DeSantis said more than 100 engineers working in teams of two inspect bridges in southwest Florida.

Disruption throughout Florida

Airports, transit agencies and roads dotted across Florida remained closed Thursday, though many critical infrastructure will begin reopening Friday. Ian’s southward move spared Florida’s Gulf Coast ports from a direct hit.

Orlando International Airport, the state’s busiest, Tampa International Airport and Jacksonville International Airport were closed on Thursday, leading to the cancellation of thousands of flights across the country.

Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale International Airport remained open when Ian made landfall, although both airports experienced delays and cancellations. Tampa International Airport announced Thursday afternoon that it would reopen at 10 a.m. Friday.

Amtrak services on the Palmetto, Silver Star and Auto Train routes were canceled Thursday and Friday, and their reopening depends on the condition of tracks primarily owned by CSX, which operates the majority of Florida’s freight rail network. CSX suspended services before Ian landed in most of the state, but had not provided a damage assessment Thursday afternoon.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that in addition to potential track damage, crossing barriers are removed before major hurricanes to prevent them from becoming projectiles. The gates will need to be put back in place and power restored so they can operate before trains return to service, Magliari said.

In the Tampa area, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority have shut down scheduled service, and service is not expected to resume normal operations until Saturday. The LYNX transit system in Orlando and Central Florida is also closed.

Reopening of ports

The Port of Tampa Bay, the largest on the state’s Gulf Coast, opened Thursday afternoon, allowing fuel terminal operators and tankers to enter and exit the port . The US Coast Guard determines when a port’s docks can reopen.

South Florida’s largest seaport for fuel deliveries and storage is open beginning Thursday morning, allowing for crucial fuel deliveries by boat. Other ports on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts remained closed.

Port Everglades is in “good shape fuel-wise,” according to Florida Ports Council spokesperson Edie Ousley. The Fort Lauderdale facility was spared a direct hit from Ian and was not shut down by the Coast Guard. Two tankers were held up off Port Everglades as Ian approached, but were able to deliver their fuel on Thursday morning.

Ousley said it’s too early to tell if truckers from areas of the state that were directly affected by Ian are able to get to ports for fuel deliveries.

Caitlin Emma and Bruce Ritchie contributed to this report.

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