As what is now Tropical Storm Ian moves out over the Atlantic Ocean, U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday pledged the federal government will do whatever has to be done to help Florida rebuild.
At last report, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Ian had moved back over waters in the Atlantic faster than predicted and is expected to move over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream later Thursday where it will once again reach hurricane strength. A hurricane warning has been issued for the entire coast of South Carolina to the northwest.
Meanwhile, Biden, speaking from the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, said he had spoken with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and approved his requests for an expedited major disaster designation.
He said that means the federal government will cover the costs of removing all debris and rebuilding public buildings. The federal government will also provide funds to help cover the costs of rebuilding homes and recovering property for those who do not have enough insurance.
Biden said Ian could prove to be the deadliest storm ever to hit Florida by the time its effects are finally assessed.
At a news conference earlier in the day, DeSantis said the extent of deaths and injuries was unclear as rescue workers were only starting to respond to calls after not being able to go out during the treacherous conditions. Rescue crews were working by land, sea and air to reach stranded residents.
DeSantis said more than 2 million people were without power, and the amount of water rising in Florida is “basically a 500-year flooding event."
“We've never seen a flood event like this. We've never seen a storm surge of this magnitude. And it hit an area where there's a lot of people,” DeSantis said.
Ian came ashore Wednesday near Cayo Costa as a strong Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of nearly 250 kilometers per hour, along with a powerful storm surge and heavy rains that combined to flood coastal areas.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office said it carried out at least 30 rescue missions Wednesday and cautioned residents that Thursday was likely to be “frustrating and heartbreaking for many” as people began to assess damage from the storm. The county was one of several that instituted overnight curfew.
Hurricane Ian earlier hit western Cuba, killing two people and leaving the entire island without power after its aging electrical grid, which has been struggling to remain operational amid a dire economic crisis, collapsed late Tuesday.
Ian left behind a trail of destruction across Pinar del Rio province, Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region, ripping the roofs off homes and buildings and making streets impassable because of downed trees and power lines, and flooding.
Authorities evacuated as many as 40,000 people from low-lying areas of Pinar del Rio.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.