Oct 6, 2022
President Biden Delivers Remarks on Response to Hurricane Ian Transcript
President Biden delivers remarks to reaffirm his commitment to supporting the people of Florida as they recover and rebuild from the devastating storm. Read the transcript here.
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Ron DeSantis: (00:00)
Well, good afternoon, and I want to thank President Biden and Jill Biden as well as Administrator Deanne Criswell for coming down here. Looking at really, really significant damage here in Lee County and there’s other places where you have really significant damage as well outside of this general area. We were very fortunate to have good coordination with the White House and with FEMA from the very beginning of this. We declared a state of emergency last Friday September 23rd, this was a disturbance out there by Columbia and then the next day we got a major disaster declaration approved by the president. We really appreciated that and that basically set off the massive mobilization that we had ready to be able to respond to the storm. As of now, there’ve been over 2,500 rescues effectuated. There’ve been close to 100,000 structures in the most hard hit areas that have been searched. We’ve deployed resources that were pre-stage and are now in the field for food, water and other types of supplies. There’s 28 different points of distribution across the affected areas. 45 million bottles of water have been served, two million pounds of ice.
Ron DeSantis: (01:17)
We had prior to the storm and 42,000 linemen stationed throughout Florida ready to be on site to restore power as soon as the storm has passed. Today we have over 97% of the state that has power here in Lee County. Of course, one of the hardest hit areas. Florida Power and Light has restored 85% of its Lee County customers. Of course this area is going to proceed once the search and rescue in Fort Myers Beach, which is also an FPL area. The Lee County Electrical Cooperative has accepted mutual aid. The state has arranged for linemen from other co-ops, from Duke and from FPL to assist in restoring to customers throughout Lee County. So I said I wanted this to be the lineman capital of the world. We have thousands of linemen in places like Cape Coral, working really hard to get that power back on. We’ve also, because of the bridge situation with the Causeway in Sanibel as well as the bridge in Pine Island. We were airlifting linemen onto both of those islands to be able to start surveying the damage and creating a plan for restoration.
Ron DeSantis: (02:26)
I will tell you that I was in Sanibel today, you can go over it in a helicopter and you see damage. But it does not do it justice until you are actually on the ground and you see concrete utility poles sawed off right in half, massive power lines everywhere, massive amounts of debris. So that’s going to be a really significant effort. But our view is we want to start that as soon as possible and not wait until the causeway is repaired. Charlotte County, FPL estimates full restoration very soon. We’ve deployed 375 Starlink Internet devices that Elon Musk has provided, he’s repositioned their satellites. We now have internet at all the pods, all the EOCs, all the key places and also some places throughout the communities. Our Florida Department of Transportation has cleared 5,000 miles of roadway and when Pine Island was severed from the mainland. We went out and met with those folks on Friday of last week and what they said was, “We just need to get back and forth from the island. Is there something we can do to either do ferry service or the bridge?”
Ron DeSantis: (03:34)
So we talked with Florida Department of Transportation, we said we can restore and provide a temporary bridge. So we did that and that opened today. So Pine Island is now restored to the mainland. There was some talk that they just had to get off the island. That’s not who these people are, they are island people, they’re not leaving their homes. So we’re happy to be able to have done that. We also just executed a contract for emergency repairs to the Sanibel Causeway. So that’s going to take a little bit longer. We anticipated it being done this month in October and that will provide access back onto Sanibel. In the meantime, we have been airlifting support assets. We’ll continue to do that also by boat, but we’re optimistic to be able to get at least a temporary fix so that we can start to bring in even more support. Flowing from that is, our division of emergency management has put command and control elements in all the barrier islands. So Sanibel now has a C2 element right there, they don’t have to worry about going to the county or the state.
