Governor Jeb Bush’s address to Floridians
November 30, 2004, official end of hurricane season
My fellow Floridians, good evening.
Today, the most traumatic hurricane season in Florida history
comes to a welcome end. One hundred and nine days ago, Hurricane
Charley slammed into the west coast of our state and was quickly
followed by Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.
Since the first storm, more than a million Floridians have registered
with FEMA for hurricane relief, and we're grateful for this federal
support. Floridians have filed almost 1.5 million insurance claims,
and the number continues to rise. The total estimate of damage
in our state now exceeds $42 billion.
This is how we measure the financial impact of the storms. But
it doesn't begin to measure the value of our state. That value
is based on more than roads, buildings and power grids. It is created
by the strong hearts and generous spirits of the people who live
For many people, the Escambia Bay Bridge in Pensacola is the enduring
image of the hurricanes. The picture of that broken bridge with
the haunting shell of Robert Alvarado's 18-wheeler was seen around
the world as a symbol of Florida's devastation and despair.
Hurricane Ivan sheared off 58 sections of the bridge and pushed
66 more out of place. When you consider that each section weighs
220 tons, you gain a new understanding and respect for the force
of nature that ravaged our state this year. Yet just 19 days after
the storm, cars traveled across that bridge again, demonstrating
Florida's resilience and our commitment to move forward.
The damage totals and claim numbers don't tell the real story
of what happened here. That story is told in countless Florida
neighborhoods as strangers became friends and neighbors became
family. People like the woman in Brevard County who got up at 4
o'clock every morning to make coffee.
Using a generator she made enough to fill 20 thermoses -- then
delivered them to front porches around her neighborhood so people
without power could at least start their day with the comfort of
a hot cup of coffee.
The Florida National Guard is an important part of our story.
Many of them returned from war just weeks before the storms with
plans to reconnect with their families and restart civilian lives.
Yet they left loved ones behind, along with jobs and college classes,
to serve again when the hurricanes hit.
The Guards went wherever they were needed, leading search and rescue
teams, providing security for communities, directing traffic
and even driving children on school buses. Many, like Sgt. Eric
Oswiler, reported for duty to help storm victims even though
they had lost their own homes.
We saw a lot of that kind of courage and sacrifice in the Florida
National Guard and others committed to the safety of Floridians.
We saw it in local Emergency Coordinators who stayed focused on
the response and rescue efforts despite their own losses. People
like Nathan McCollum, the Mayor of Sebastian and the Emergency
Management Coordinator for Indian River County, who used generators
to send a live radio message as Hurricane Frances moved in. He
stayed on the air all night, a lone voice of information and comfort,
telling residents how to stay safe and get help and exemplifying
the innovation of emergency teams throughout the state.
In our time of need, Florida was supported by the largest volunteer
response to a natural disaster in United States history. More than
140,000 volunteers gave almost 6 million hours of their time to
help us. They served more than 14 million meals, delivered almost
27 million bottles of water and more than a million bags of ice.
The true story of this hurricane season is one of pain and loss
and of courage and compassion -- of darkest days and finest hours
that cannot be severed. It's also a story of tremendous achievements
against formidable obstacles.
The storms closed every school in Florida for at least one day.
The damage in some areas discouraged even the most optimistic among
us who were committed to getting students back to class. Thanks
to innovation and determination to do whatever it took, by October
11th, two weeks after the last storm, every Florida student was
back in class.
In Pensacola, the teachers and staff of Workman Middle School
worked through the night to get their school ready for students
- finishing at six in the morning - just in time to welcome their
students an hour later. Educators and communities rallied like
this all across our state.
On August 20th I stood in front of what used to be Charlotte High
School in Punta Gorda. The school and its football team have been
a source of pride in that community for generations. The building
was destroyed by Hurricane Charley but the school goes on, sharing
space with its rival, Port Charlotte High. I was there again last
month when the two football teams faced off for their annual grudge
match. The rivalry is still strong, but so is the sense of community
that comes from people working together to solve
We should be proud of achievements like these, because they represent
a tremendous spirit and willingness to do what it takes to recover
and rebuild. They also give us hope for the challenges ahead, which
are significant. Our recovery is going to be a long-term effort.
It will not be easy. It will not be quick. And it will not be without
pain. But it
We still have people in need of housing, and find more who need
help every day. In the coming months we must address several recovery
issues including property tax relief, multiple insurance deductibles,
beach restoration, affordable housing and tourism support.
As we braced for each storm I asked for your attention, your patience
and your prayers. As we move forward I ask that we hold on to the
generosity of spirit, the creative collaboration and the compassionate
character that have defined our state throughout this trying season.
Florida is a place of unparalleled diversity of backgrounds, experiences
and vision. It makes our culture unique, but it can also make it
difficult to define a common identity and create a sense of community
that reaches beyond our neighborhoods to all corners of our state.
This year, as we stood together in the face of nature's fury, we
were all Floridians, bound together by adversity and recovery.
We each carry images from the storms that will stay with us forever.
I have many from my travels around the state. There's the woman
in Barefoot Bay who wrapped her arms around me because she needed
a hug. She'd lost everything, and was sorting her life out in a
shelter. She was wearing a Salvation Army tee-shirt, and told me
about the volunteer work she was doing with that organization to
help other storm victims in spite of her own
At a community center I spoke with a tiny, elderly woman with
a single foam curler on the top of her forehead. She introduced
me to her daughter, also a senior citizen, who had come to Florida
to help her mom repair her home and put her life back together.
In Santa Rosa County, I remember the tears in the eyes of a local
official who had lost everything. His tears weren't for himself,
but for the pain of his friends and neighbors who had evacuated
to safety and had not seen the damage Ivan left behind. He didn't
have the words to describe the devastation, and he wept at the
heartbreak he knew would find them, and hundreds of others, when
they returned to homes that don't exist anymore.
I have hundreds of memories of courage and grace. The faces, the
tears, the hugs and the stories will stay with me always, as will
the resolve behind them.
I have never been prouder to be Governor of Florida. It has been
a gift of extreme privilege to witness the strength of so many
people who look beyond the rubble with hope and resolve, and who
extend a hand to help others share that view.
I thank you all for your tenacity, determination, hard work and
faith. We are defining Florida's future as a place of unlimited
promise created by the strength of 17 million people who are forever
connected by this experience.
Good night, and God Bless the Great State of Florida.