President Biden Says Hurricane Ian Could Be the 'Deadliest Hurricane in Florida's History'

President Joe Biden said Hurricane Ian could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history during a speech at the FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC, on Thursday, September 29.

Biden said the numbers are still unclear but made reference to early reports of “substantial loss of life” and urged people in Ian’s path to “obey” directions and warnings from officials.

Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Wednesday, September 28, and the Orlando Sentinel reported at least six people died in the storm.

Biden also reinstated the government’s commitment to supporting recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Ian made landfall before hitting Florida.

On September 29, Biden approved a disaster declaration in response to the storm and ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by storm Ian.

“My message to the people of Florida and to the country: At times like this, America comes together. We’re going to pull together as one team, as one America,” Biden said.

The president said he would visit Florida to meet with and thank first responders “when the conditions allow.”

The deadliest known Florida storm to date was 1928’s Okeechobee hurricane, in which an estimated 2,500 state residents were killed. Credit: The White House via Storyful

Video transcript

JOE BIDEN: 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 Spellman, and the FEMA administrator who has become the MVP here these days, I've spent a lot of time in this room, Criswell of FEMA, and the entire workforce, and many other federal agencies that are working together here.

They're always going to be above and beyond, the 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 that's what we're doing as we focus on delivering help to the people directly impacted by Hurricane Ian. I'm going to use this.

It made landfall yesterday, and it is still moving across the state today. 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. And 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 worried.

But 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 under way before dawn this morning for people stranded and who are in desperate shape.

Water rescue is critical. Coast Guard deployed 16 rescue helicopters, six fixed wing aircraft, and 18 rescue boats and crews. That's just one element of the many federal search and rescue teams that they pre-staged in Florida. And the governor talked about how impressed he was with the Coast Guard is doing this morning.

These are dangerous missions, and I'm grateful for the brave women and men in federal, state, and local governments 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 we've seen so many crises. But in Florida today 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 as I talked to Governor DeSantis and again 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.

Earlier this morning, I approved the governor's most recent request for the expedited major disaster declaration. That means the federal government will cover 100% of the cost to clear debris and for all the cost the state has to engage in and expend to save lives. The federal government will also cover a majority of the cost of rebuilding public buildings like schools and fire stations.

And folks in Florida who have destroyed or damaged homes, you don't have enough insurance, it means the federal government will provide individual assistance of $37,900 for home repairs and another $37,900 for lost property-- everything from automobile to a lost wedding ring. 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. 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 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% of our country's daily production.

This small and temporary impact on oil production provides no excuse-- no excuse for price increases at the pump, period. If 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. 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 non-stop around the clock.

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 phone lines. 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, down in Louisiana, all across this country. And just in the last two weeks, you've been working 24/7. 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 a FEMA reserve, that's not the case. That's why earlier this morning, I signed into law the bipartisan Crew Act, championed in the Senate by Gary Peters and Rob Portman, in the house by Dina Titus and John Katko. And we signed it.

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 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 be going to Florida to thank them personally so we don't get in the way. 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. I want to now turn it over to Secretary Mayorkas.