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State, federal officials plan for worst as drought lingers

By JOHN BALZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2001


WASHINGTON -- A team of Florida disaster specialists met with federal emergency officials Friday to brief them on the wildfires and drought tearing through the heart of the state, and what could happen if conditions do not improve.

Dispatched on Thursday by Gov. Jeb Bush, the team's goal was to explain to Federal Emergency Management Agency leaders what the state has already done to mitigate the disasters, its plans for the future and how the federal government might be able to help. Both parties agreed to meet again but did not set a date.

About 35 representatives from various departments including Florida's Division of Forestry, the Division of Emergency Management, the Department of Environmental Protection, Bush's office, and FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh attended the three-hour session. Reporters were not allowed inside.

"We wanted to come up here, paint a picture, and start laying out a game plan," said Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Joe Myers.

A top item on the agenda was Central Florida's relentless drought, which has made 1999 and 2000 the driest years on record.

The federal government does not have a central agency that handles drought -- individual agencies deal with different pieces of the problem -- and Friday's meeting was organized in part to devise a plan of action that coordinates state and federal agencies. The government, at Bush's request, has already offered some support. Earlier this week FEMA agreed to pay 70 percent of the state's bills for battling the wildfires once the price tops $1.5-million in 12 counties, including Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk.

Bush did not take part in the meeting but he will be raising concerns next week in Washington during a National Governors Association conference. State and federal officials made plans to meet sometime in the next couple of weeks, likely in the Orlando area.

Recent coverage

Bush seeks help with drought (February 23, 2001)

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