FORT MYERS, Fla. – President Joe Biden called Hurricane Ian a "titanic" storm Wednesday after surveying the damage during a visit to Southwest Florida.
Ian made landfall Sept. 28 in the Fort Myers area as a monstrous Category 4 storm with 150-mph winds. Those terrible winds pushed ashore feet of water from the Gulf of Mexico that tore through buildings along the coast.
Biden arrived in Fort Myers on Wednesday morning. The president got an aerial view of Ian’s damage before being briefed by federal, state and local officials, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Biden said it will take years and billions of dollars for the region to recover from Hurricane Ian, but he assured Floridians that the federal government is committed to the recovery efforts.
"We're not leaving until this gets done," Biden said. "I promise you that."
The storm wrecked the state’s power grid. More than 2 million outages were reported in the days that followed Ian. That number has dropped to below 300,000 as of Wednesday, concentrated in the hardest-hit Charlotte and Lee counties.
Bridges that connected the abundance of barrier islands to the Southwest Florida mainland were also damaged or, in some cases, washed away by Ian. This means boat and air have been the only way to reach some islands where people who didn’t evacuate before the storm have been found in desperate circumstances by rescue crews. Officials have started work to build at least temporary bridges to give residents a way to return. One was set to reopen Wednesday, according to DeSantis.
Communications and internet service in the disaster zone have been spotty at best, making it hard for people who need help to alert authorities.
More than 70 deaths related to Ian have been reported – the vast majority coming from Lee County, Florida.
Biden said about 200,000 families have already applied for emergency assistance from the federal government, and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is opening disaster centers in the hardest-hit areas. He encouraged people affected by the storm to register with FEMA at disasterassistance.gov.
"This is the United States of America," Biden said. "We're all in this together."