Taking stock of Ian's devastation, Biden pledges full support to Florida, South Carolina

WASHINGTON — Warning that Hurricane Ian was "likely to rank among the worst in the nation's history," President Biden pledged full support to the residents of southwest Florida, where the Category 4 storm made landfall on Wednesday, and South Carolina, which prepared for 85 mph winds and surging floodwaters on Friday.

“It's going to take months, years to rebuild,” Biden said, speaking from the White House. “And our hearts go out to all those folks whose lives have been absolutely devastated by the storm.”

The hurricane has killed 21 Floridians, a number that is expected to rise, and over 1 million residents of the state remain without electricity. As it traveled towards South Carolina, Ian lost, but then regained, speed.

Biden approved Florida's emergency declaration last week. On Thursday, as Florida began the painful process of recovery and South Carolina braced for the storm, Biden also issued a state-of-disaster notice for Florida, targeting nine counties. He also approved South Carolina's emergency declaration. Together, these designations will provide state and local governments with reimbursements from the federal government for storm recovery costs that are all but certain to run into the billions of dollars.

“I just want the people of Florida to know: We see what you’re going through, and we’re with you,” Biden said, outlining other federal efforts in response to Ian, including the deployment of mobile telecommunications equipment to restore cellular service. The Biden administration has sent 2,000 “federal response personnel” to Florida, as well as 400 members of the Army Corps of Engineers who will examine the state of storm-damaged infrastructure like bridges.

The White House also said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was already moving to house storm survivors who lost their homes to Ian’s punishing winds and rains.

“Every single minute counts,” Biden said Friday. He said he had spoken with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida “on multiple occasions” in recent days and with Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina on Friday morning. He also pleaded with South Carolinians to listen to local officials, who have been urging residents of low-lying coastal areas to evacuate.

Biden was a senior senator from Delaware when Hurricane Katrina slammed into Louisiana, catching both local officials and then-President George W. Bush by surprise. Seven years later, as the vice president of the United States, Biden watched as President Obama responded to Superstorm Sandy with widely-praised compassion.

Now, as president, Biden is dealing with the most powerful hurricane to have come along during his administration. And even as he vowed that help would flow from Washington as long as necessary, he acknowledged that the scenes of devastation emerging from Florida were difficult to see — and will, for many, be just as difficult to forget.

“America’s heart is literally breaking,” Biden said.