HORSESHOE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Two people were charged with looting a home damaged by Hurricane Idalia in Florida's Big Bend region, as residents' concerns grew that burglars could be tempted to hit other hurricane-ravaged homes since law enforcement is stretched thin in the remote, wooded area along the Gulf Coast.
Some residents of Horseshoe Beach, Florida, one of the communities hardest hit after Idalia made landfall Wednesday as a Category 3 hurricane, urged law enforcement to set up checkpoints where people would have to show identification in order to get into the town.
Marina worker Kerry Ford had high praise for local law enforcement's response to the hurricane but wished more would be done to keep out people who don't belong in Horseshoe Beach.
The authorities “did really good,” Ford said. “Now, the only thing I’ve seen where they’ve dropped the ball is you can come right into Horseshoe without showing you’re a resident or anything like that. That’s a problem, especially with no power. You’ve got to have somebody here keeping out everybody other than the residents.”
A man and a woman from Palmetto, Florida, almost 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of where Idalia made landfall, were arrested Wednesday after an officer from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission heard noises coming from outside a home in Horseshoe Beach.
The officer found the man and woman loading up items from the waterfront home into a rented pickup truck. One of the suspects told deputies that the homeowner had given him permission to remove items from the house on stilts. But the homeowners told deputies when contacted that they had done no such thing, according to a statement from the Dixie County Sheriff's Office.
Each suspect was charged with burglary of an unoccupied dwelling during an emergency, grand theft and trespassing, with bails set for each at $1 million.
“We are taking strong action against this criminal activity,” the sheriff's office said in the statement.
On Saturday, there were more than 61,000 Florida residents and 8,700 Georgia residents without power due to Idalia. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden headed to Florida Saturday for a tour of the hurricane-damaged area.
Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning near Keaton Beach with winds of 125 mph (200 kph) and a 6-foot (1.8-meter) storm surge. The fast-moving storm then tore through largely rural stretches of inland Florida and southern Georgia before exiting for the ocean in the Carolinas. The storm wreaked havoc on a slice of old Florida that has escaped massive coastal development.
Tammy Bryan, who works at the First Freewill Baptist Church in Horseshoe Beach, said anyone caught looting could help in another way.
“Help load up some trash and take the rest with you, if that’s the way it has to be," Bryan said.
Associated Press writer Mike Schneider in St. Louis contributed to this report.
Daniel Kozin, The Associated Press