Gov. Bush applauds resilience to storms

Published: Wednesday, December 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2004 at 12:07 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Welcoming the official end of a devastating hurricane season, Gov. Jeb Bush used a rare statewide address Tuesday night to praise Floridians for their resilience during the storms, while citing their "tremendous spirit and willingness to do what it takes to recover and rebuild."
In a 10-minute broadcast, which was carried by television and radio stations, Bush assured Floridians that the state would be rebuilt despite a hurricane season that caused $42 billion in damages and left thousands homeless.
"Our recovery is going to be a long-term effort," Bush said. "It will not be easy. It will not be quick. And it will not happen without pain. But it will happen."
Bush repeatedly praised the efforts of Floridians to deal with the storms, from the National Guard members who returned from Iraq to take up storm duty to a Brevard County woman who used a generator to prepare fresh coffee for her neighbors every day.
"The damage totals and (insurance) claim numbers don't tell the real story of what happened here," Bush said. "The story is told in countless Florida neighborhoods as strangers became friends and neighbors became family."
He cited instances where everyday life resumed despite the widespread damage from four major hurricanes, beginning with Hurricane Charley on Aug. 13 and ending with Hurricane Jeanne, which swept across the state on the weekend of Sept. 25-26. In between, Hurricane Frances cut across the middle of the state, while Hurricane Ivan slammed into Pensacola.
"The true story of this hurricane season is one of pain and loss and of courage and compassion, of darkest days and finest hours that cannot be severed," he said. "It's also a story of tremendous achievements against formidable obstacles."
Among the images of the storm, Bush cited the destruction of the Interstate 10 bridge over Escambia Bay by Hurricane Ivan. While it was seen "as a symbol of Florida's devastation and despair," Bush also noted that traffic was again crossing the bridge 19 days after the storm, demonstrating the state's "resilience and commitment to move forward."
Bush also cited the destruction of Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda by Hurricane Charley. He noted the storms caused each of the state's 67 school districts to lose at least one day of class time. But he also said that by Oct. 11, "every Florida student was back in class."
The Charlotte High students ended up sharing space with their rival, Port Charlotte High. Bush attended the annual football game between the two schools last month.
"The rivalry is still strong, but so is the sense of community that comes from people working together to solve problems," he said.
He noted that the hurricane destruction will require a long-term state response, including an upcoming special session of the Legislature that is expected to offer some property tax relief and insurance help to Floridians.
Bush said the state faces many other hurricane-related issues, including providing more housing, beach restoration and tourism incentives.
But Bush said the storms also created a unifying force for a state that is more known for its geographic and demographic diversity. "This year, as we stood together in the face of nature's fury, we were all Floridians, bound together by adversity and recovery," he said.
Bush also told listeners and viewers that he had "never been prouder" to be governor.
"It has been a gift of extreme privilege to witness the strength of so many people who look beyond the rubble with hope and resolve and who extend a hand to help others share that view," he said.
Bush's speech came on the last day of an unprecedented hurricane season, which officially began June 1 and saw four hurricanes and a tropical storm batter the state.
The scope of the storms and the response by state, federal and local governments to the disasters is still hard to fathom, but some numbers illuminate the magnitude of the impact on the state. Some 8.4 million electric customers lost their power during the four hurricanes, with the highest total coming with 3.5 million who Jeanne left without power.
Some 9.4 million Floridians became evacuees during the storms, with 4.4 million fleeing Jeanne and 2.7 million fleeing Charley.
A total of 862 storm shelters were opened over the course of the storm season, holding nearly quarter million people during the peak of the storm activity.
Nearly 500,000 blue tarps were distributed to help provide temporary cover for damaged homes and businesses. Many were used to cover the 300,000 homes that had substantial damage, while another 70,000 homes may be damaged beyond repair.
The state and federal government response to those storms has also been huge.
More than 78.5 million pounds of ice, 9.8 million gallons of water and nearly 14 million meals were distributed to storm victims.
Some 1.1 million Floridians have registered for state and federal help, with 256,000 households already receiving more than $1.5 billion in aid.
Floridians have filed 1.5 million insurance claims.
Some 8,700 Floridians are living in travel homes and mobile homes provided by the government out of the 12,000 who have requested housing help.

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