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‘I fear the worst,’ says Fla. senator of Hurricane Michael damage

Hurricane Michael, considered the most powerful hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle, has left buildings flattened, trees snapped and entire towns unreachable by land. Judy Woodruff speaks with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., for the latest on the damage he’s seen already, what he anticipates finding in stranded areas and how the government can help.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we explore the storm's damage further with Florida's U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. He joins us from Panama City Beach.

    Senator, thank you for talking with us.

    I know you have seen hurricanes before. How does this one compare?

  • Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.:

    This is the largest one, the most difficult one that — and certainly in my lifetime — to hit the Panhandle of Florida.

    I think you would have to compare the destructive force to that of Hurricane Andrew that hit South Miami Dade County back in '92. But this one, fortunately, didn't hit a populated part of its most destructive forces, which were east of Panama City.

    And I think the little town of Mexico Beach, when we can get in there — and it's only accessible by helicopter now — we're going to see the direct result of the water and Category 4 winds coming directly off of the Gulf, without a barrier island out there to break it up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you think you might see? And, Senator, what are you understanding people need right now there?

  • Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.:

    Well, now's the time for the federal government to come to everybody's assistance.

    The hurricane is past. You can see, the weather is great, because the hurricane is moving so fast. All of the junk around it is long gone. But they're going to need a lot of help around here for a long, long time.

    And you said, what do I expect in Mexico Beach? I fear the worst. If people hunkered down, I hope we find them alive.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we certainly hope that is — we hope as many survived as possible.

    Senator, so when you say the need is going to be great for some time to come, what do you mean? Are you talking about power? Are you talking about essential things, food, housing? What else?

  • Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.:

    On the way here, I came through pine forests that were just sticks, and, otherwise, they were all snapped in two.

    When you have that kind of destructive force, and you apply it to buildings like this one behind me, and we are on the west side of the storm — so this wasn't where the worst winds were — people are going to need housing. They're going to need food.

    It's going to take some time to get electricity up, because electricity, all the lines are down. This place will be completely dark once the sun goes down. And that's what we're facing, what typically you would find in a hurricane after the hurricane has passed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, are you confident, Senator, that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the federal government is going to be able to do what is necessary?

  • Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.:

    Well, it has to.

    Certainly, I hope it doesn't do for the Panhandle of Florida what it did in Puerto Rico, because they were treated as second-class citizens. But FEMA, if it's on the ball, it won't do the second-class job. And they have got people prepositioned here, supplies prepositioned.

    So they should be in a good shape to get folks what they need. But it's going to be a slow rebuilding process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Senator, what about inland in Florida? We know the storm moved quickly up through the Panhandle and on into Georgia. Are you hearing — what are you understanding about the rest of the state?

  • Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.:

    Well, I can tell you, in — since the interstate was shut down, I had diverted to go into Georgia and go around the destruction. And even up into Georgia, as far as Bainbridge, the trees were all over the road, that, finally, we had to give up and turn around and come back to the interstate.

    And, finally, the interstate opened up. And then I was able to get south into Panama City.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Senator, we — of course, all of us are hoping for the very best.

    Your opponent in the Senate race, Governor Rick Scott, says he's going to be suspending his campaigning for the next few weeks. Are you doing the same thing?

  • Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.:

    Yes, ma'am. We have suspended our commercials in this area.

    By the way, in other parts of Florida, he has not.

    But now's not the time to talk about politics. Now is the time to talk about getting people made whole again and getting them where they can live their normal lives. And they're going to be hurting for some period of time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Bill Nelson, thank you very much.

    And wishing everybody there the very best with this recovery.

  • Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.:

    Thanks, Judy.

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