(House of Representatives - September 14, 2017)

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[Congressional Record Volume 163, Number 149 (Thursday, September 14, 2017)]
[Pages H7415-H7416]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                             HURRICANE IRMA

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of 
January 3, 2017, the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Soto) is recognized 
for the remainder of the hour as the designee of the minority leader.
  Mr. SOTO. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Illinois for his 
inspiring words.
  Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to update the House on what 
has occurred in Florida after the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
  First, I want to start by thanking so many Members of Congress for 
supporting a package that doubled from $7 billion to $15 billion, the 
emergency relief. Not only was it so critical for the great State of 
Texas, but it was absolutely essential for anticipating the effects 
that Irma would have on the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Florida, 
Georgia, up through South Carolina, and southeast United States.
  When I arrived back on Friday--you know how important it is to go 
back to your district when there is a crisis on hand--I saw people 
taking the notice of evacuation seriously. I saw people stocking up on 
gas, stocking up on water, stocking up their cupboards, making sure to 
be ready.
  While it was initially supposed to hit the southeastern portion of 
Florida, as you know, these predictions can be somewhat accurate, which 
is why we always need to be sure to always prepare, whether you think 
you are in the eye of the storm or not. Because, in fact, after it went 
through the central Keys and leveled a lot of Marathon and other 
central Keys islands, it hit southwest Florida. The eye went right 
through the Naples-Fort Myers area, and a lot of those folks are still 
struggling with that. It actually went up through the western center of 
the State, through the western portion of my district in Polk County, 
as well as Hillsborough County, Pasco County, and other areas, and then 
finally going up through the Big Bend.
  That night, the wind was so loud and the rain was so hard that you 
couldn't even hear the trees snapping. When I woke up the next day, I 
knew it was bad, but, to my surprise, there were trees down everywhere.
  Right outside our door, right down the street, in Osceola, Orange, 
and Polk Counties--all the counties that I represent--one of the first 
initial acts of courage that I saw was neighborhood folks with nice F-
150s, chainsaws, and all of this construction equipment, volunteering 
their time to get these major trees out of the roads. We saw that 
throughout Kissimmee, east Orlando, Winter Haven, Haines City, Lake 
Wales, and so many areas, like St. Cloud, that I represent.

  That debris removal that the State was approved for by FEMA is going 
to make sure, now that those trees are on the sidewalk or they are on 
the median, that they are going to get picked up. It is going to be so 
critical that we have that either 75 or 90 percent reimbursement for 
debris removal to make sure that these neighborhoods can come back to 
  One of the other impacts of having all of these trees down, since we 
haven't had a hurricane with major winds since 2004, was that it 
absolutely decimated the power grid. If our fellow Members remember 
nothing else about what I have to say here today, it is that our power 
grid was absolutely annihilated--the worst that Duke Energy, FP&L, and 
municipal electricity providers like KUA and OUC said they have seen in 
their history.
  There are people that are without power now--several hundred 
thousand--and it is primarily because we saw so many of these trees go 
down on power lines.
  When I went through my district, I saw rivers swell to floods. We saw 
worse in Harvey--far worse flooding in Harvey. We know with the 
supplemental FEMA packages that we are going to have to take care of 
Texas and Louisiana. But there are areas that are still under water as 
of yesterday, as of last night, and as of this morning. A few of them 
in east Orlando, where the Econlockhatchee River swelled over into the 
swamps and over into apartment buildings.
  There were still, unfortunately, some UCF students that needed to 
evacuate; and I think, after the firefighters got there with the fire 
trucks, they heeded that warning.
  I saw in Kissimmee flooding in the Mill Slough area. The slough 
flooded over. And we saw in Buenaventura Lakes flooding in the streets 
in many neighborhoods.
  I witnessed folks throughout the area in mobile homes suffer pretty 
extreme damage in certain areas of Polk County.
  I commend FEMA for allowing these counties and many others on the 
central and southern part of the State to get the designation of 
individual assistance. These folks are still without power--many of 
them worried about the dangers that are still going on. So to know that 
the Federal Government--Congress--has their back is absolutely a hope 
that they can hang on to as they sit day after day without

[[Page H7416]]

power, slowly but surely getting back on their feet.
  I will be having outreach events throughout the district. Some of my 
fellow peers who went through Harvey have suggested that it is critical 
to have these, not only major FEMA centers, but ones that are embedded 
in the various neighborhoods, because some people have trouble getting 
gas and transporting around, and have trouble through mass transit 
getting to some of these major centers.

