Biden warns Hurricane Ian could be ‘deadliest’ ever in Florida

Friday, Sep 30, 2022

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Thursday warned that Hurricane Ian may end up being Florida’s "deadliest" storm ever and cited fears there could be "substantial" numbers of fatalities across the state."This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history," he said after a briefing at the FEMA emergency management headquarters in Washington.

"The numbers... are still unclear, but we’re hearing reports of what may be substantial loss of life," he said, adding that when conditions allow, "I’m going to be going to Florida." Biden also told reporters it was his "intention" to visit the US Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, which is reeling from the earlier Hurricane Fiona.

Biden praised Florida’s emergency services, describing the huge scale of the task facing them as they enter zones devastated by Ian’s punishing wind and flooding. "Search and rescue operations got underway before dawn this morning for people stranded and who are in desperate shape," he said.

Among the "many" resources in action, the US Coast Guard has deployed 16 helicopters, six airplanes and 18 boats, he said. "These are dangerous missions." Addressing Floridians, Biden said "many are hurting today and our entire country hurts with them."

"We’re continuing to see deadly rainfall, catastrophic storm surges, roads and homes flooded. We’re seeing millions of people without power and thousands hunkered down in schools and community centers," the Democrat said.

"They’re wondering what’s going to be left." Biden also offered an olive branch to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a right-wing Republican who is widely seen as competing with former president Donald Trump to be the lead challenger in the 2024 presidential election.

While DeSantis has emerged as an uncompromising opponent to Biden, the president said they had put politics aside during the crisis. "We’re going to pull together as one team," he said. "This is not about... anything having to do with our disagreements politically.

This is about saving people’s lives, homes and businesses," Biden said, adding that he’d talked with DeSantis "four or five times" over hurricane response.Hurricane Ian inundated cities, turned out the lights on millions of residents and left migrants from an overturned boat missing on Thursday as Florida assessed damage from what the state governor described as a "500-year flood event."

Officials launched a major emergency response after one of the most intense US storms in years, with helicopter crews plucking survivors from barrier islands slammed by a deluge that saw storm surges crash through beachfront towns and horizontal rain pound communities for hours.

After an initial look at the breathtaking destruction, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the coastal city of Fort Myers and adjacent Cape Coral were "really inundated and really devastated" by the storm.

He said there were "two unconfirmed fatalities" that were likely linked to the hurricane. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) downgraded Ian to a tropical storm Thursday, but said it was causing "catastrophic flooding" and forecast further "life-threatening" floods, storm surge and high winds in central and eastern Florida as well as Georgia and South Carolina.

The US Border Patrol said a boat carrying migrants sank at sea during the hurricane, leaving 20 missing. Four Cubans swam to shore in the Florida Keys islands and the coast guard rescued three others.

Ian also menaced the city of Orlando and the nearby Disney theme parks, which were shuttered.Ian’s savagery was most evident along Florida’s west coast, including Punta Gorda, which was plunged into darkness after the storm wiped out power.Howling winds toppled trees, pulled chunks out of roofs, and turned debris into dangerous projectiles whipping through town.

Punta Gorda urvivor Joe Ketcham, 70, told AFP of the "relentless" banging of metal and his fears about what was to come as the hurricane battered his home.On the morning after Ian roared ashore as one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Florida in decades, the full extent of destruction was only beginning to emerge, but the size and ferocity of the storm stoked fears of massive devastation across swathes of the southeastern US state. "Some of those areas -- Cape Coral, city of Fort Myers -- they got really, really inundated and really devastated by this storm," DeSantis told a press conference.