President Biden on Thursday warned Hurricane Ian could prove to be the deadliest storm in Florida’s history as it punished swaths of the state with flooding rains and damaging winds.
“This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history. The numbers are still unclear, but we’re hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life,” Biden said during a visit to Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters for a briefing on the hurricane response.
“We’re continuing to see deadly rainfall, catastrophic storm surges, roads and homes flooded,” Biden added. “We’re seeing millions of people without power and thousands hunkered down in schools and community centers.”
Hurricane Ian made landfall on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, lashing the western coast of the state in particular. But the size of the storm meant that other parts of the state also faced flooding and power outages.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in a briefing on Thursday morning said more than 1 million Floridians were without power. DeSantis told reporters that Lee and Charlotte counties were knocked off the power grid and would require rebuilt infrastructure.
“The amount of water that’s been rising … is basically a 500-year flood event,” DeSantis said.
Biden spoke with DeSantis earlier Thursday and overnight signed a major disaster declaration to free up additional federal resources and help with temporary housing and home repairs in particular. The president has also been in touch with local leaders in some of the hardest hit areas.
The president said he would visit Florida to meet with first responders and tour damage once conditions made it possible. He also reiterated his call for major oil companies to bring down the price of gas rather than use the storm as a pretext to raise prices.
Biden during his visit praised the work of FEMA officials and emergency responders. He told staffers at the agency’s headquarters that their work was helping to reinforce the public’s faith in government institutions as they coordinated disaster relief.
“At times like this, America comes together. We’re going to pull together as one team, as one America,” Biden said.