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Fried on Piney Point: Emergency De-Escalated, but ‘Many Balls Were Dropped in the Process’

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Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried addresses the media during a press conference at the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center Tuesday afternoon as State Senator Janet Cruz looks on. Image: WFLA Channel 8 (screen capture).

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (FNN) – Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried addressed the Piney Point reservoir water leak in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, saying she was informed that “the emergency has de-escalated” over the last 24 hours, but warned that this situation could have been prevented were it not for what she called “many balls dropped” in the last twenty years.

“My concerns and my questions surrounding this is: where is the water going, how is it being treated, what is the game plan moving forward?” Fried added during her press conference at the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center.

Fried added that Manatee County emergency operators told her they were able to open the highways again and reduce the evacuation areas, having pumped out much of the water.

She added that not only local experts but also Army scientists and additional equipment from out of state are scheduled to go under the water and see what is causing the leak, and what is the best way to fix it.

“I emphasize significantly that is not enough for us to just patch this up. What is the plan to actually fix this, and that it never happens again?” she said. “We have to be sure we have the appropriate parties that are going to pay for this. This is a situation that has been in the making since the late nineties. This community is well aware of Piney Point and some of the issues that have been happening for the last twenty years, and unfortunately, a lot of balls have been dropped in the process.”

The 77-acre water reservoir holds 480 million gallons of mix of seawater, remnant process water from the former fertilizer manufacturing, and stormwater runoff, and also contains phosphorus and nitrogen from the old phosphate mine and is contained in a phosphogypsum stack, a radioactive waste-product of fertilizer manufacturing.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday to stop the leaking and ordered an evacuation of the area.

Fried asked that the immediate issue be taken care of quickly and that the problem be resolved in a more permanent way “to avoid that we have another environmental problem in some other part of our state.”

Florida Senator Janet Cruz (D-18) joined Fried, who considered the situation as “paying for the sins of our fathers.” “And when I say that, I mean our former elected officials who turned a blind eye to what’s happening here,” Sen Cruz added. “There are local officials and local residents that have been complaining for ages about what’s been happening at Piney Hills and no one paid attention.”

Cruz announced that the Senate would amend the budget to receive $200 million to fix the situation instead of the $11 billion of federal relief money.

“This is private property. We didn’t create this mess, yet we, the taxpayer, are rushing in to fix this to protect our community,” she added.

She proposed that all the ponds in Manatee County be inspected to make sure that another accident happens. She is concerned that “we could be headed to ecological disaster here.”

Fried agreed with Cruz, saying that “nothing was done” for twenty years, and the local residents are aware that there are other similar leaks in other, smaller ponds. She noted that the local gas plant would have collapsed and “had three counties’ worth of energy taken down,” plus a possible red tide situation. She said she would be “much more aggressive” in getting involved in the situation and seeing the state of the ponds and the waterways.

“Most importantly, we need to figure out what happened in the last twenty years. Why did no one have their eyes on this ball, and what do we need to do to make sure that this doesn’t happen in other parts of our state?” Commissioner Fried said. “We have natural life in the waterways, we have aquaculture that is close by, we have humans and the environment that we have not spent any time in the last twenty years making that a priority.”

Fried proposed that a closer look be taken into legislation as far as mining permits are concerned in the area.

“Florida is one of the most amazing states in the country, one of the most abundant natural resources in the world, and we are destroying the environment. We cannot afford to do that. And had we done what was right twenty years ago and every subsequent administration since, then we might not be on the hook for $200 million,” she said.

“If we are going to continue loving our state, and continue bringing tourists here, and having our beautiful beaches and springs, then we have got to make the environment a top priority,” Fried added. “We’ve got to make sure that we get this right for the next generation.”

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Juan Carlo Rodriguez is a politics and entertainment reporter for Florida National News. | info@floridanationalnews.com

Disaster

Rescuers Race to Prevent More Deaths from European Floods

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This image provided on Friday, July 16, 2021 by the Cologne district government shows the Blessem district of Erftstadt in Germany. Rescuers were rushing Friday to help people trapped in their homes in the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne. Regional authorities said several people had died after their houses collapsed due to subsidence, and aerial pictures showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole. (Rhein-Erft-Kreis via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — In one flooded German town, the ground collapsed under family homes. In another, floodwaters swept through an assisted living center, killing 12.

