Biden delivers address from Fort Myers Beach after flight over hurricane damage

Biden praises DeSantis’s actions after Ian as ‘pretty remarkable’

President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis praised each other for the team work after Hurricane Ian during separate addresses on Wednesday in Fort Myers Beach.

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. – President Joe Biden toured Hurricane Ian’s ravaged areas on Wednesday in Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel, surveying storm damage by helicopter as he pledged that federal, state, and local governments will work together to help rebuild homes, businesses and lives — putting politics on mute for now.

“Today we have one job and only one job, and that’s to make sure the people in Florida get everything they need to fully, thoroughly recover,” Biden said.

“It’s going to take a hell of a long time, hopefully without any snags in the way,” he said. “Later, after the television cameras have moved on, we’re still going to be here with you.”

The Category 4 storm resulted in 105 deaths in Florida, including 55 in Lee County. Ian’s 150 mph winds and punishing storm surge last week took out power for 2.6 million in Florida and 350,000 remained without it Wednesday.

“We are in a situation where in Lee County alone, initial reports say 11 schools are significantly damaged and three are going to have to be rebuilt,” Biden said.

Biden said the Sept. 29 emergency declaration to provide federal funding is going to help rebuild schools libraries, parks, and public community centers.

“We are going to help rebuild roads and bridges and public water systems,” Biden said.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive to tour an area impacted by Hurricane Ian with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey DeSantis on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Biden planned to meet Wednesday with residents and small business owners in Fort Myers and to thank government officials for providing emergency aid and removing debris. Biden said already 200,000 families have registered for urgent assistance for basics such as buying food.

“We immediately activated our hotel program,” Biden said.

With the midterm elections just a month away, the crisis was bringing together political rivals in a common cause at least for a time.

“We will cover 100% of the clean-up cost, the debris, which is billions of dollars,” Biden said.

In this image taken through a window, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden take an aerial tour to view the storm-ravaged areas after Hurricane Ian on Marine One, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (Olivier Douliery/Pool Photo via AP)

Joining Biden in Florida were two of his most prominent Republican critics: Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott, according to the White House and Scott’s spokesman.

“What the governor has done is pretty remarkable,” Biden said.

DeSantis thanked Biden, first lady Jill Biden, and Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell during his statement. He said Florida was fortunate to have good coordination with the White House and FEMA.

“There have been over 2,500 rescues,” DeSantis said adding search and rescue teams have searched close to 100,000 structures “in the most hard-hit areas.”

President Joe Biden talks with Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy as he tours the area impacted by Hurricane Ian on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

DeSantis said the team effort has served 45 million bottles of water and two million pounds of ice at 28 points of distribution. He also said FPL has restored power to 85% of customers in Lee County.

“We have thousands of linemen in places like Cape Coral working really hard to get that power back on. We have also because of the bridge situation with the causeway in Sanibel, as well as the bridge in Pine Island, we were airlifting linemen,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said Elon Musk stepped in to help with 375 Starlink devices to restore internet service by repositioning his satellites. DeSantis said Pine Island is “restored to the mainland” with a temporary bridge that opened Wednesday.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden talk to people impacted by Hurricane Ian during a tour of the area on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Biden said his administration is committed to helping with the immediate needs and long-term rebuilding. He said the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Small Business Administration are among the agencies involved.

“Yesterday we opened a disaster recovery center right here in Lee County. Three more will be open in this part of the state by tomorrow and with more to come,” Biden said. “And the state is co-locating insurance villages at the same center.”

Other state and local officials, including Sen. Marco Rubio, are accompanying Biden.

“This is about America coming together,” Biden said.

A neighborhood in Sanibel after Hurricane Ian. (NOAA)

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre suggested it would be inappropriate for them to focus on political differences.

“There will be plenty of time, plenty of time, to discuss differences between the president and the governor — but now is not the time,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at a White House briefing. “When it comes to delivering and making sure that the people of Florida have what they need, especially after Hurricane Ian, we are one. We are working as one.”

