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Message from Governor Jeb Bush

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 here.

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
will happen.

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.

Across Florida thousands of lives have been devastated this hurricane season.

Floridians in crisis need your help. Please donate to Florida Hurricane Relief Fund to help the thousands whose lives have been devastated.

Volunteer Florida Foundation