Miami, Oct 5 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Wednesday arrived in Florida to emphasize that the federal government is not going to “abandon” those in the state affected by Hurricane Ian, for which his administration has deployed a huge White House operation after the natural disaster with an eye toward launching a recovery that will take “years.”
Biden offered brief remarks after making an aerial inspection of the city of Fort Myers, where Ian made landfall a week ago as a Category 4 storm on the 5-point Saffir-Simpson scale. There, and on its passage northeastwards across the peninsula, the storm left dozens of people dead and a path of destruction estimated in the billions of dollars.
“Today, we have one job and only one job, and that’s to make sure that people in Florida get everything that they need to fully, thoroughly recover,” said Biden during his remarks to reporters.
The president went on to say that Floridians affected by the storm have his commitment that the federal government will not leave and will provide as much help as possible to local residents.
Biden was accompanied by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with whom he met moments before to get a report on both the damage and recovery efforts to date, and he also met with local residents and small business owners.
The president enumerated the different kinds of aid that the government has provided seven days after Ian struck, thereafter continuing across the state and back out over the Atlantic and then curving back northwestwards to hit the South Carolina coast, and he said that some 200,000 people have applied for aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Biden on Wednesday toured an area where, during the 2020 election, then-President Donald Trump had won a clear majority and, he met with DeSantis, one of his most ferocious critics, as scheduled although the pair left their political differences to the side and the focus has been on how to help the affected population.
At a brief press conference, DeSantis, whom many see as a potential Republican presidential contender in 2024, thanked Biden and the federal government for the aid provided right from the start. The day before, the governor also had thanked FEMA.
Biden said that he and DeSantis have “very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in glove. … In dealing with this crisis, we’ve been in complete lockstep.”
During Biden’s flight to Florida, FEMA director Deanne Criswell had told the media pool on Air Force One that there are 17 search and rescue teams operating in Lee County, the hardest hit area, and some 4,000 government workers are on the ground there helping with rescue and recovery work, including members of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The government on Tuesday opened a center to alleviate the affects of the disaster and on Thursday it will open three more centers in Lee County, where Fort Myers is located.
Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, both Republicans and big critics of Biden, were some of the politicians and officials who participated in the meeting that the president held Wednesday during his visit to Fort Myers.
Upon his arrival at Southwest Florida International Airport, the president and first lady Jill Biden were welcomed on the tarmac by local officials and a group of emergency workers, but not by DeSantis, who shortly before that had held a press conference on the reopening of the bridge to Pine Island, which Ian had destroyed, thus temporarily stranding island residents there.
As of Wednesday afternoon, when Biden and his retinue were beginning their flight back to Washington, there were still more than 290,000 Florida residents without electricity, more than half of them in Lee County.
In the neighboring counties of DeSoto and Charlotte, more than 50 percent of the residents are still without power.
DeSantis said that to date some 2,500 rescues had been performed and electricity had been restored to 97 percent of the people affected by the storm throughout Florida.
The Florida governor – who is currently favored to win reelection as governor over Democratic challenger Charlie Crist in the November elections – also thanked the emergency workers for their efforts so far in the wake of Ian.
Also on Wednesday, Biden extended for another 30 days the period during which federal help will be provided to remove storm debris and emergency measures will be undertaken to help those affected by the storm.