Before the storm hit, the president had intended to visit the Florida cities of Orlando and Fort Lauderdale last week, where he planned to stress his efforts to strengthen Social Security and Medicaid.

Biden has accused Scott of wanting to end both programs by proposing that federal laws should expire every five years, although the Florida senator has said he wants to preserve the programs.

President Joe Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talk to people impacted by Hurricane Ian during a tour of the area on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Biden and DeSantis have had a multitude of differences in recent years over how to fight COVID-19, immigration policy, and more. In recent weeks, they tussled over the governor’s decision to put migrants on planes or buses to Democratic strongholds, a practice that Biden has called “reckless.”

The hurricane changed the purpose and tone of Biden’s first trip to Florida this year.

The president is visiting an area especially devastated by winds and surging tides. Boats, including huge yachts, were capsized and hurled inland.

FILE - Water floods a damaged trailer park in Fort Myers, Fla., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, after Hurricane Ian passed by the area. Hurricane Ian has resulted in at least 79 people confirmed dead, including 71 in Florida, as hundreds of thousands of people wait for power to be restored. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

As the water receded, the destruction at Fort Myers Beach’s Fisherman’s Wharf become evident. Homes and businesses lay in ruins amid debris and muck.

“The only thing I can assure you is that the federal government will be here until it’s finished,” Biden said.

DeSantis made a point Wednesday of praising FEMA along with local and state agencies, saying coordination among them has been exceptional during Ian’s aftermath.

A neighborhood in Fort Myers Beach after Hurricane Ian. (NOAA)

“There’s been less bureaucracy holding us back in this one than probably anyone I’ve ever seen,” DeSantis said at a briefing in Matlacha. He gave a 30-minute midday briefing on hurricane recovery efforts, including news that running water had been restored through much of the affected zone.

The White House message of bipartisan unity marks a difference from Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who at times threatened to withhold aid to Democratic officials who criticized him, including Democratic Govs. Gavin Newsom of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York.

Fish lie dead at the edge of a road after the passage of Hurricane Ian, inside a trailer park on San Carlos Boulevard in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Trump threatened to withhold federal money from California after wildfires, saying its state officials were to blame for the deadly conflagrations, tweeting in 2018: “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

Politicians’ responses to natural disasters have the power to make or break political careers.

As Florida’s governor for eight years, Jeb Bush maintained a steady response to a parade of hurricanes and was rewarded with sky-high approval ratings. The response by President George W. Bush and Louisiana lawmakers to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 hangs over their legacies.

In this aerial photo made in a flight provided by mediccorps.org, damage from Hurricane Ian is seen on Estero Island in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican who welcomed President Barack Obama to his state to survey Hurricane Sandy damage just days before the 2012 general election, said that during natural disasters “the best political strategy is to have no political strategy, to do your job.”

Biden said anyone in need of information about government aid to call 1-800-621-3362 or visit the Disaster Assistance page.

Biden asked the public for patience as they increase personnel.

“Hundreds of FEMA personnel are going door to door,” Biden said.

Interactive map: A day after Hurricane Ian

Watch the 3 p.m. report

President Joe Biden toured Hurricane Ian’s ravaged areas on Wednesday in Fort Myers, surveying storm damage by helicopter as he pledged that federal, state, and local governments will work together to help rebuild homes, businesses and lives — putting politics on mute for now.

Watch the 4 p.m. report

President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis praised each other for the team work after Hurricane Ian during separate addresses on Wednesday in Fort Myers Beach.

Watch the 5 p.m. report

President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis praised each other for the team work after Hurricane Ian during separate addresses on Wednesday in Fort Myers Beach.

Watch the 6 p.m. report

President Joe Biden toured Hurricane Ian’s ravaged areas on Wednesday in Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel with Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Seung Min Kim in Washington, Bobby Caina Calvan in Fort Myers, Florida and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.

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About the Authors:

Christian De La Rosa joined Local 10 News in April 2017 after spending time as a reporter and anchor in Atlanta, San Diego, Orlando and Panama City Beach.