Sen. Nelson: Area residents hit hard by the storm are not alone
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson toured Lehigh Acres Friday.
Nelson met with state and county officials to assess the progress in the community hard hit by Hurricane Irma, as a line of vehicles stretched to the end of the back road behind Fire Station 101 where members of the Army National Guard were stationed in the wake of the storm.
He was told that slowly, Lehigh Acres is starting to get back to normal.
But for many, there still was no electricity or water, and some had only recently been able to leave their homes due to the flooding.
It was a situation that made some residents think they were low on the priority list.
They included one woman, who said she represented a group that was afraid to seek help for risk of being caught and sent out of the country.
The scene in Lehigh was happening all over the state and people were hurting, especially the elderly and those with few resources, Nelson told those assembled.
“There are still 2 million people in the state without any power, and eight people died of heat exhaustion at a nursing home in Hollywood. We wanted to make sure they all got power,” he said. “People are hurting, and the people hurting the most are the poor.”
According to Nelson, residents are concerned that there will not be any FEMA money to help them rebuild, as much of the resources are also being used in Texas and Louisiana due to Hurricane Harvey.
Nelson advised people to get to a FEMA station to fill out the applications, since there likely would not be Internet service for a while. He added that he would make a call to get FEMA assistance for Lehigh.
As for undocumented immigrants afraid to seek benefits for fear of being deported and winding up homeless, Nelson suggested that they seek assistance from entities they can trust, such as a church.
“Have them give them the guidance they need. This is a problem all over the state,” he said. “If they are DACA children, they will get the services. Otherwise, they need to go to people they can trust.”
Beatrice Jacquet, president of the Haitian-American Democratic Club of Lee County, told Nelson that many Haitians are struggling and that many of them are undocumented and afraid to seek help.
“People are afraid they’re going to have their personal information and that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will be able to find them,” she said. “They have no electricity, are dying of heat, they need food, and some can’t get into their homes.”
The National Guard handed out water, ready-to-eat meals and snacks to carloads of residents. The gratitude was returned as the children in one vehicle thanked each and every soldier as they drove past. Another driver returned the favor by providing cold water to those who were sweating in the hot sun.
While Nelson’s visit was appreciated, residents wished that they could get more attention from the local, state and federal governments, with many believing their plight had been overlooked.
Teachers Bo and Elaine Langley told Nelson that there were some areas not as greatly affected as Lehigh that seemed to be getting more help and that Lehigh seemed to be getting table scraps.
“A lot of our residents are elderly and even infirmed. A lot of our schools were used for shelters and many can’t get back home and are still there,” Elaine Langley said.
“It seems like once again we’re being left out of the loop. We’re again the red-headed stepchild of Lee County and it’s rearing its head again today,” her husband said. “The storm affected everyone, but east of I-75 it was the worst hit and least worked on.”
Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman said the storm hit areas that stood to suffer the most from a lack of resources, and that officials were trying their best to return the area to normalcy.
“This is going to be a long recovery for Lehigh Acres. We’re here, we’re 100 percent behind Lehigh Acres. We have the National Guard here, we are pushing the electric companies every day to bring power back, getting the lights working on Lee Boulevard. We’re piecing everything together,” he said.