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More Federal Assistance for Florida as Biden Set to Visit

Landing at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Biden will be joined by First Lady Jill Biden and officials with FEMA who plan to board a helicopter and fly over heavily hit areas.

A flooded neighborhood in Orlando, Fla., due to Hurricane Ian on Sept. 29, 2022.
(TNS) - President Joe Biden will be in Fort Myers on Wednesday afternoon to survey damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, as state and federal officials continue rescue operations and county authorities report the storm’s death toll has risen to at least 100 people.

On Wednesday morning, before his arrival, Biden announced the federal government will foot 100% of the bill of direct federal assistance for costs associated with debris removal, search and rescue, sheltering, feeding, and other emergency measures for 60 days — 30 more days than the White House had initially announced in its major disaster declaration.

Landing at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Biden will be joined by First Lady Jill Biden and officials with FEMA who plan to board a helicopter and fly over heavily-hit areas near the Fort Myers area. He will meet with business owners and residents from the area.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is scheduled to meet with the president Wednesday, held a press conference in nearby Matlacha at noon and said several projects, including a temporary bridge to reconnect Pine Island to the mainland, are expected to be completed before the end of the day, which he said would be ahead of schedule.

When reporters asked whether he would ask Biden for anything specific during the visit, DeSantis said he has yet to determine exactly what he would request, but that the White House has responded ”very quickly” to the state’s emergency declaration, and said he was very appreciative of the quick response.

“We are willing to act at the state level,” he said. “We are not asking that everyone do our work for us.”

DeSantis ended the press conference at 12:24am, and said he was heading over to meet Biden, who was expected to land at 12:45 p.m.

According to Florida’s Medical Examiners Commission, at least 38 people drowned during the storm, a result of historic and life-threatening flooding and storm surge that roared inland. FEMA officials said state and federal search teams had rescued over 3,800 people and 200 pets ahead of the president’s visit and are now knocking on doors in 11 counties to answer questions about federal assistance.

Parts of Lee County remain inaccessible by car for some residents, particularly Sanibel Island, where the main causeway from the mainland remains inoperable a week after the storm hit. Officials with the Florida Department of Transportation said Tuesday they expect the Sanibel Causeway to become useable for passage by the end of October, even as long-term permanent repairs are still being discussed.

In the first days following the storm’s landfall in Florida, DeSantis — who had capped the week prior to Ian’s arrival by taking credit for flying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard to make a political statement against Biden’s immigration policies — thanked the federal government for its quick help on the ground.

“We appreciate it, we’re thankful,” DeSantis said four days after Ian’s landfall after the president signed the disaster declaration for Florida. “They stand by ready to help so we appreciate that quick action.”

Biden has spoken regularly about Hurricane Ian’s impact on Florida since its landfall, calling it one of the worst disasters in the state’s history and promising the federal government would do everything it could to help residents recover.

“It’s not just a crisis for Florida. It’s an American crisis,” Biden said last week from the White House.

The president was originally supposed to visit Florida last month, for a pair of events in Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, but the trip was canceled because of Hurricane Ian’s approach to the state.

Previously, Biden was forced to postpone a planned trip to the state in late July because he contracted the coronavirus.

He has visited Florida just once before during his presidency, after the Surfside building collapse last year.

Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau staff writer Ana Ceballos contributed to this story.

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