Florida bent but did not come close to breaking through Hurricane Irma, and we will bounce back stronger. This historic storm was a uniquely shared experience for the entire state. Floridians must remain united as they begin the weeks and months of cleaning up and rebuilding.
Before dawn Monday, law enforcement officials throughout Tampa Bay began surveying the damage as tens of thousands remained in shelters. The eagerness by all to return to normal routines as soon as possible is understandable, but that will take a while. Floridians must be as patient and prudent as we are resilient.
Millions throughout Florida and hundreds of thousands of Tampa Bay residents remained without power Monday morning. Airports remain closed for the time being. Gas shortages can be expected until ports reopen and fuel deliveries resume. Floridians are resourceful, but working through the coming days and weeks will require cooperation and understanding.
The recovery will require a united effort at every level. President Donald Trump approved Gov. Rick Scott's request for a major disaster declaration. That will allow federal money to flow for emergency costs, debris removal and affected families in some counties, including Pinellas and Hillsborough. Congress should be prepared to provide more help as it did after Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and so should the Florida Legislature after the scope of the damage and the need becomes clearer. Floridians will not face Irma's aftermath alone.
Despite all of the challenges ahead, Irma could have been far worse. The combination of smart preparation and changing weather conditions spared Tampa Bay and most of the state from the predicted catastrophic damage. The governor was a constant, consistent presence in sounding the alarm and urging evacuations, which surely saved lives. Irma's path along Cuba's coastline and landfall at Marco Island after slashing through the Florida Keys enabled Tampa Bay to avoid a direct hit, the strongest winds and the highest storm surges.
Yet for all of the good pre-hurricane preparation and Irma's fortunate weakening, the damage often can look worse after daylight and a closer look. The Florida Keys took a hard hit, and more significant damage occurred in Southwest Florida and Polk County. Even weakened hurricanes can leave deep scars.
Now the recovery has to go as well as the preparation. The praise for the Trump administration and for Scott's performance will quickly fade unless emergency supplies and other aid arrives promptly. The cooperation between federal, state and local officials that has been praised by Scott, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and others has to continue.
Floridians did their best to prepare for Irma. Now they will need some help to deal with the aftermath. But this is a state that perseveres, and with help from all levels of government we can come out stronger. Tampa Bay dodged the worst, and now the recovery begins. Let's get to it.