Remarks by President Biden on Hurricane Ian and Ongoing Federal Response Efforts
12:58 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, excuse my back. (Laughter.)
(Addresses FEMA staff.)
You’re doing a hell of a job. No, no, no, you really, really are. And I’ve just been up in the other room with, quote, “the bosses.” And, you know, one of the things that I think is so important is that there’s a lot over the last 6, 8, 10 years — there’s been a loss of faith in government along the way; it just keeps eroding. Because they wonder whether or not the institutions work.
And you’re coordinating all these institutions. People understand exactly what’s going on. They look on the television — they’re there in the middle of the eye of the storm — and they wonder — they wonder can we make it work, can we coordinate. And you all are doing it.
You are reinforcing people’s faith in the institutions that everything — not — that’s not how they think about the institutions, but in “Can it work? The government is here to serve me. Is it working?”
And you’re busting your neck, and there are a lot of people out there on the line who are risking their lives. So, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Okay, now I’m supposed to speak. (Laughter.)
(Addresses the press.)
Well, folks, I’m here at FEMA headquarters to thank Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas; Commandant of the Coast Guard Fagan; and the Commanding General of the Army Corps of Engineers, Lieutenant General Spellmon; and the FEMA Administrator, who’s become the MVP here these days — I spend a lot of time in this room — Criswell of FEMA and the entire workforce; and many other federal agencies that are working together here.
You know, they’re always going to be above and beyond; they’re running toward danger and — to save lives. Most people want to run away from it; these guys run toward it. And it really matters. And it really matters. And they’re helping survivors that are really in desperate need.
And, you know, that’s what we’re doing as we focus on delivering help to the people who are directly impacted by Hurricane Ian.
I’m going to use this. (Inaudible) my voice. (Switches to handheld microphone.)
It made landfall yesterday and it is still — still moving across the state today. This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.
The numbers of still — are still unclear, but we’re hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life. But parenthetically, I should note I’ve spoken with the governors and the mayors and the commissioners. I’ve been on the phone with the governor this morning. I spoke with the commissioners and mayors, and they are — they are worried, but they are — every one of them are telling me what an incredible job is being done to save their cities, their towns, their counties, their ports, their bridges, et cetera.
And in the face of serious danger, search and rescue operations got underway before dawn this morning for people stranded and who are in desperate shape.
Water rescue is critical. The Coast Guard deployed 16 rescue helicopters, 6 fixed-wing aircraft, and 18 rescue boats and crews.
That’s just one element of the many federal search and rescue teams that pre-staged in Florida. And the governor talked about how impressed he was with what the Coast Guard was doing this morning.
These are dangerous missions, and I’m grateful for the brave women and men in federal, state, and local government working as one team, risking their lives to save others.
And we’re going to learn a lot more in the coming hours. But we know many families are hurting — many — many are hurting today, and our entire country hurts with them, because it’s been — all over the country have seen so many crises. But in Florida today is a — is a — is the epicenter.
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.
They’re wondering what’s going to be left — what’s going to be left when they get to go home — quote, unquote, “home” — or even if they have a home to go to.
Some of the folks have been through this before, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Actually, it makes their anxiety even higher, in my view.
My message to the people of Florida and to the country is: At times like this, America comes together. We’re going to pull together as one team, as one America.
First thing this morning is when I talked to Governor DeSantis and, again, I offered the fullest federal support.
Earlier this week, I approved his request for the pre-landfall emergency declaration to provide direct federal assistance to the state for emergency protective measures to save lives, including search and rescue and shelter and food.
Early this morning, I approved the governor’s most recent request for an expedited major disaster declaration. That means the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost to clear debris and for all the costs that the state has to do — has to engage in and expend to save lives.
The federal government will also cover the majority of the cost to rebuilding public buildings like schools and state fire stations.
And folks in Florida who have destroyed or damaged homes — if you don’t have enough insurance, it means the federal government will provide individual assistance of [up to] $37,900 for home repairs, another $37,900 for lost property — everything from an automobile to a lost wedding ring. And that’s what we mean by “lost property.”
I’ve also spoken with mayors across the state, both Republican and Democrat. And I’ve told them the same thing: We are here, whether you need — and whatever you need, I indicated to call me directly at the White House. They know how to do that. And we’re going to do everything we can to provide whatever they need.
We’ve dispatched over 1,000 FEMA personnel and pre-positioned major federal capacities and capabilities and supplies. That includes millions of liters of water, millions of meals, and hundred — hundreds of generators.
I deployed dozens of search and rescue teams, along with high-water vehicles and rescue helicopters to help get survivors to safety. Thousands — thousands of National Guard members have been activated.
And at my direction, the Department of Defense is providing surge capacity on multiple fronts in support of FEMA’s efforts.
