Did Lee County politicians wait too long to issue Hurricane Ian evacuation orders?

New York
CNN business

Reporters are pressing Florida’s elected officials to find out if Lee County’s evacuation order came too late.

In the wake of Hurricane Ian’s landfall in Florida, which has left at least 100 dead, the press is holding local and state officials to account, and elected officials are facing tough questions about whether they delayed issuing evacuation orders in areas hit by the storm. .

Further questions about the late decision to evacuate Lee County, a stretch of Southwest Florida that includes Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, forever disfigured by Ian’s menacing winds and an inferno storm surge, have dominated news coverage.

[A version of this article first appeared in CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.]

The questions were raised by a report in The New York Times that detailed internal discussions among county officials and made clear that the county did not issue an evacuation order until Tuesday, less than 24 hours before Ian hit land, and neighboring counties a day later. already done – it was an “apparent violation” of its emergency planning strategy.

Since The Times story was published, local and national news organizations have grilled officials, in some cases asking whether the decision could cost lives in an area that now accounts for more than half of hurricane-related deaths.

Among those facing tough questions Monday were: Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie; Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno; and Lee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Cecil Pendergrass.

“Did the evacuation order in Lee County come out too late?” CNN’s Kate Bolduan asked Pendergrass, the first in a cascade of candid questions. Pendergrass, like other officials, defended the county’s response, saying there was “sufficient warning.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has also received questions about the issue. Speaking to reporters Sunday, CNN’s Nadia Romero asked DeSantis if he “stands behind” Lee County’s decision not to issue an evacuation order until Tuesday.

The line of questioning brought a rather combative response from the governor, who replied, “Well, do you have… where was your industry when the storm hit? Were you in Lee County? No, you were in Tampa. So they were tracking the weather.” (CNN and other news organizations actually had crews in Lee County when the storm hit.)

But while elected officials, including DeSantis, are defending the decision, there was also a sign Monday of disagreement about it. Appearing on CNN, a spokeswoman for the city of Fort Myers, the county’s commercial hub, said the city had asked residents to begin voluntarily evacuating Friday, but called the evacuation “kind of last-minute.”

More information about the council’s response will reach the public in the coming days and weeks. This is due in part to pressure from news organizations seeking answers to remind them of the critical role journalists are playing in the disaster recovery effort.