U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden have arrived in Florida, taking an aerial tour aboard presidential helicopter Marine One to survey damage from Hurricane Ian and meeting with residents and business owners impacted by the deadly, powerful storm.
The U.S. death toll from Ian has risen to more than 100 people from Florida to the state of North Carolina, with the majority of the fatalities in Florida. More than 50 deaths were reported in Florida's Lee County, which bore the brunt of the storm when it came ashore.
Biden is meeting Wednesday with state and local leaders to discuss recovery efforts including with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential election contender with whom Biden has quarreled on many issues including immigration.
The political rivals have put differences aside to focus on relief efforts in the days since the storm struck the country's third-most populous state.
"When it comes to delivering and making sure that the people of Florida have what they need, especially after Hurricane Ian, we are one. We are working as one," White House press secretary Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday.
Combination handout images released Oct. 4 , 2022, by the Pleiades Neo, shows an image of Fort Myers Beach, before Hurricane Ian made landfall, and an Oct. 2022 image after Hurrican Ian made landfall. (AFP photo/Airbus DS 2022)
At a news conference Wednesday, DeSantis praised the White House and Federal Emergency Management Agency. "I think FEMA has worked very well with the state and local (officials), and we want to continue to do it," DeSantis told reporters.
Federal emergency aid has been made available to the state beginning Sept. 23 for at least 60 days in accordance with DeSantis' request.
"This is catastrophic," said Deanne Bennett Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reporters traveling with Biden on board Air Force One. "Sixty days just seem reasonable."
Impact of the powerful storm that made landfall last week is expected to be long-term, costing the federal government billions of dollars in damages.
"We are still very much in the life saving and stabilization mode. They are just beginning the assessments of what the actual extent of damages to the infrastructure," said Criswell. "It's going to be in the billions. How many billions I don't know yet, but it will certainly be in the billions and perhaps one of the more costly disasters that we've seen in many years."
This is the second time Biden has traveled to survey storm damage this week. On Monday he was in Puerto Rico for an update on recovery efforts from Hurricane Fiona.
Andre McCourt, right, and his wife Sandra carry water logged furniture out of his house, Oct. 4, 2022, in North Port, Fla.
Category 4 storm
Ian made landfall in Florida on September 28 as a dangerous Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 240 kilometers an hour and left more than two million customers across the state without power. Officials with utility companies say it will likely be Friday or Saturday before electricity is restored to at least 95% of their customers.
More than 1,500 people have been rescued as search and rescue crews engage in a painstaking door-to-door search for victims among destroyed homes and buildings.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.