By Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Hurricane Ian could be Florida’s deadliest, adding he would travel to the state when appropriate.
“This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history. The numbers are still unclear but we’re hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life,” Biden said during a visit to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters in Washington.
Biden pledged that the federal government would do everything it could to get Florida residents what they need after the storm and warned energy companies not to engage in price gouging.
Big storms in Florida have killed dozens of people, in total, in modern history. However a 1928 hurricane killed thousands, mostly in Florida.
Biden noted that Governor Ron DeSantis, a fierce political rival, had thanked him for the federal government’s quick response to the storm.
Biden, a Democrat, and DeSantis, a Republican, could be rivals in a 2024 presidential contest, and before the storm struck, the president was planning a sharp political attack at a rally in Florida this week.
DeSantis has been a fierce critic of Biden’s policies in multiple areas, including the COVID-19 pandemic and immigration.
The president dismissed those dynamics on Thursday.
Biden said he had spoken with DeSantis four to five times and the governor had expressed thanks and appreciation for the federal support.
“This is not about … anything having to do with our disagreements politically. This is about saving people’s lives, homes and businesses,” Biden said.
Rescue workers and residents of Florida’s Gulf Coast searched for missing people on Thursday after the storm tore through the area and caused massive power outages.
“Many families are hurting,” Biden said. “Our entire country hurts with them.”
Biden said he had approved DeSantis’ latest request for the federal government to cover the full cost of clearing debris and costs to save lives.
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(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, Doina Chiacu, and Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons, Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)