President Joe Biden said Thursday it’s time for the country to come together to help those affected by Hurricane Ian as he delivered unifying remarks at the Federal Emergency Management Administration headquarters in Washington.
“My message to the people of Florida and to the country in times like these: America comes together. We will come together as one team, as one America,” the president said.
Biden said that “many families are already hurting” and that the whole country is hurting with them.
“They are asking what will be left? What will be left when they go home?”. he said “Or even if they have to go home.”
Biden also announced that the underinsured in Florida will receive $37,900 in individual assistance for home repairs and another $37,000 for lost property, “from cars to lost wedding rings.” He also warned Floridians not to go outside “unless you have to,” adding that it is dangerous and hinders first responders from doing their jobs.
Biden said he plans to visit Florida and Puerto Rico as they continue to deal with the devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona. He added that he would meet with Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, when he assesses the damage in the state “if he wants to meet.” Biden and DeSantis – who have clashed over a number of issues over the years – spoke by phone on Thursday for the second time in two days.
Ian made landfall in Florida on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane, making it one of the strongest storms ever to hit Florida’s west coast. The storm has since become a tropical storm with sustained winds of 70 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.
In southwest and central Florida, which bore the brunt of the storm, survey crews reported collapsed buildings, flooding, downed power lines and impassable roads early Thursday. More than 2.6 million customers were without power Thursday morning, according to PowerOutage.us, and some drinking water systems have either completely broken down or are under boil advisories.
Biden speculated Thursday that Ian “could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history,” adding that “numbers are still unclear, but we’re hearing early reports of potentially significant loss of life.”
The full extent of the storm’s destruction – including the number of hurricane deaths, the number of people trapped and the number of homes destroyed – remains unknown.
One person’s death was linked to the storm in central Florida’s Osceola County, county emergency management director Bill Litton told CNN’s Kate Bolduan Thursday morning. According to Litton, the person who died was at the hospital, and no cause of death was released.
About five people are believed to be dead in Lee County, the sheriff said, and parts of a bridge from Sanibel and Captiva islands to the Florida mainland have been washed away.
Many people are in need of rescue in the Fort Myers area of southwest Florida, FEMA chief Deanne Criswell said Thursday. The nearby Naples area was similarly hit, submerging streets, nearly engulfing vehicles and entering the first floors of homes and businesses.
The Coast Guard and National Guard were “pulling people off the roofs of Fort Myers” with planes Thursday morning, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson said. He told CNN. Coast Guard crews have rescued at least 23 people since Wednesday, the service said.