Gov. Rick Scott, who had already issued a state of emergency because of the ominous threat of powerful Hurricane Irma, asked Tuesday for pre-landfall assistance from the federal government.
Scott also activated 100 members of the Florida National Guard to help with planning and logistics as the state prepares for potential damage from the storm. All 7,000 National Guard members will report for duty Friday morning, according to the governor's office.
Meanwhile, Irma's potential arrival in Florida this weekend could affect the first round of legislative committee meetings in advance of the 2018 session.
Scott said he made the request to the federal government after getting an assurance Monday night from President Donald Trump about federal resources for the storm. By midday Tuesday, Irma had maximum sustained winds of 180 mph —- the strongest in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, as recorded by the National Hurricane Center —- as it barreled toward the Caribbean islands.
“Our state emergency management officials are working with our federal and local partners to prepare for any potential impacts from this dangerous storm, and it is crucial that we have access to every available resource to protect our families and communities,” Scott said in a prepared statement.
Federal assistance, according to a release from the governor's office, would free up money for shoring up beach dunes, building emergency berms and planning for potential evacuations.
In the Florida Keys, the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center has activated and might issue a mandatory tourist evacuation for Wednesday morning and a resident evacuation for Thursday morning.
“Tourists and residents should pay close attention to the forecast and official advisories,” the county center said on its website. “Those decisions will be made by county officials in the next day or two.”
Meanwhile, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, advised lawmakers on Tuesday that they are watching the dangerous Category 5 storm. Lawmakers are scheduled to start holding committee meetings Sept. 12.
“As the path of the storm becomes more clearly defined, we will, in consultation with the Senate, make a final decision regarding the status of House committee and subcommittee meetings scheduled for next week,” Corcoran wrote.
“Hurricane Irma currently poses a serious threat to our state, and I encourage all senators and staff to use the next few days to ensure your home and family are prepared,” Negron said in a memo.
For now, the House and Senate will continue with plans to post committee meeting notices for next week.
The National Hurricane Center said the odds are growing that Irma will directly affect the Florida Keys and portions of the Florida peninsula later in the week and this weekend.
While too soon to estimate the timing and magnitude of the impacts, “Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place,” the center said in its Tuesday morning forecast discussion.
On Monday, Scott placed all of Florida under a state of emergency. The declaration is intended to give local governments in all 67 counties time to prepare, the governor's office said.
Scott spent early Tuesday on the phone getting weather briefings from Florida Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon and getting updates from sheriffs, police chiefs, school superintendents, the South Florida Water Management District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a top U.S. Navy commander in the Southeast and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long.
Also Monday, Attorney General Pam Bondi activated the state's “price gouging hotline.”
“Floridians need to prepare now, and they should not be inhibited by unlawful price increases on supplies necessary to brace for a major hurricane strike,” Bondi said in a release.
People who suspect businesses are taking advantage of residents in need of hurricane supplies —- food, water, hotel rooms, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment —- can make a report by calling 1-866-966-7226 (866-9-NO-SCAM).