(The Center Square) – Within two days of announcing Florida would arrange transportation for Americans stranded in Israel and bring them to Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis welcomed home nearly 300 Sunday night.
At the Tampa International Airport, DeSantis posted a video, stating, “We are having our first flight of people being rescued from Israel. [The plane] has landed, over 260 people that wanted to get back to the United States and couldn’t do it, there was a void of leadership. So, we stepped up and led. We’re happy to be able to deliver and ready to welcome them back to the United States of America.”
Florida partnered with Project Dynamo to bring nearly 300 Americans home from Israel, including more than 270 to Tampa and seven to Orlando on Sunday.
“I am proud of how quickly we have been able to activate resources and do what the federal government could not – get Floridians and other Americans back home, reunited with their families, free of charge,” DeSantis said.
“Israel mourns its more than 1,400 murdered and 150 hostages in the devastating unprovoked terror attack perpetrated by Hamas,” Consul General of Israel to Florida, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, said. “We have gone to war to eradicate Hamas and its allies and to uphold our values of freedom, humanity and the sanctity of life. The support we are receiving from Governor DeSantis, the First Lady, FDEM Executive Director Kevin Guthrie, Florida Commerce Secretary Alex Kelly, FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass and his entire administration and the state is overwhelming. We are very grateful for the special flights and supplies.”
Bryan Stern, CEO and founder of Project Dynamo, said, “We have a dedicated team of volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure the well-being of Americans caught in crisis situations all over the world. It’s truly heart-wrenching to watch the destruction unfolding in Israel. We’re so grateful to Governor DeSantis for partnering with us on this mission, to save every American in need.”
There are roughly 20,000 Americans, including many Floridians, who are stranded in Israel, according to some reports. They’re unable to get out because of commercial flight cancellations and other travel and logistics disruptions due to the ongoing war with Hamas.
The U.S. State Department encouraged stranded Americans to book commercial flights while also recognizing that these flights were being canceled “due to mortar and rocket fire that may take place without warning.”
It also encouraged Americans to arrange and pay for their own lodging. Any transportation out of Israel the federal government might be able to provide requires Americans to sign a promissory note prior to departure, according to a partial State Department emails posted on social media.
By contrast, the Florida government is providing free transportation to stranded Americans wanting to come home.
DeSantis issued an executive order stating, “unlike the governments of other countries, the Biden Administration has failed to launch any form of rescue or evacuation operations for Americans, including Floridians, who are stranded in the region, and has failed to provide information requested by the State of Florida about any plans for such operations.
“Floridians stranded in Israel are requesting help from the Executive Office of the Governor and from nearly every member of Florida’s congressional delegation, because they are not receiving timely assistance from the U.S. Embassy in Israel and are not receiving any follow-up after enrolling in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program,” he said when announcing the plan.
It includes “response, recovery, and mitigation plans necessary to cope with the emergency, including any logistical, rescue, or evacuation operations.” Operations are being organized by the Florida Division of Emergency Management, and involve the Florida National Guard, Florida State Guard and other state agencies. Funding to support the mission to bring Americans home was allocated through the Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund, according to the executive order.
Florida is home to one of the largest Jewish populations in the world. The Miami area has the second-largest population of Israeli-American citizens in the U.S.