Ron DeSantis: (04:42)
They’re there and they’re going to be effectuating those operations. So major reconstruction of the power in Sanibel is going to be necessary and massive amount of debris removal. Here, of course you see but certainly in Sanibel really, really significant and I want to thank the administration. Has approved now 60 days of 100% reimbursement for debris removal. You have some of these communities here, their bill for debris removal will likely be more than their annual budgets and so this is really, really significant help. So we thank them for doing that. I also want to thank the first lady, my wife Casey. She launched floridadisasterfund.org at the end of last week, it’s now raised over $35 million. As much as we appreciate all the state agencies that are offering assistance, FEMA that can offer assistance. Those are based on regulation and law and there’s some people that may not fit into those wickets.
Ron DeSantis: (05:38)
Well, we now have mobilized private charities with a lot of money and growing to be able to help people in really tough circumstances. I also just want to say that when you’re doing responding to something like this, you have to integrate various levels of government. Of course, our counties and municipalities, they have the boots on the ground. They’re involved every day in life safety missions, whether it’s police, fire, rescue, you name it. The state we manage and coordinate amongst various counties and then of course the federal government FEMA providing support. I think we’ve worked as well across state, local and federal of any disaster that I’ve seen. So I want to thank Administrator Criswell from FEMA for being on the ground, being supportive and being very responsive. I think one of the things that you’re seeing in this response, we are cutting through the bureaucracy.
Ron DeSantis: (06:32)
We are cutting through the red tape and that’s from local government, state government, all the way up to the president so we appreciate the team effort. This is something that is… These storms come, they’re on the horizon. You kind of project, hey it could be really bad. Oftentimes it doesn’t necessarily get to that level, well this was the full monty. I mean the storm surge you saw through here met the expectations, the highest expectations and you’ve seen what significant damage that can do. So I’m just thankful that everyone’s banded together. We’ve got a lot of work to do here. But I’ll tell you the spirit of the people of this state and southwest Florida has been phenomenal. When I’m meeting with people that have lost everything that are 85, 90 years old in shelters and all they can do is thank the Red Cross, the fire, the state, FEMA, for all the support. That shows you some of these folks. They are thankful that they have so many people that are there supporting and you only get there if it’s a team effort.
Ron DeSantis: (07:36)
So Mr. President, welcome to Florida. We appreciate working together across various levels of government and the floor is yours.
Joe Biden: (07:49)
Well gov, first I thank you very much for the hospitality and I want to thank the mayor and the county chair. Cecil, took me on a little helicopter ride and we went out on Sanibel Island, all across. I mean I’m sure it’s much worse on the ground, but you can see a whole hell of a lot of the damage from the air and you can imagine. Because unfortunately I’ve been to a lot of disaster areas in the last couple months or last six months. More of fires have burned in the west and the southwest, burned everything right to the ground than in the entire State of New Jersey, as much room as that takes up and the reservoirs out west are down to almost zero. We’re in a situation where the Colorado River looks more like a stream and there’s a lot going on. I think the one thing this has finally ended is a discussion about whether or not there’s climate change and we should do something about it. But folks, I also want to… Jill and I have had you all in our prayers and I mean that sincerely.
Joe Biden: (09:00)
We’re here today because we wanted to tell you in person that we’re thinking of you and we’re not leaving. We’re not leaving till this gets done, I promise you that. When you walk around here, what’s left of Fisherman’s Wharf and you don’t have to have much of an imagination to understand that everything is historic, titanic and unimaginable storm just ripped it to pieces. You got to start from scratch, got to move again and it’s going to take a lot of time. Not weeks or months, it’s going to take years for everything to get squared away in the state of Florida to fully recover and rebuild. We’re here today with Governor DeSantis and Senator Rubio and Senator Scott and Congressman Donalds. We have one job and only one job and that’s to make sure the people Florida get everything that they need to fully, thoroughly recover. We’re one of the few nations in the world that on a basis of a crisis we face, we’re the only nation that comes out of it better than we went into it and that’s what we’re going to do this time around.
