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Bahamians with documents and a place to stay are welcome in Florida, Gov. DeSantis says

Marcia Heroux Pounds, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Weather News

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Gov. Ron DeSantis says he welcomes Bahamians to Florida who have passports, visas and a place to stay, but there are no shelters open in the state for those displaced by Hurricane Dorian.

For those who are flying from the Bahamas to Florida and have family or friends to stay with, "that's no harm for us," he said.

But "if you're somebody who needs assistance and you don't have a place to stay (in Florida) ... the Bahamian government would probably prefer folks use some of the resources that are there," he said.

The Trump administration's policy is not to facilitate any special migration to the U.S., DeSantis said.

Florida has helped raise about $3 million in donations from business and individuals for those in the Bahamas, and a total of $11 million in resources is going to the islands from the state, he said.

One example: Florida Power & Light Co. is partnering with the state to send 500,000 bottles, a total of 19 trucks full, of bottled water.

FPL has no plans to send utility workers, as it did in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. After Hurricane Maria knocked out power to Puerto Rico in 2017, FPL sent electrical equipment and a 120 line workers for three months in 2018, to help restore the island's electrical system.

Eric Silagy, CEO of Juno Beach-based FPL, said Bahamas doesn't need utility workers at this point. But FPL is coordinating with Pike Corp., which is sending two teams to help restore power to the Bahamas. He said FPL will supply power poles and lines at cost to Pike, and that FPL customers will not be charged.

"This is going to be a rebuilding effort that takes time. Our focus now is on the essentials, what Bahamians need -- food and water," he said.

Tampa Electric Co. is sending line workers and supplies to the Bahamas, but that's because its parent company is Canada-based Emera, which also owns the Grand Bahama Power Co.

DeSantis said the federal government has put more manpower into the visa office for affected Bahamians looking to come to the U.S.

If some Florida counties incur costs for humanitarian relief, "I think the federal government should be responsible for those costs," DeSantis said.

The bottled water, valued at about $95,000, is being shipped to Nassau, where relief efforts are being coordinated. FPL's foundation also has donated $100,000 and its employees have so far raised $85,000, which the company said it will match, for Hurricane Dorian relief.

 

Beginning with landfall Sept. 1, Hurricane Dorian's high winds and storm surge destroyed homes and businesses, damaged a power plant and blew down power lines. There reportedly are at least 50 dead from the storm while many survivors are trying to flee broken homes and no power.

That same week, South Florida braced itself for a potential landfall or hurricane-force winds, but the hurricane turned north before it had much effect on the coast. About 156,000 FPL customers lost power due to feeder bands from the storm and were quickly restored. More than 14 million of the utility's customers were potentially in Dorian's path.

President Donald Trump has dismissed bipartisan calls from Florida lawmakers to ease entry requirements for people fleeing Hurricane Dorian's devastation in the Bahamas, saying "totally proper documentation" is needed to ensure "very bad people" don't exploit the disaster.

Florida lawmakers have urged Trump to waive some visa requirements to help expedite evacuation efforts. Confusion has flourished over documentation requirements, with dozens of people in Freeport being ordered off a ferry bound for Fort Lauderdale on Sunday night because they didn't have visas.

Trump told reporters Monday on the White House lawn the federal government needs to be "very careful" because some people in the Bahamas aren't in the island nation legally and could be dangerous.

"I don't want to allow people that weren't supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers," he said. "We are going to be very, very strong on that."

Nearly 1,500 Hurricane Dorian survivors arrived at the Port of Palm Beach aboard a cruise ship on Saturday and were processed without incident, Customs officials said.

(Staff writer Skyler Swisher contributed to this report.)

(c)2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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