President Joe Biden said Thursday that it’s time for the country to pull together to help those affected by Hurricane Ian as he sought to deliver unifying remarks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington.
“My message to the people of Florida and to the country in times like this: America comes together. We’re gonna pull together as one team, as one America,” the President said.
Biden said that already “many families are hurting” and the entire country hurts with them.
“They’re wondering what’s gonna be left? What’s gonna be left when they get to go home?” he said. “Or even if they have a home to go to.”
Biden also announced that those in Florida without enough insurance will be provided individual assistance of $37,900 for home repairs and another $37,900 for loss of property, including “everything from automobile to a lost wedding ring.” He also warned Floridians to not go outside “unless you absolutely have to,” adding that it’s both risky and impedes first responders from doing their job.
Biden said that he intends to visit Florida and Puerto Rico, which continues to deal with devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona. He added that he would meet with Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis when he surveys damage in the state “if he wants to meet.” Biden and DeSantis – who have criticized one another over a variety of issues the years – spoke on Thursday over the phone for the second time in two days.
The President also once again warned oil and gas companies to not use the storm as “an excuse” to raise gasoline prices in the US.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during Biden’s visit that he’s activated his agency’s surge capacity workforce to deploy more personnel to Florida in response to the storm.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell also warned Hurricane Ian will continue to be life-threatening as it moves into Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Ian came ashore Wednesday in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, making it one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall on Florida’s west coast. The storm has since weakened to a tropical storm with 70 mile per hour sustained winds, 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 had no power Thursday morning, according to PowerOutage.us, and some drinking water systems have broken down completely or have boil notices in effect.
Biden on Thursday speculated that Ian “could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history,” adding that “the numbers are still unclear, but we’re hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life.”
The total extent of devastation resulting from the storm – including the number of hurricane-related deaths, the number of people who remain trapped and the number of homes that have been destroyed – remains largely unknown.
One person’s death was connected to the storm in Osceola County in central Florida, the county’s emergency management director Bill Litton told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Thursday morning. According to Litton, the person who died was in hospice, and a cause of death was not given.
Roughly five people are believed to have died in Lee County, the sheriff said, and parts of a key bridge there from Sanibel and Captiva islands to Florida’s mainland have been washed out.
Many people are believed to need rescuing in southwest Florida’s Fort Myers area, FEMA chief Deanne Criswell said Thursday. The nearby Naples area was similarly slammed, with feet of water submerging streets, nearly swallowing vehicles and rushing into the first floors of homes and businesses.
The Coast Guard and National Guard were “pulling people off of roofs in Fort Myers” with aircraft Thursday morning, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson told CNN. Coast Guard crews have rescued at least 23 people since Wednesday, the service said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
CNN’s Allie Malloy, Jason Hanna, Nouran Salahieh, Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.