Rescue workers across Germany and Belgium rushed Friday to prevent more deaths from some of the Continent’s worst flooding in years as the number of dead surpassed 125 and the search went on for hundreds of missing people.

Fueled by days of heavy rain, the floodwaters also left thousands of Germans homeless after their dwellings were destroyed or deemed to be at risk, and elected officials began to worry about the lingering economic effects from lost homes and businesses.

Elsewhere in Europe, dikes on swollen rivers were at risk of collapsing, and crews raced to reinforce flood barriers.

Sixty-three people perished in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, including 12 residents of an assisted living facility for disabled people in the town of Sinzig who were surprised by a sudden rush of water from the nearby Ahr River, authorities said.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was “stunned” by the devastation and pledged support to the families of those killed and to cities and towns facing significant damage.

“In the hour of need, our country stands together,” Steinmeier said in a televised statement. “It’s important that we show solidarity for those from whom the flood has taken everything.”

By Friday evening, waters were receding across much of the affected regions, but officials feared that more bodies might be found in cars and trucks that were swept away.

A harrowing rescue effort unfolded in the German town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne, where people were trapped when the ground gave way and their homes collapsed.

Fifty people were rescued from their houses, county administrator Frank Rock told German broadcaster n-tv. Aerial photos showed what appeared to be a massive landslide at a gravel pit on the town’s edge.

“One has to assume that under the circumstances some people didn’t manage to escape,” Rock said.

Authorities cautioned that the large number of missing could stem from duplicated reports and difficulties reaching people because of closed roads and disrupted phone service.

After Germany, where the death toll stood at 106, Belgium was the hardest hit. The country confirmed the deaths of 20 people, with another 20 still missing, Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told the VRT network Friday.

Several dikes on the Meuse Rriver that runs from Belgium into the Netherlands were at risk of collapsing, Verlinden said. Authorities in the southern Dutch town of Venlo evacuated 200 hospital patients due to the river’s looming threat.

Utility companies reported widespread disruption of electricity and gas service that they said could last for days or weeks.

The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, who hopes to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as the nation’s leader after Germany’s election on Sept. 26, said the disaster had caused immense economic damage to the country’s most populous state. The number of dead in North Rhine-Westphalia stood at 43.

“The floods have literally pulled the ground from beneath many people’s feet,” Gov. Armin Laschet said at a news conference. “They lost their houses, farms or businesses.”

Manfred Pesch, a hotel owner in the small village of Gemuend, recounted how the floods came suddenly and rose to 2 meters (over 6 feet).

“Our hotel needs to be rebuilt,” he said. “We need a lot of help.”

Wolfgang Meyer, owner of a painting business in Gemuend, said his family escaped the rising water, but his business was swamped.

“The machinery, equipment, the entire office, files, records … everything is gone actually,” he said. “We’re going to have some work to do there.”

Malu Dreyer, the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, said the disaster showed the need to speed up efforts to curb global warming, which experts say could make such disasters more frequent.

She accused Laschet and Merkel’s center-right Union bloc of hindering efforts to achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and a major emitter of planet-warming gases.

“Climate change isn’t abstract anymore. We are experiencing it up close and painfully,” she told the Funke media group.

Steinmeier, the German president, echoed her calls for greater efforts to combat global warming.

“Only if we decisively take up the fight against climate change will we be able to limit the extreme weather conditions we are now experiencing,” he said.

The World Meteorological Organization said some parts of Western Europe have received up to two months of rainfall in the space of two days.

“What made it worse is that the soils were already saturated by previous rainfall,” WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis said.

She said it was too soon to blame the floods and preceding heat wave on rising global temperatures but added: “Climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme events. And many single events have been shown to be made worse by global warming.”

The German military deployed over 850 troops to help with flood efforts, and the need for help was growing, Defense Ministry spokesman Arne Collatz said. He said the ministry had triggered a “military disaster alarm.”

