Florida on a 'long road' of rebuilding after Hurricane Ian, Biden says

US president pledges not to abandon state during joint news conference with Republican adversary in storm-ravaged state

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US President Joe Biden looked to strike a unifying tone on Wednesday when he surveyed Hurricane Ian's destruction of Florida communities, putting political differences aside with the state's Republican governor to focus on the effects of the storm that took at least 100 lives.

Speaking in Fort Myers alongside Mr DeSantis, his potential rival for the presidency in 2024, Mr Biden pledged that he would not abandon the state, which will take years to rebuild.

“Look, there's a long road before us, rebuilding entire communities from the ground up,” he said during a joint news conference with the Florida governor.

“I want the people of Florida to know you have my commitment and America's commitment that we're not going to leave. We're going to see you through this entire process.”

Ian wiped out power to 2.6 million households and businesses when it made landfall in Florida. Hundreds of thousands still remained without power as of Wednesday afternoon.

Storm surges and winds reaching as high as 241 kilometres per hour wrecked cities, destroyed bridges and flooded motorways.

Fort Myers, a popular tourist destination, bore the brunt of the hurricane's damage.

After the storm passed, satellite images revealed the extent to which Fort Myers and Fisherman's Wharf had been damaged. The beach's pier was destroyed, houses were flattened and the once vibrant beach became a wasteland, its crystal-blue waters turning a dark brown.

Previewing the state's long recovery efforts, Mr Biden said it would take years for “everything to get squared away”.

He also met small business owners and local residents, and thanked officials who have provided relief assistance to those affected by the storm.

Mr Biden and Mr DeSantis made an effort to place the focus of the president's trip on those who had been killed in the storm as well as those reeling from damage to their homes and belongings.

“Mr President, welcome to Florida. We appreciate working together across various levels of government,” Mr DeSantis said.

The president's tone leading up to the trip was a unifying one and he lauded Americans' ability to put political differences aside during times of crisis.

When asked by reporters how he thought Mr DeSantis has handled the crisis, Mr Biden said he thought the governor has done a “good job”.

“We worked hand in glove. We have very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in glove … In dealing with this crisis, we’ve been in complete lockstep,” Mr Biden said.

Mr DeSantis also praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) for its management of the situation before the Category 4 hurricane struck.

“I will say, from local, state co-ordination and Fema — there’s been less bureaucracy holding us back in this one than probably any one I’ve ever seen,” he said.

After the storm passed, satellite images revealed the extent to which Fort Myers and Fisherman's Wharf had been damaged. The beach's pier was destroyed, houses were flattened and the once vibrant beach became a wasteland, its crystal-blue waters turning a dark brown.

Hurricane Ian could be the costliest storm in the state's history, catastrophe modeller Karen Clark & Company projected.

Updated: October 05, 2022, 9:32 PM
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