SEBRING — As if 2018 mid-term elections were not stormy enough, Hurricane Michael has put some campaigns on hold.
Candidates for Florida Governor and U.S. Senate have either left their campaigns to lead disaster preparations from their elected offices or have asked supporters to prepare and/or donate for what they expect to be a massive need.
Forecasters expect Michael to come ashore on the Panhandle or Big Bend coast Wednesday as a Category 3 storm, bringing an eight to 12-foot storm surge in places.
Both Gov. Rick Scott and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum returned to that city Monday to oversee disaster preparations.
Scott issued an emergency disaster declaration for 35 Florida counties and issued a letter to the president, asking for a “pre-landfall” emergency for the entire state, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Scott is challenging Democratic three-term incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson for his Senate seat. The Tallahassee Democrat reported that Nelson also left the campaign trail Monday to fly to Tallahassee and meet with officials at the statewide Emergency Operations Center.
On Monday, Nelson was not able to get into the Florida EOC, according to the Tallahassee Bureau of the Miami Herald/Times, which cited the heated election run between Nelson and Scott as a possible factor.
Nelson was only able to speak with reporters outside the EOC, the Herald/Times reported. He kept comments to storm preparations and avoided all political talk, the paper stated.
He also reportedly sent a letter for Scott’s chief elections official, requesting an extension of Tuesday’s voter registration deadline to better accommodate people in 11 counties forced to evacuate for the storm.
The Herald/Times reported a similar issue existed two years ago, during Hurricane Matthew, at which time U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued an order to extend voter registration online.
Scott called Michael a “monstrous hurricane,” just hours away from landfall, and urged people to evacuate from low-lying areas, during to a press conference Tuesday morning broadcast by CNN.
“Don’t think you can ride this out if you’re in a low-lying area,” Nelson said.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham told CNN he is most worried about the storm surge from the Apalachicola area of the Florida Panhandle, past the Big Bend to Tampa Bay.
The water on the coast is relatively shallow, Graham said, allowing water to build into huge waves, and the shape of the entire area is concave, trapping water.
Graham said the sparsely-populated area of the Big Bend will see storm surges of eight to 12 feet, but that won’t let other heavily-populated areas off the hook.
“Tampa Bay, two to four feet, all the way to Pensacola, two to four feet,” Graham said.
He also said coastal river inlets will flow backward as Michael gets closer to land.
In Apalachicola, a small Panhandle town, Mayor Van Johnson Sr. said its 2,300 residents had filled sandbags, boarded up homes, lined up to buy gas and groceries and were leaving what could be the hardest strike on the city in his life — 59 years, the Herald/Times stated.
Gillum, Democrat, also filled sand bags with residents and urged them to prepare.
He also requested 500-600 linemen — well more than the 100 usually on staff for the city. One of the chief criticisms against him, according to the Tampa Bay Times, has been how long it took to get power restored after Hurricane Hermine in 2016 for more than 100,000 people.
The slow pace then set off a fight between Gillum and Scott at the time, Tampa Bay Times stated. However, Gillum’s office reports he spoke with Scott about the storm on Sunday afternoon.
In fact, the mayor of Tallahassee is a ceremonial position. The city manager is responsible for running the city, Tampa Bay Times reported, and the call of whether or not to bring in extra power crews to help in 2016 fell to the city’s utility director.
Since 2016, the city has signed mutual aid agreements with private utilities.
Gillum is also in a tight race for governor with Ron DeSantis, Republican and former U.S. Representative for Florida’s 6th congressional district.
DeSantis is still on the campaign trail, but has asked supporters to bring donations of water, food and other supplies to his events, for distribution after the storm hits.
There has been no official word from either Democrat Allen Ellison or Republican Greg Steube, candidates for U.S. House of Representatives, Florida District 17, on their involvement with disaster preparations.