Joe Biden: (10:07)
Come out of it better, because this is the United States of America and I emphasize United. We’ve seen extraordinary cooperation at every level of government as the governor has said and the cooperation began before the storm hit. Number one priority was saving lives, at the request of the governor I signed an emergency declaration… Let’s see if this thing works. Is this one working? I signed an emergency declaration of prepositioned federal assets including food and water and generators, not only in Florida but in other states. So be ready if the worst happened and it happened. We also prepositioned the largest number of search and rescue teams ever assembled in the United States. Ever assembled in the United States and FEMA, the Pentagon, the Coast Guard, other agencies so we could be ready to respond Immediately. Immediately working with state and local officials in the search and rescue teams have knocked on nearly 70,000 doors and rescued over 3,800 people. Yesterday, Lee County alone the search and rescue teams examined 24,000 structures just in this county.
Joe Biden: (11:23)
Making sure we’re accounting for everyone who still may be trapped. We have over 4,000 federal personnel on the ground as I speak, the Army Corps of Engineers providing emergency power to hospitals across the state, nursing homes, water treatment plants. To make sure these facilities are able to continue to operate. Tens of thousands of utility workers all across America, not just in Florida. All across America, responded to the call from Florida that needed help. Thousands from all across America working around the clock to get power restored. This is about America coming together and I really mean it. America coming together. FEMA has also delivered as has been mentioned four million meals, millions of bottles of water and making sure that they have the immediate necessities. But we know from experience and I know from experience how much anxiety and fear and concern there are in the people. We didn’t lose our whole home, but lightning struck and we lost an awful lot of it about 15 years ago and we had a lot to go to.
Joe Biden: (12:33)
We had relatives nearby, it wasn’t like everything was wiped out. But we know the feeling, that feeling about where am I going to put my head down on a pillow tonight? How’s that going to work? Is my kid going to be okay? Is you going to be able to go back to school? Am I going to be able to build my home? Will the insurance cover it? If I don’t have insurance God knows what am I going to do? We’re working to speak to all those issues because they all warrant immediate responses. I’ve instructed my administration to bring every element. I mean every element of the federal government together to help with immediate needs and long term rebuilding. Yesterday we opened a disaster recovery center right here in Lee County. Three more will be open in this part of the state by tomorrow and with more to come and the state is co-locating insurance villages at the same centers.
Joe Biden: (13:23)
So you’re not sure what your insurance circumstance is, you’re not sure what you’re going to get. You can show up and determine in one place. One place, meet with your insurance company and also apply for federal assistance at the same time. From FEMA to Small Business Administration to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are many ways we can help and we’ve already started. Already 200,000 families I should say have registered for urgent assistance like buying food, getting their prescriptions, clothing, basics and how many of you lost your businesses? Well insurance may not cover everything, it may not cover the full cost. So we’re in a position… Some of the folks are going to have lost their homes as well and the question is you have insurance and we’ll cover the cost. Well, I directed the small business administration to speed up the processing of low interest disaster loans. That can provide up to $2 million for small businesses and nonprofits and additional money for lost income and 200,000 for homeowners to close the gap between what insurance won’t cover and what their needs are.
Joe Biden: (14:40)
That’s in the round of 1.5% interest rate and folks look, yesterday the state asked me and we immediately agreed to activate our hotel program. So individuals who need hotel rooms won’t have to pay for anything. I know there’s not many around here, but they can go to the nearest hotel and not have to worry about paying anything and just have the coverage. If you don’t have insurance or if you’re under insured and you’ve found a place to rent or your car has been destroyed. You’re maybe entitled up to $37,900 in federal funds. If you need to make repairs to your home, you may be eligible for another 37,900, not 39,700. $37.900. So you possibly can be able to get close to $80,000 for your needs is available and folks look, the most important thing you can do is register. So we can help figure out who is eligible for these things. Hundreds of FEMA personnel are going door to door and to help with that you call 800-621-3362. I’m told you’re waiting for hours and hours to get through and you’re not getting anybody answering the phone.
