President Joe Biden on Tuesday said his administration is already moving to assist Florida authorities in their response to Hurricane Ian as the storm prepares to make landfall on Florida’s west coast.
Mr Biden warned that experts are calling the storm one that could be a “very severe hurricane” with a “life-threatening and devastating” impact and said he wanted to make clear that his administration is “on alert and in action to help the people of Florida”.
The president said he had approved a disaster declaration for Florida “immediately upon receiving” a request for one from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and said he has spoken with mayors in Tampa, St Petersburg, and Clearwater.
“They’re focused on the safety of their communities and they’re doing everything they can to get people out of harm’s way,” he said. He added that he’d told each of the mayors that they can contact him directly for “whatever they need”.
“I have a lot of personnel down there already. We’re here to support them in every way we can,” he said.
Mr Biden’s comments came just minutes after Fema administrator Deanne Criswell said she and her colleagues are concerned about “complacency” among Florida residents because the area where Ian is set to make landfall is one that has largely avoided being hit by hurricanes over the last 100 years.
“My message to them is to take this very seriously,” she said, speaking to reporters in the White House briefing room.
Asked why Mr Biden has not spoken to Mr DeSantis himself, Ms Criswell declined to answer but said she had received “very clear directions” from Mr Biden to connect with state leaders in Florida. She said Fema officials have been in constant communications with Mr DeSantis and his top aides as the hurricane approaches.
“I think the relationship is very strong,” she said.
Ms Criswell said Fema officials had reached out to Mr DeSantis first on Friday and have assured him that federal resources will be made available to his state.