Biden Says California Disaster Recovery Will Take 'Years'

US President Joe Biden toured parts of California damaged by storms that began in late December and told media in the beach town of Aptos on Thursday, January 19, that some affected areas would “take years to fully recover and rebuild”.

Standing alongside California Gov Gavin Newsom, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell and first responders on a beach in Aptos, Biden said "we got to rebuild better”.

He also said, “If anybody doubts that the climate is changing, then they must’ve been asleep for the last couple years.”

The White House announced that the level of federal funding for emergency protective measures had been increased for California due to the recent winter storms, flooding, and landslides. Credit: The White House via Storyful

Video transcript

[APPLAUSE]

JOE BIDEN: Well, Governor, you and I got to stop taking these helicopter rides. We made a bunch of them. You've been hit. If anybody doubts the climate is changing, then they must have been asleep for the last couple of years. And we did an aerial tour of the damage. And unlike when we did the aerial tour of the fires, it's not as obvious from the air just how much damage has been done.

We flew over the entire area. In parts of the state, they got more rainfall in a single day they get in an entire year in parts of the state. Drenching rains, powerful winds, floods, landslides. But you don't feel it until you walk the streets or when you're able to walk. And it's toppling the thousands of trees. 200,000 customers lost their power through the storm. Now it's less than 5,000, but it's still 5,000 people don't have power. We got to get it down to zero.

Nearly 150,000 people were under evacuation orders. Now it's down to 4,500 under evacuation orders, and under 300 people are still in shelters. But tragically, 21 people died. And that little boy, we're still trying to find. Everybody I've talked to so far today just spontaneously brings that up. The fact is Jill and I have him in our prayers, the family in our prayers, and all of you.

While the situation is still treacherous, we're cautiously optimistic that the worst part is behind. The waters recede, but we'll see the full extent of the damage to the homes, the businesses, and the farms and ranches. And we know some of the destruction is going to take years to fully recover and rebuild. But we've got to not just rebuild. We've got to rebuild better. We've got to rebuild better.

Last week, I signed and expedited major disaster declaration for the state of California. Yesterday, I directed the federal government that will cover 100% of the cost of removing debris and emergency measures like sheltering evacuees and paying overtime for first responders for the next 60 days-- [COUGHS] excuse me, for 60 days. Right now, more than 500 employees of FEMA are out here and other federal agencies on the ground trying to help people.