President Joe Biden has said that Hurricane Ian – and other extreme events like wildfires and droughts – has ended the discussion “about whether or not there’s climate change and we should do something about it”.
The president made the remarks after travelling to Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday with First Lady Dr Jill Biden where they visited some of the worst-impacted communities.
The Bidens were greeted warmly by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey at Fort Myers Beach, a town on the Gulf Coast, which has been largely obliterated by the near Category-5 storm.
Mr Biden and Mr DeSantis spoke at length, in a rare show of bipartisanship for two men who have attacked each other publicly over hot-button political issues including immigration and vaccine mandates.
After meeting with local people who had lost homes and businesses, the Florida governor spoke first, thanking President Biden for his support.
The president followed and opened by saying that he had “been to a lot of disaster areas in the last six months”.
He referenced large wildfires in the West and Southwest that have burned more to the ground than “the entire state of New Jersey”.
“The reservoirs out west are down to almost zero,” he said. “We’re in a situation where the Colorado River looks more like a stream.”
As Governor DeSantis looked on, he added: “There’s a lot going on and I think the one thing that this has finally ended is the discussion about whether or not there’s climate change and we should do something about it.”
Mr DeSantis has repeatedly voted against legislation that would cut greenhouse gas emissions even while he has announced hundreds of millions of dollars to help his state with the impacts of increasingly powerful hurricanes and rising sea levels.
In January 2013, the newly elected Congressman DeSantis opposed a $9.7bn flood insurance aid package to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey. He said the victims had his sympathy, but that sending them the federal funds was not ‘fiscally responsible’.
The climate crisis does not necessarily mean more hurricanes in the future – but planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions, largely caused by burning fossil fuels, are super-charging storms making it more common for them to rapidly-intensify and hold more water.
Hurricane Ian is one of the strongest in Florida’s history, slamming into state last Wednesday with 155mph winds, heavy rain, and a powerful storm surge which overwhelmed communities. The hurricane then ploughed across the state, dropping several feet of rain in cities hundreds of miles inland.
At least 100 people have been killed in Florida. Over half of the deaths were in Lee County, where multiple neighbourhoods were wiped out by the impacts. More than 3,000 people have been rescued after search teams knocked on 70,000 doors.
Early estimates put Hurricane Ian’s damage between $28bn to $47bn. Thousands are now homeless – with a significant number lacking insurance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) is preparing for potentially thousands of people to be long-term displaced.
While power has been stored for more than 2.5 million customers in Florida since peak outages, over 297,00 people remain without power in the state, according to poweroutage.us.
On Wednesday, Mr Biden spoke directly to Floridians. He said that he had visited to tell them in person “we’re not leaving until this gets done”
“It’s going to take years for everything to get squared away in the state of Florida… to fully rebuild and recover,” he added.
During the trip, the President and First Lady surveyed storm-ravaged areas from a helicopter en route to Fishermans Wharf area of Fort Myers Beach.
They went on to speak with small business owners and local residents along with first responders and local officials who have been working around the clock in the aftermath of the hurricane.
President Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian that provided individual assistance and debris removal for 17 counties, and the Indigenous Seminole Tribe of Florida, along with for costs associated with search and rescue, sheltering, feeding, and other emergency measures to save lives for 30 days.
Ahead of his visit he made additional federal funding available to Florida for another 30 days of assistance.
Meterologists warn that more hurricanes are undergoing a process called “rapid intensification” where they build in strength over short periods of time, and can catch regions by surprise when they make landfall.
The National Hurricane Center defines “rapid intensification” as an increase in wind strength of at least 30 knots, or about 34 mph, in 24 hours.
Analysis, published by researchers at Stony Brook University and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory last week, also found that human-induced climate change increased Ian’s extreme rain rates by more than 10 per cent, the nonprofit Climate Signals reported.