Biden meets DeSantis while investigating Hurricane Ian damage in Florida

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden traveled to Florida on Wednesday to investigate the damage caused by Hurricane Ianhis second storm-related trip this week.

The president, who was accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, reviewed the damage to the Fort Myers area by 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 Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey DeSantis, and met briefly with GOP senses Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.

Speaking in front of a pile of debris on the dock, Biden said, “The key here is to build back better and stronger to weather the next storm.”

“You can’t go back to what it was before – you have to build back better because we know more is coming,” he added.

President Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One in Rhode Island on July 20, 2022.Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images File

Biden and DeSantis, who have publicly argued in recent months over issues such as immigration, sought to put aside their differences for the day. They shook hands, met with affected Floridians and spoke at a joint press conference where they highlighted the close coordination between the federal and state governments in response to the storm.

“Thank you very much for the hospitality,” Biden said. “This is about America coming together.”

Responding to reporters’ questions at the end of his remarks, Biden said he and DeSantis “had very different political philosophies, but we worked hand in hand.”

DeSantis, speaking at the joint press conference, said: “I think we’ve also worked in the state, local and federal [government] of any disaster I have seen.

“We’re cutting bureaucracy, we’re cutting red tape. And that goes from local government, state government, all the way to the president. So we appreciate the team effort,” DeSantis added.

Just a few weeks ago, DeSantis provoked the ire of the Democrats by bringing in migrants Texas at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, issue a statement on the Biden administration’s immigration policies. 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 as a Category 4 hurricane last Wednesday, bringing winds of 150 mph and storm surges of up to 14 feet.

Biden said Friday that Ian would likely be one of the worst storms in the country’s history and it could take years to rebuild.

Thousands of Floridians are in emergency shelters after their homes were damaged or destroyed, and thousands are still without power.

During 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. As of Wednesday, 17 search and rescue teams were still going door-to-door reporting to residents of Lee County, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Ian, and would continue to do so until all structures in the area are cleared, Criswell said.

She also said FEMA has opened a center in Lee County to provide people with information about what their insurance plans will cover and what kind of federal assistance they are eligible for.

Wednesday marked Biden’s second trip this week to investigate storm damage, following a visit to Porto Rico Monday after Hurricane Fiona devastated the island on September 18, causing an island-wide wave power outage and killing at least 25 people.

As storms grow more violent due to climate change, some lawmakers and Biden administration officials encouraged people to weigh the risks of rebuilding in hurricane-vulnerable areas.

Biden said Wednesday that much could be done to ensure affected communities rebuild in more resilient ways — such as building new steel telephone poles instead of cement or wood — but added, “The question that every community is going to have to ask is, ‘Should we rebuild in this place or this place?’”

“Will he be able to withstand what is likely to happen again? It’s a local decision,” he added.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted “above average cyclone activitythis year — which would make it the seventh consecutive year above average — due to several weather-related factors. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.

Zoe Richards contributed.

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