LEE COUNTY, Fla. — After the storm, county commissioners spoke publicly about the evacuation: in an October 2nd press conference , Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass said “...not looking back Monday morning quarterbacking they should have looked forward and said I need to go, if people behind me if they didn’t leave I respect their choices. And I’m sure they do regret it now.”
In the days after the storm, county leaders and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) have been unwavering in using the storm’s shifting cone to defend the decision’s timing.
“72 hours before the storm, we still weren’t in the cone. Lee County wasn’t,” Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass said during a news conference the Monday after the storm.
“48 hours out, they were still on the periphery of the cone,” DeSantis told a CNN reporter in the days after as well, “So they made the best decision they can.”
However, both National Weather Service (NWS) and National Hurricane Center (NHC) experts warn we should not rely on the cone alone.
“The cone is just where the center of the storm might move. It says nothing about the winds. It says nothing about storm surge,” said Robbie Berg, a senior hurricane specialist at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.
Dejarlais remained firm, saying the evacuation was called for on time.
“I know what all those experts have said but they weren't here. They have a job to do. And they are admittedly very conservative.” Dejarlais said.
“On the other hand, you know, our job is to make the best decisions possible for the people in the county, people who live here. And our visitors. And we made the right decision. The evacuation was called for on time. The timing was really very good,” said Dejarlais.
To this day, both County Commissioner Kevin Ruane and County Manager Roger Desjarlais maintain they made the best decision possible with the resources at their disposal.
They do say that there's an opportunity to learn from this experience and to make changes in the future.
“We will have perfection this time. And last time wasn't perfection, but I don't think it was nearly as bad as people said it was.” County Commissioner Kevin Ruane said.
Watch Now: Extended Interview with County Commissioner Kevin Ruane
Click here to read about the lessons learned from Hurricane Ian's evacuation process.