Biden: Hurricane Ian 'could be the deadliest' in Florida history

President Biden said Hurricane Ian could potentially be the deadliest in Florida’s history, pledging federal government support for the state’s recovery after the Category 4 storm made landfall Wednesday.

“This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history,” Biden said while speaking at FEMA headquarters Thursday afternoon. “The numbers are still unclear, but we’re hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life.”

Biden emphasized his communication with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has been a consistent critic of the White House, and said they had talked four or five times. Biden approved DeSantis’s request for a disaster declaration on Thursday morning, providing additional federal assistance to nine counties hit the hardest. In addition to DeSantis, the president said he’s spoken with mayors and commissioners in the area.

Speaking at FEMA headquarters on Thursday, President Biden said Hurricane Ian could be the deadliest in Florida's history.
Speaking at FEMA headquarters on Thursday, President Biden said Hurricane Ian "could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida's history." (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

“I’ve also spoken with mayors across the state, both Republican and Democrat, and I’ve told them the same thing: We are here, whatever you need. I indicated to call me directly at the White House; they know how to do that. We’re going to do everything we can to provide whatever they need. We’ve dispatched over 1,000 FEMA personnel and pre-positioned major federal capacities and capabilities and supplies.”

In his remarks, Biden also spoke to the people of Puerto Rico, still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Fiona earlier this month.

“While we’re seeing the devastating images in Florida, I want to be clear: To the people of Puerto Rico, we’re not gone away,” he said. “I’m committed to you and the recovery of the island. We’ll stand by you for however long it takes to get it done. I know the folks here at FEMA and across the federal government are working nonstop around the clock.”

Biden said of rebuilding Florida: “However long it takes, we’re going to be there.” He also addressed energy companies, saying his administration would be monitoring potential price gouging in the wake of Ian’s strike.

A street sign lies in floodwaters in Punta Gorda, Fla.
A street sign lies in floodwaters in Punta Gorda, Fla. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Earlier Thursday, DeSantis called the damage in the state “historic.” More than 2.5 million Floridians were without power, and southwestern portions of the state were hit hard by the winds and flooding, wiping out a pair of bridges near Fort Myers.

“We've never seen storm surge of this magnitude, and it hit an area where there's a lot of people and a lot of those low-lying areas, and it's going to end up doing extensive damage to a lot of people's homes. So there's going to be a lot of work to do,” DeSantis added, calling it “basically a 500-year flood event.”

“You’re looking at a storm that has changed the character of a significant part of our state,” he said. “This is going to require years of effort to rebuild."

Asked about his relationship with DeSantis, Biden said, “It’s totally irrelevant, but I’ll answer it. Very fine, he complimented me, he thanked me for the immediate response we had, told me how much he appreciated it, said he was extremely happy with what was going on. This is not about anything having to do with our disagreements politically; this is about saving people’s lives, homes and businesses. That’s what this is about.”

A man helps a woman next to a damaged boat in a downtown condominium after Hurricane Ian caused widespread destruction in Fort Myers.
A man helps a woman next to a damaged boat in a Fort Myers condominium. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday, Ian is expected to make landfall in South Carolina on Friday as a hurricane. The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia have declared states of emergency.

“Every time disaster strikes, emergency crews from all over the country, from across the federal government, show up to help like they’re doing right now in Florida,” Biden said at the conclusion of his initial remarks. “That’s America, a country of women and men willing to serve, willing to leave their own families to help a stranger’s family. Everyone hard at work in Florida right now deserves our thanks, and when the conditions allow it I’m going to be going to Florida to thank them personally so we don’t get in the way.”