Aerial footage is beginning to reveal the extensive devastation in the Bahamas due to Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Atlantic in recorded history. Large parts of the island are underwater and many relief organizations are on standby ready to send supplies to aid recovery efforts.
The storm continued to move along Florida’s east coast on Wednesday, inching past St. Augustine toward Georgia and South Carolina. Dorian has weakened from a Category 5 storm to a Category 2.
This week, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio spoke with Doug Manchester, the ambassador to the Bahamas, about what federal support can be provided to the islands and the role the U.S. can play. On WLRN, he talked to host Luis Hernandez about the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and how the federal government plans to assist in recovery efforts in the Bahamas. “It is not charity, we have a mutual agreement with the Bahamian authorities,” Sen. Rubio said on Sundial.
This has been edited ligthly for clarity.
WLRN: Senator, how is the federal government prepared to assist any parts of Florida that may get damage from Dorian?
RUBIO: Obviously if there's any sort of serious situation where people are out of their homes, there is the plethora of federal programs and federal assistance through the state, largely the federal government services as the ancillary support backup to the state. The primary responder after every storm are the states and then they tell the federal government whether they're missing something and that's where FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) steps in and fills in those gaps.
There was a lot of discussion following Hurricane Irma about how the state prepares for mass evacuations. What's been your take on how Gov. (Ron) DeSantis and this administration has handled everything?
So far really good. And I'm not taking anything away from him but it goes to the National Hurricane Center. One of the things that's happened over the last couple of years is the cone of uncertainty has gotten narrower than it used to be. So if you take this storm right now and it was 10 years ago that cone would probably be twice the size which would force us to make all kinds of evacuations to be safe.
The other piece is the storm surge projection and that's something that's just come online in the last few years and has gotten better. And what that does is, you are actually able to take the information about the particular storm, put it up against the map and from that predict which are the areas that are going to see storm surge. And those are the areas you evacuate, not the whole county but at the block level actually. And that's what they did this time around and what it allowed them to do is have targeted evacuations. Now you're not clogging up the roads, now you're not taxing services, now you're not having to open up shelters that you don't need to open.
It's going to take some time for [the Bahamas] to recover. What role do you see the federal government playing in helping in their relief?
It's not charity. We have a mutual agreement with the Bahamian authority and they've responded to it in the past after storms. They've invoked that. The prime minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested humanitarian assistance. First for NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency), which is their emergency response network, similar to FEMA. Bahamian Prime Minister Minnis has identified the most immediate needs, being food and water, and then followed up with requests for tents and portable toilets as soon as viable.
He said he will make all government land that's not under water available for the staging. USAID (United States Agency for International Development) has already set up a disaster assistance response team. They've already provided $200,000 in cash. There will be more. We've got response management teams from USAID ready to support the Assistance Response Teams.
Have you had any kind of communication with the Bahamas' prime minister?
Not with the prime minister in the last few days but with the ambassador who's arrived now in Miami. And he's here to both coordinate the non-governmental aid as well as the government response. We spoke to him probably shortly after he landed in Miami. One of the things that I want to make certain is there's a lot of willingness to help. A lot of people in the community that want to come forward and help. We have to make sure, however, that that aid goes through the proper channels.
And here's why: we can't have a bunch of pleasure crafts (boats) taking off to the Bahamas or airplanes trying to land over there, because while we appreciate people wanting to help, it has to be organized to the Bahamian authorities so that they know where to go. If we deliver a bunch of stuff they don't need, you're creating a problem for them. If we're taking it to the wrong place, you're creating a problem for them. We've got to take it to the right place where they can then distribute it.