WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Thursday “our entire country is hurting,” along with the people of Florida, after Hurricane Ian swamped communities across the state, cutting power, forcing people into shelters and raising fears of a “significant… loss of life.”
Biden said the storm could become the “deadliest hurricane in Florida history.”
During a visit to the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he was briefed on the federal response measures, the President said, “Numbers are still unclear, but we are hearing early reports of potentially significant loss of life.”
Biden said he will visit Florida and meet with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis when “conditions allow.” The president said he will also visit Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory hit by Hurricane Fiona earlier this month.
“We know there are many families injured,” Biden said at FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center, where specialist teams from across the federal government and partner organizations monitored the storm and helped with recovery efforts. “Our whole country hurts with them.”
He urged those affected by Ian to heed local officials’ warnings to stay safe and stay indoors.
“Don’t go outside unless you have to,” Biden said. “The danger is real, to state the obvious. Please heed all warnings and instructions from emergency officials.”
Biden and DeSantis spoke prior to the hurricane’s impact and again Thursday morning as the focus came on the destruction. Ian made landfall in the United States as one of the strongest hurricanes of all time. The storm swamped homes on Florida’s shores, cut the only bridge to a offshore island, destroyed a historic waterfront pier and knocked out power to 2.67 million homes and businesses. At least one man has been confirmed dead.
Biden early Thursday declared a major disaster in parts of Florida at the request of DeSantis, freeing up additional federal aid to state and local governments and individuals. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said more counties would likely be added to the disaster declaration as assessments were conducted.
When asked if his administration would need additional money from Congress to respond to the storm, Biden said, “We can.”
Biden said DeSantis, with whom he has fallen out politically, is “extremely pleased” with the federal response. The President said: “This is not about something to do with our political differences. This is about saving lives, homes and businesses.”
Biden said he also spoke to several Florida mayors Thursday and delivered the same message he sent to the governor about the federal government’s commitment to helping with the cleanup and recovery: “We are here.”
“We will do everything we can to provide them with everything they need,” Biden said, adding his instruction to them is to call him directly at the White House with their needs. “They know how to do it.”
Biden also spoke to the people of Puerto Rico who are cleaning up and trying to rebuild after Hurricane Fiona devastated the U.S. island territory before Ian struck Florida on Wednesday.
“I am committed to you and to the island’s recovery,” he said. “We didn’t go away.”
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