Joe Biden: (15:54)
We’ve talked about that in the way down in Air Force One and we’re going to try to speed that up by having additional personnel. We’re trying to expand it. So you have to have little patience for us to get it all done. So many people are contacting. Or you can go online to disasterassistance.gov and find out what you’re eligible to receive or you can sign up in one of the multiple disaster recovery centers. The one that’s opened here and many more they’re going to be opening. Meanwhile, and the county’s hardest hit the federal government at the request of the governor the very beginning said, we’ll cover 100% of the cleanup cost, the debris cost. Which is billions of dollars before it’s all over if you think about it. That we’re going to pay 100% for 30 days that just extended for another 30 days and the governor and I talked. I think he’s going to have to come back and ask for some more beyond those 60 days because it is consequential.
Joe Biden: (16:52)
Unless you clear the area, there’s not much else you can do and so folks look, we have a long road ahead of us rebuilding entire communities from the ground up. I want the people of Florida to know you have my commitment and America’s commitment that we’re not going to leave. We’re going to see you through this entire process and it’s going to take a hell of a long time, hopefully without any snags in the way. Later, after the television cameras have moved on we’re still going to be here with you, we’re still going to be moving, we’re still going to be doing everything we can to try to put your lives back together again. So many families in this community, their home is destroyed and where we’re standing now used to be a busy strip of restaurants and shops, they’re now wiped out. The Sanibel Causeway is ripped in two, stranding hundreds of people on the other side. Many of them don’t want to leave but some of them want to leave.
Joe Biden: (17:50)
We’re in a situation where in Lee County alone initial reports say 11 schools are significantly damaged and three are going to have to be rebuilt. Today’s Yom Kippur, many members of Florida Jewish community can’t gather at their holiest day today. Because they’re displaced and their homes are gone and their synagogues are not available. Long term major disaster declaration I approved on September 29th is going to help rebuild schools, libraries, parks and public community centers. We have the money to do that and you’re qualified to get that done. We’re going to help rebuild roads and bridges and public water systems. We’ve already allocated funding from the infrastructure law that I signed to continue making Florida’s power grid more resilient than it is now. To ensure that power comes back on faster and reduce the cost of repairs and rebuilding. Because there will be more storms, there will be more storms. When I was vice president we provided Florida with $200 million to install a smart grid technology and as a result, the powers being restored quicker in Florida today than it’s ever been restored when it’s gone out.
Joe Biden: (19:05)
Florida’s already set to receive $13 billion over the next five years in federal funding for highways and for bridges. The key here is building back better and stronger to withstand the next storm. We can’t build back to what it was before, you got to build back better because we know more is coming. I was talking to someone who was on Sanibel Island saying that as he walked around he noticed that those homes that were built later and had different roof and the different foundations they did very well. They survived. We can build a withstand the kind of things that you’re faced of late and folks it’s going to take the federal, the state and local partners and for the private sector working together and here’s the deal. I promise you we’re going to be with you every step of the way. The people of Florida to all of you we’re in this together. This is the United States of America, the United States of America. It’s not something else. Thank you all because a lot of people around the country are going through similar disasters.
Joe Biden: (20:16)
As I said to a couple of the folks I was talking to and I’ll end with this. I’ve been out, I guess now, nine, 10 maybe… Depending how you count them. 12 major disasters around the country. More timber, more homes, more buildings, more police stations, fire stations, etc, have burned to the ground in California, Oregon, Washington State, Idaho, down in New Mexico and Arizona, then makes up the entirety of the state of New Jersey. To the ground, gone. Gone. So the thing I plead with you to do, and I’m sure you will, we’re going to get you all through this. You’re going to get [inaudible 00:21:07] grid of all of you. But when you get it done, when you hear it happen somewhere else remember, this is the United States of America. We’re all in this together, thank you.
Speaker 3: (21:16)
Mr President [inaudible 00:21:21]