VIDEO: Rubio Speaks on Senate Floor About Impact of Hurricane Irma, Recovery Efforts
Speaking on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke about the ongoing Hurricane Irma recovery efforts in Florida.
The full speech can be watched here. A partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below.
RUBIO: In any event, the storm did come and we measure the impact of the storm first and foremost by the loss of life. And there are 59 people who lost their lives directly related to the storm in one way or another. Eleven of those people died after the storm from carbon monoxide poisoning. You lose your power, people run these generators, sometimes even running them inside their homes, carbon monoxide gets on them and before you know it, they are dead. Others, at least a dozen more didn’t die but had poisoned – a very incredible threat after storms we see every time.
Nine people died in Monroe county, some from natural causes, although it’s hard to imagine that someone who had a heart attack in the middle of a storm or in the aftermath wasn’t somehow related to the stress that such a storm brings. And of course we all saw the horrifying news last week that eight senior citizens have lost their lives because of nursing home’s air conditioning unit failed them, and in the middle of the night the heat became unbearable and they passed.
But you can only think, despite these horrible tragedies of losing 59 people, how many more would have died had they not heeded the warnings to evacuate. So I begin talking about the storm today by just thanking the men and women who responded before and after the storm and even during it, who kept so many people safe. And they did so even though their own families were being impacted by the storm. You see a police officer or firefighter from a community in Florida, they have homes. They have children. They have families. And they too are concerned about the impact it could have on them. And so even as they’re out there getting ready, getting the rest of us ready, they have to think about themselves and about their own families. So we thank them for the extraordinary work they do every day, but in particular at this moment because of the storm.
I know Florida is not often thought about as an agricultural state. I promise you, it has an extraordinary presence of agriculture in our state and a great variety of crop. Florida’s one of the largest cattle producers in the country. You don’t associate Florida with cattle, but it’s an enormous part of our agriculture industry.
Our signature crop is citrus. Sugar cane growers. Fresh vegetables. The nurseries. The nurseries – all of these tropical plants that you see, whether it’s in big developments or the indoor plants, a lot of that is grown in Florida. The dairies. Florida is a dairy provider to much of the southeast. Every single one of them has suffered significant damage, and in the case of a couple of them, catastrophic damage. The citrus industry was already being hurt by citrus greening, a disease that kills the tree.
Well, I can tell you, you go to any of those groves — Senator Nelson and I went to a grove two days after the storm. More than half the fruit was already on the ground and more of it dropping. That fruit is gone. These are farmers that live off that fruit. They take it, the whole fruit goes to the whole fruit market. The bulk of it goes to the juicing market. It’s gone. In fact, once that fruit hits water — first of all, much of it was green so it wasn’t even ready. Once it hits floodwater, you can’t sell it, you can’t use it. The FDA says it can no longer be consumed safely. They lost all of that.
On top of the fact that their yields were already lower historically. Because of greening, they lost the fruit they had. It gets worse. They lost trees. And it’s not simple. You don’t go to Home Depot and buy an orange tree and put it in the ground and next year sell the oranges. These new trees, they take at least four years before they begin to produce the fruit to sell, if it survives greening. They lost trees, and they are still losing fruit, and they will still lose more trees. Because some of those groves are under water. All of that water sitting on those roots, those trees will not survive. This is a catastrophe for the citrus industry and a running tally every single day that goes on.
A special focus is on, for example, Monroe County, the Florida Keys. This storm threatens to fundamentally alter the character of Monroe County if we do not help the Florida Keys, because those trailer parks are on valuable land, and the owners of that land are going to be tempted to build on them, not mobile homes again, but build on them structures designed for visitors or people that can pay more money. That means you’re going to lose your housing stock, but it ultimately means you’re going to lose the character of the place. All those small businesses that service the fishing boats, the diving. We have got the greatest collection of coral reefs in the world right off Marathon by Sombrero Key, in the Florida Keys. All of that. They’re going to be out of business for a long time. Can they survive? I don’t know. Small business owners, people that might own an apartment building and they use it in the summer for their family and then they rent it in the winter. Well, it’s damaged. They can’t rent it this year. So guess what? They may not be able to pay the mortgage, which will lead to foreclosure. Real challenges in Monroe County.
And then debris removal. Some of these are small counties. Some of these counties are still owed money from storms last year. FEMA disburses the funds to the state. The state hasn’t disbursed it to them yet. Now they have to go out and hire, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of dollars to clean up these roads, and they don’t have that in their budget. So a huge strain in that regard. What our office has done and Senator Nelson and I spent two days together traveling last week and continue to work together, helping so many different people. On Friday, we had an event at Immokalee, which is a migrant community in southwest Florida. 800 people turned out to apply for assistance. We were in St. Augustine yesterday. Close to 1,000 people applied for assistance. Jacksonville today, 1,800 people applying for assistance. Naples, Florida and Fort Myers later this week. We’ll be back in Immokalee again on Friday. And we’re about to start up in the Florida Keys, helping people.
We have a long way to go, but we want to thank all the great wishes that we got from all my colleagues here, and people from around the country. This is a storm that impacts Florida in ways we’re going to feel for a long time.
Let me close by just asking all of you to take a moment tonight, if you can and you wish, to pray for the island of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, where millions of our fellow Americans are staring down the barrel of the most powerful storm that has ever, perhaps, hit that island. After already getting hit by Irma just a week ago. It has the potential to be an extraordinary catastrophe. We pray that that’s not the case, and I hope we stand ready to assist our fellow Americans on the island of Puerto Rico.