I also want to say again to everyone in Ian’s path: The danger is real, to state the obvious. Please obey all warnings and directions from emergency officials. And while the water is receding, don’t go outside unless you absolutely have to. It’s risky for you, and it impedes first responders from doing their job.
I also want to say again to the oil and gas executives: Do not — do not — do not use this storm as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American public.
The price of oil has dropped in recent weeks. The price of gas should be going down as rapidly; it’s not. My experts inform me the production of only about 160,000 barrels a day has been impacted by this storm. That’s less than 2 percent of our country’s prod- — daily production. Its small and temporary impact on oil production provides no excuse — no excuse for price increases at the pump. Period.
If a gas station companies try to use this storm to raise prices, I’m going to ask — I’m going to ask officials to look into whether or not price gouging is going on.
America is watching, and the industry should do the right thing. And I expect them to do the right thing.
And while we’re seeing the devastating images in Florida, I want to be clear: To the people of Puerto Rico, we’re not gone away; I am committed to you and the recovery of the island. We’ll stand by you for however long it takes to get it done.
I know the folks here at FEMA and across the federal government are working nonstop around the clock. That’s why — that’s why, finally, I want to thank the first responders, the National Guard, the Coast Guard service members, and the search and rescue personnel who are working to get people to safety and to restore power, water, and phonelines.
And I want to thank everyone here at FEMA and other federal personnel. I’ve seen you in action all across the country, from the West Coast to the Northwest to the Northeast to down in Louisiana — all across this country. And just in the last two weeks, you’ve been working 24/7. No matter what, in what emer- — no matter what, and when emergencies happen, FEMA is always there. You deserve the nation’s gratitude and full support.
And right now, if you’re in the National Guard and you get called up, you can still keep your job. But if you’re in the FEMA Reserve, that’s not the case. That’s why earlier this morning, I signed into law the bipartisan CREW Act championed by the — in the Senate by Gary Peters and Rob Portman, in the House by Dana Titus and John Katook [sic] — excuse me, Katko. And we signed it.
And that law will ensure that FEMA reservists have job protection just like military reservists — just like military reservists.
So when you’re called up to help with a disaster, you can now focus on that mission without worrying you might lose your job — your day job — or receive some other penalty at work because of this national service. That’s what the CREW Act guarantees.
And it’s going to help people become more civilian — gain more civilian reservists out there. And it’s going to make FEMA stronger. It’s going to make America stronger. That’s who we are.
Every time disaster strikes, emergency crews from all over the country — all over the country, from across the federal government, show up to help like they’re doing right now in Florida.
That’s America. A country of women and men willing to serve, willing to leave their own families to help a stranger’s family.
Everyone hard at work in Florida right now deserves our thanks.
And when the conditions allow it, I’m going to going to Florida to thank them personally so we don’t get in the way. I’ll do our best — we’re going to do our best to build Florida back as quickly as possible. But we’re not going to be leaving.
We’re going to build it back with the state and local government. However long it takes, we’re going to be there. That’s my commitment to you.
And I want to now turn it over to Secretary Mayorkas.
Q Mr. President, do you plan to meet with Governor DeSantis when you’re down there?
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll meet with anybody who’s around.
The answer is: Yes, if he wants to meet.
Q Do you plan to go to Puerto Rico as well?
THE PRESIDENT: That’s my intention.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you very much, Mr. President. Our hearts go out to the people in the affected areas.
At DHS, our highest priority is the preservation of life and safety. DHS is working with our federal, state, local, and nongovernmental partners to support the needs of the areas that are and may be impacted by Hurricane Ian.
I want to thank the President for his leadership in signing the major disaster declaration that unlocks critical assistance to help jumpstart impacted Floridians’ road to recovery.
FEMA and the United States Coast Guard are focused on lifesaving and life-sustaining response operations, and we are launching the recovery mission.
The Coast Guard has completed extensive preparations in advance of Hurricane Ian to minimize impacts to maritime commerce, ensure public safety, and position ourselves for a rapid response.
Currently, the Coast Guard has aircraft, cutters, flood-response assets, and response personnel staged throughout Florida ready for immediate deployment.
FEMA has teams in place who are ready to help those who need it most. We have thousands of our personnel deployed throughout the Department of Homeland Security — not only from FEMA and the United States Coast Guard, but also from our cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency and from TSA.
Today, I will be activating the DHS Surge Capacity Force so that we can bring to bear additional personnel from across the department to support disaster survivors in Florida.
When a catastrophic event hits, DHS approaches response and recovery work with the full expanse of our resources and our capabilities.
Our work in support of those affected by Ian will continue in the days, weeks, and months to come. This is not just a “here today and gone tomorrow.” We are here, as the President has articulated, throughout the need for full recovery.
In that regard, with respect to Puerto Rico, as the President mentioned yesterday, I approved a temporary and targeted Jones Act waiver to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico have sufficient diesel to run generators needed for electricity and the functioning of critical facilities as they recover from Hurricane Fiona.