Italy sent civil protection officials, firefighters and rescue dinghies to Belgium to help in the search for missing people.

In the southern Dutch province of Limburg, which also has been hit hard by flooding, troops piled sandbags to strengthen a 1.1-kilometer (0.7 mile) stretch of dike along the Maas River, and police helped evacuate low-lying neighborhoods.

Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the government was officially declaring flooded regions disaster areas, making businesses and residents eligible for compensation. Dutch King Willem-Alexander visited the region Thursday night and called the scenes “heartbreaking.”

Meanwhile, heavy rain in Switzerland caused several rivers and lakes to burst their banks. Public broadcaster SRF reported that a flash flood swept away cars, flooded basements and destroyed small bridges late Thursday in the northern villages of Schleitheim und Beggingen.

Erik Schulz, the mayor of the hard-hit German city of Hagen, 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of Cologne, said a wave of other regions and ordinary citizens were offering to help.

“We have many, many citizens saying ‘I can offer a place to stay. Where can I go to help? … Where can I bring my shovel and bucket?’” he told n-tv. “The city is standing together, and you can feel that.”

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Disaster

Governor DeSantis: No Structural Damages as Elsa Passes Through Florida

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FILE - Governor Ron DeSantis talks with press after signing HB 1, the "anti-riot" bill, in Winter Haven, Florida Monday, April 19, 2021. File image: WFLA News Channel 8 (screen capture).

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (FNN) – Governor Ron DeSantis announced that no major structural damages have been reported in the state as tropical storm Elsa passes through, during a press conference at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

DeSantis added that no healthcare facilities have reported any power outages but have been in contact with local emergency response teams constantly.

The governor reminded drivers not to pass their vehicles in standing waters, as only 12 inches of running water can carry away most cars.

He also asked residents to report downed power lines and other structural damages to help emergency response teams, as well as reminding them not to use power generators in closed rooms if the electricity goes out.

“There have been more carbon dioxide deaths in the last four years due to situations like this,” he said.

DeSantis said that Elsa seemed to be losing strength as it reached the Big Bend area and Tampa Bay, on its way to Georgia.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), emphasized the importance of documenting structural damages both to help emergency response and for insurance claims.

Guthrie advised residents to post pictures of any damage to social media and tag the Florida Community Response Team (CERT) on Twitter to assess it.

As of yet, there have been no reports of deaths due to Elsa, but DeSantis added that “we have seen fatalities after the storm passes.”

DeSantis also commented on the ongoing search and rescue efforts in the Sunshine apartment complex in Miami and the impact the collapse has had on the survivors.

“Those buildings are a dime a dozen. You don’t think twice driving by. I’ve met with a lot of these families, would probably not think twice about living there in normal circumstances. It’s going to be tough to get anyone back on their feet”, he said.

“When the building was demolished I asked if they can go back in and take their possessions, every single one of (the rescue teams) said it was too dangerous,” he added.

DeSantis said he thought the Sunshine complex had “troubles from the start.”

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Juan Carlo Rodriguez is a politics and entertainment writer for Florida National News. | info@floridanationalnews.com

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Governor DeSantis Issues an Updated Executive Order Regarding Tropical Storm Elsa

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Governor Ron DeSantis addresses the media during a State of Emergency declaration press conference regarding Tropical Storm Elsa in the Florida Division of Emergency Management in Tallahassee Sunday, July 4, 2021. Photo: Florida Division of Emergency Management.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (FNN) – Today, Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 21-151, which expands the State of Emergency to include the following counties:

Alachua, Columbia, Dixie, Franklin, Hamilton, Gilchrist, Jefferson, Lake, Lafayette, Madison, Marion, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla.

Additionally, Executive Order 21-151 removes the State of Emergency from the following counties: DeSoto, Hardee and Miami-Dade.

A copy of Executive Order 21-151 can be found here.

 

Governor DeSantis initially issued Executive Order 21-150, declaring a pre-landfall State of Emergency for fifteen Florida counties Sunday, July 4, 2021.

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