                              {time}  1245

  So we will be following the cue of others, our brothers and sisters 
in Houston, by having localized FEMA outreach centers in the district, 
and I look forward to hosting some of those this week.
  Throughout the State, we see the Federal and State government working 
hand in hand with our local governments.
  It is key that we are going to need a supplemental package for Texas, 
parts of Louisiana, Florida, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and parts 
of Georgia and South Carolina. I know that Congress, like last Friday, 
will hopefully come together to pass that package.
  One of the things that we are going to need to do going forward is 
continue encouraging local governments and utilities to harden their 
infrastructure. We in the Federal Government should be promoting and 
matching funds with those utilities that are going to put their power 
lines underground. The cost of keeping them up aboveground is going to 
continue to exacerbate these disasters.
  Just understanding by the numbers, we had one of the largest 
evacuations in the Nation's history. Nearly 7 million people were asked 
to evacuate from central and southeastern Florida to shelters or other 
facilities. As of Monday morning, over 200,000 Floridians were still in 
  Nearly 33.8 million Floridians lost power to their homes and 
businesses, with hundreds of thousands still without power.
  We saw a massive hit to our citrus crop, which is already struggling 
with citrus greening, and we have bipartisan letters going out from 
Congressman Ross, Congressman Rooney, myself, and others making sure 
that the USDA follows along with FEMA to make sure that our citrus 
growers can have some relief as they grapple with what will be a dismal 
2017-2018 crop.
  We saw Florida's coasts, especially in cities like Jacksonville, 
experience historic flooding. The Atlantic came into the St. Johns. The 
St. Johns, being one of those rivers that flows north, took much of the 
water from central Florida and brought it forward to create a terrible 
situation of flooding of 2 to 3 feet in downtown Jacksonville alone.
  For the first time in U.S. history, we saw two Category 4 hurricanes 
make landfall in the same year. Obviously, we need to continue to 
prepare for the increasing weather events caused by man-made climate 
change, and that will be why, whether you agree or not with the cause 
of it, that we will need to harden our facilities, our infrastructure, 
our buildings, and our utilities. Whether or not you agree with what 
the cause of it is, we know that the solutions are making sure to have 
more resilient infrastructure, building up our coasts, and making sure 
that we have, through the Federal Government, incentives for our local 
and State governments to do that.
  Officials have reported 31 dead across three States in connection 
with this hurricane, 24 of those in Florida.
  One other area that Congress needs to look at is generators for our 
nursing homes. This is already required under Florida law, yet we saw 
several people yesterday, eight of them, pass, our seniors in their 
golden years, who should be protected.
  And when you are talking about no power in Florida, you are talking 
about not only no ability to turn on the lights, but air-conditioning, 
which is critical when it is 90-plus degrees out, particularly for our 
seniors, our children, and our persons with disabilities.
  I want to thank all of our first responders: our firefighters; our 
cops; our EMTs; all the county officials and city officials who put 
together all this demanding information to get the FEMA Individual 
Assistance designation; our local officials for continuing, to this 
moment, to give us information on hardest hit areas; and also our 
community for coming together, our volunteers, those who are helping 
get the trees out of the streets, for providing water and food to 
hardest hit areas, to people opening up their homes, contributing 
through nonprofits such as the Red Cross. All these issues, all these 
commitments, all this volunteerism is coming together to help out our 
  I am appreciative, Mr. Speaker, for this time to be able to brief 
Congress on some of the issues affecting central Florida, and I thank 
my peers for their help and for their continued efforts in Texas, in 
Florida, in Puerto Rico, in the Virgin Islands, and in South Carolina 
and Georgia, where we saw a lot of this damage happening.
  Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.