We are in it for the long har- — haul.
Now it’s my pleasure to turn it over to Administrator Deanne Criswell of FEMA.
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I would first like to, again, begin by thanking the President for being here in FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center. This is the heartbeat of what we do right here. This is where we bring the federal family together. These are some amazing public servants.
I’d also like to thank the President for signing the CREW Act earlier this morning.
Mr. President, behind us here are dedicated public servants from across the federal family. Behind us are the dedicated public servants who have been working tirelessly, day in and day out, to get help to those who need us most.
These are the dedicated public servants who have put the needs of others before their own. And these are the public servants that we count on to respond to America’s worst day.
This is what the full force of the federal family looks like, right here behind me. I’d like to recognize every single person here, as well as those on the ground in Florida and those supporting from our Region 4 office in Atlanta, for the extraordinary efforts that they have put forth during this historic emergency response.
So we have been brought together here in a moment when millions of Floridians are navigating the aftermath of what is going to be one of the most catastrophic events they’ve experienced.
My heart aches for those people who have been in the path of Hurricane Ian, for the lives that have been forever changed by this storm, and for the communities that will simply never be the same.
America woke up this morning to images like Naples, Punta Gorda, and Cape Coral submerged underwater; homes across Fort Myers that have been torn from their foundations; and boats that have been found blocks away from their — where they were moored.
But Hurricane Ian is still a very life-threatening storm. We are expecting the storm to continue, making its way to Georgia, South Carolina, and into North Carolina, maintaining tropical storm force winds, deadly storm surge, and rainfall of up to 12 inches.
As many have said, Hurricane Ian is going to be a storm that we talk about for decades. But from the moment Hurricane Ian became a threat, we already had the right teams in place, who were ready to answer the call of those that need us most.
To the heroic first responders and search and rescue teams that have been running towards danger to save lives; to the brave medical teams providing compassionate and lifesaving care; to the local, state, and federal emergency managers working side by side to tackle challenge after challenge; to our meteorological partners who have been providing us with critical weather data hour after hour; and to the voluntary partners providing food and shelter to those who have just lost everything: I thank you, all of you. We thank you, and our nation thanks you.
Now we know that the next few days are going to be difficult. We have some very complex problems that we are going to have to solve. But like I said, we have the right teams in place who are ready to help those who need us most.
And as I shared with the President just moments ago, search and rescue missions are already taking place across the impacted areas by land, air, and sea. We have teams ensuring critical health facilities like hospitals and adult care facilities have the support they need to care for their patients or evacuate them if still needed.
We have power restoration teams making their way into devastated communities that help — to help bring communities back online.
And while we are focused on lifesaving and life-sustaining response operations, we are already launching our recovery mission. An interagency recovery group is already planning for the long-term recovery needs such as housing, debris removal, and critical infrastructure repair. As we know, this is going to be a complex recovery.
As you heard already, the President signed, overnight, a major disaster declaration that unlocks critical assistance to help these communities jumpstart their road to recovery. Individuals and families right now in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota — they can now register for assistance and begin their recovery process. You can register by visiting DisasterAssistance.gov through our FEMA app or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA; 1-800-621-3362.
And now that the sun is up and we are continuing to do our assessments, we will add more counties for individual assistance.
The next few days, they are going to be difficult. We have some very complex problems to solve. But like I said, we have the right teams in place who are ready to help those who need us most. And regardless of how bad it is, I commit to everyone here today that FEMA and our partners across the federal, state, and local levels remain ready and prepared to help these communities in their greatest time of need.
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
THE PRESIDENT: Let me add one more thing. We didn’t mention the Red Cross. The Red Cross is there. And they’re always there. They stepped up and they continue to step up, so I want to thank them as well. Thank you.
Q Mr. President, how would you describe your relationship and your conversation with Governor DeSantis?
THE PRESIDENT: It’s totally irrelevant, but I’ll answer it. Okay? In fact, very fine. He complimented me. He thanked me for the immediate response we had. He told me how much he appreciated it. He said he was extremely happy with what’s going on.
This is not about whether or — anything having to do with our disagreements politically. This is about saving people’s lives, homes, and businesses. That’s what this is about.
And so, I’ve been — I’ve talked to him four, five times already. And it’s not a matter of my disagreements with him on other items.
Q Do you hold Russia responsible for the rupture of the Nord Stream pipeline?
THE PRESIDENT: Let’s stick with this, okay?
Q But it’s an important international issue. We have —
THE PRESIDENT: There’s a lot of important international issues, but we’re here to talk about America. Okay? Thank you.
Q Do you need more money from Congress for this response?
THE PRESIDENT: We may.
Thank you. (Applause.)
1:17 P.M. EDT