President Joe Biden said Thursday that “our entire country is in pain” alongside the people of Florida after Hurricane Ian inundated communities across the state, led to power outages, forced people to seek shelter and raised fears of a “significant loss of life.”
Biden said the storm could become “the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.”
During a visit to FEMA headquarters, where he was briefed on federal response efforts, the president said: “The numbers are still unclear, but we are hearing early reports of what could be a significant loss of life.”
Biden said he would visit Florida and meet with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis when “conditions permit.” The president said he would visit Puerto Rico, a US region that was hit earlier this month by Hurricane Fiona.
“We know that many families are affected,” Biden said at FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center, as teams of specialists from across the federal government and partner organizations have been monitoring the storm and assisting with recovery efforts. “Our whole country hurts them.”
He urged those affected by Ian to take the warnings of local officials seriously to stay safe and stay at home.
“Don’t go out unless you have to,” Biden said. “The danger is real, to make the obvious. Please adhere to all warnings and directions issued by emergency officials.”
Biden and DeSantis spoke before the hurricane hit and again Thursday morning as the devastation began to focus. Ian made landfall as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever in the United States. The storm inundated homes on the Florida coast, cut off the only bridge to a barrier island, destroyed a historic waterfront pier, and caused 2.67 million homes and businesses to lose power. At least one man has been confirmed dead.
Biden declared a major disaster in parts of Florida early Thursday at the behest of DeSantis, bringing additional federal assistance to state and local governments and individuals. Dean Cresswell, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said it is likely that more counties will be added to the disaster declaration when assessments are made.
Asked if his administration would need additional funds from Congress to respond to the storm, Biden said, “We can.”
Biden said DeSantis, with whom he has quarreled politically, was “extremely pleased” with the federal response. “This is not about anything to do with our differences politically,” the president said. “This is about saving people’s lives, homes and businesses.”
Biden said he also spoke with several Florida mayors on Thursday and delivered the same message he shared with the governor about the federal government’s commitment to help clean up and rebuild: “We’re here.”
“We will do everything we can to provide everything they need,” Biden said, adding that his instructions to them were to contact him directly at the White House with their needs. “They know how to do it.”
Biden also spoke to Puerto Ricans, who are cleaning up and trying to rebuild after Hurricane Fiona devastated the island nation before Ian hit Florida on Wednesday.
He said, “I am committed to you and to take back the island. We have not left.”