WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden visited Florida on Wednesday to review the damage caused by Hurricane Ian, his second storm-related trip this week.
The president, who was accompanied by First Lady Jill Biden, examined the damage to the… Fort Myers region via helicopter before meeting local officials and residents at Fishermans Wharf, a once bustling marina now torn apart by the storm.
Biden was greeted by Republican Administration Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey DeSantis, and briefly met GOP Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.
Speaking in front of a pile of rubble on the wharf, Biden said, “The key here is to build back better and stronger to withstand the next storm.”
“You can’t go back to what it was — you better build back because we know there’s more to come,” he added.
Biden and DeSantis, who have been talking publicly about issues like immigration in recent months, tried to put their differences aside for today. They shook hands, met stricken Floridians and spoke at a joint press conference where they emphasized the close coordination between the federal and state governments in response to the storm.
“Thank you so much for the hospitality,” Biden said. “This is about America coming together.”
Answering reporters’ questions at the end of his comments, Biden said he and DeSantis “have very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in hand.”
Speaking at the joint press conference, DeSantis said, “I think we’ve worked just as well in state, local and federal [government] of every disaster I have seen.”
“We cut through the bureaucracy, we cut through the bureaucracy. And that’s from the local government, the state government, all the way to the president. So we appreciate the team effort,” DeSantis added.
Just a few weeks ago, DeSantis angered Democrats by flying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts to make a statement about the Biden administration’s immigration policy. Biden accused DeSantis of using migrants as “props” for “political stunts”.
More than 100 deaths have been attributed to Ian, which made landfall in southwest Florida last Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane, with wind gusts of 150 mph and storm surges up to 14 feet.
Biden said Friday that Ian will likely be one of the worst storms in the country’s history and could take years to rebuild.
Thousands of Floridians are in emergency shelters after their homes have been damaged or destroyed, and thousands are still without power.
In a briefing with reporters traveling on Air Force One, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said there were 4,000 federal personnel on the ground in Florida to help with recovery efforts. On Wednesday, 17 search and rescue teams were still going door-to-door for residents of Lee County, who were most affected by Hurricane Ian, and would continue to do so until every structure in the region was cleared, Criswell said.
She also said FEMA had opened a center in Lee County to give people information about what their insurance plans will cover and what type of federal aid they qualify for.
Wednesday was Biden’s second trip this week to investigate storm damage, following a visit to Puerto Rico Monday after Hurricane Fiona swept through the island on Sept. 18, causing a power outage across the island, killing at least 25 people.
As the storms intensify due to climate change, some lawmakers and Officials of the Biden Administration have encouraged people to weigh up the risks of rebuilding in areas vulnerable to hurricanes.
Biden said on Wednesday that much can be done to ensure that affected communities are rebuilt more resiliently — such as building new telephone poles from steel rather than cement or wood — but added: “The question every community will have to ask , is , ‘Should we rebuild in this place or in that place?’”
“Will it withstand what is likely to happen again? That is a local decision,” he added.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted “above-average hurricane activitythis year — which would make it the seventh consecutive above-average year — due to several climate-related factors. The hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.
Zoe Richards contributed.