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As Irma slams Florida, Scott says storm surge is biggest worry

Gov. Rick Scott said this morning that his biggest fear and worry with Hurricane Irma is storm surge as the massive and monstrous Category 4 made landfall in the Florida Keys and steered toward the west coast of Florida.

“What’s scary is the unbelievable storm surge,” he said in an interview on Fox News Sunday, one of several national networks he appeared on as the storm hit the Florida Keys. He’s especially concerned with the impact of the storm surge on the Keys and the west coast of the state.

“The storm surge is absolutely life-threatening,” he said, noting that the storm surge in Naples, his hometown, is expected reach as high as 15 feet above sea level.

“This is like Andrew, but this is Andrew for a whole state,” said Scott in reference to the devastating Hurricane Andrew that pummeled south Miami-Dade County in 1992. “So we’re going to get all those winds. But then on top of that we’re going to get this storm surge. So that’s what I’m more worried about right now.”

“I know the winds are going to be very devastating and life threatening, but I’m very concerned about the storm surge,” he told John Dickerson, host of CBS’s Face the Nation.

Sen. Bill Nelson, who was at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center in Tampa on Sunday morning, said he, too, is most concerned about the storm surge all along the west coast.

“As the eye comes up the west coast, it’ll be out in the water for most of the time,” he told CBS’ Face the Nation. “That means that counterclockwise rotation is going to take a wall of water into the bays and the estuaries on the Gulf Coast of Florida.”

“So, you look at big areas like Charlotte Harbor, which is just north of Fort Myers, or Tampa Bay, which is a huge bay, there’s going to be a wall of water going up into them. It doesn’t have any place to escape, and so it’s going to wall up. That’s going to be a very significant part of this storm,” he said.

“Hitting the west coast is the worst possible route for the storm,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, who was hunkered down at his West Miami home with his family, in a telephone interview with CBS’ Face the Nation.

He described heavy winds and rain outside his home, and described Irma “an absolutely brutal storm.”

Storm surge warnings are in effect in four different areas of the state: The Keys, Tampa Bay, North Miami Beach southward to the Ochlockonee River and the South Santee River southward to Jupiter Inlet. The warnings in those areas are in effect all day Sunday and till about noon on Monday.

The National Hurricane Center warned early Sunday that the combination of a “dangerous storm surge and the tide” will flood normally dry areas near the coast.

Forecasters project 10-15 feet of storm surge from Cape Sable to Captiva; 6-10 feet from Captiva to Ana Maria Island; 5-10 feet in the Florida Keys; 5-8 feet from Ana Maria Island to Clearwater, including Tampa Bay; and 3-5 feet in an area that includes Biscayne Bay near Miami.

Scott said the challenge now facing first responders, utility workers and other emergency personnel is that the storm is impacting both sides of the Florida peninsula, making it extremely difficult to pre-position resources for so many different areas at once.

He also said there is a need for volunteers all over the state to deal with the aftermath of the storm. He said he needs volunteers to work in shelters, volunteers to distribute food and water and volunteer nurses. He said at least 1,000 volunteer nurses are needed at special needs shelters. Nurses who can volunteer are urged to email BPRCHDPreparedness@FLHealth.gov or email HelpFL@FLhealth.gov.

Nearly 500 shelters are open in Florida, housing more than 127,000 individuals. In addition, more than 70 special needs shelters are open with more than 12,000 people.

Statewide, about 2 million customers of Florida Power & Light, the state’s biggest utility, had lost power as of 11 a.m. More than half — about 1.2 million — of the FPL customers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the state’s two most populated counties, were without electricity, according to FPL.

Ports and airports throughout the state are closed.

State officials estimate 6.5 million Floridians have been evacuated from low-lying areas all over the state.

Scott has deployed 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard, which has 1,000 high-water vehicles, 13 helicopters, 17 boats and more than 700 generators on standby.

In what may be the first reported storm deaths, Hardee County Sheriff’s deputy Julie Ann Bridges and Florida Department of Corrections employee Sgt. Joseph Ossman were killed. Bridges was killed after she crashed her vehicle on her way home. Details on Ossman’s death were not available.

“I am heartbroken to learn of the loss of these the two individuals in a traffic accident today,” said Scott in a statement. “My heart goes out their families and the entire law enforcement and correctional community.”

The latest tracking map from the National Hurricane Center shows that the storm struck Cudjoe Key near Key West at 9:10 a.m. and is expected to move along with west coast of Florida.

Scott said he’s been in daily contact with President Donald Trump, and he’s offered whatever federal resources are needed to help with emergency response and cleanup in the wake of the storm.

“We’ll do everything we can,” Scott said. “We’ll spare no expense to save every life in this state.”

“My biggest worry is the people that didn’t evacuate, and they don’t understand the risk of the storm surge,” the governor said on ABC’s “This Week.”

UPDATED at 11 a.m. with comments from Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio.

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