Biden surveys Hurricane Idalia damage in Florida; DeSantis snubs meeting

President Joe Biden on Saturday saw from the sky Hurricane Idaliasimpact across a swath of Florida before he set out on a walking tour of a city recovering from the storm. Notably absent was Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate who declined to join Biden after he suggested that the Democrats presence could hinder disaster response efforts.

Biden, when asked about his rivals absence, said he was not disappointed by the turn of events, but welcomed the presence of Rick Scott, one of the states two Republican U.S. senators.

He pledged the federal governments total support for Floridians.

“Im here today to deliver a clear message to the people of Florida and throughout the Southeast,” Biden said after the walking tour. He spoke outdoors near a church that had parts of its sheet metal roof peeled back by Idalias powerful winds and a home half crushed by a fallen tree.

“As I’ve told your governor, if there’s anything your state needs, I’m ready to mobilize that support,” he continued. Anything they need related to these storms. Your nation has your back and we’ll be with you until the job is done.’’

Earlier, the mayor of Live Oak, which is about 80 miles east of Tallahassee, the state capital, thanked Biden and first lady Jill Biden for coming and “showing us that were important to you.”

“Everybody thinks Florida is rich, but this is not one of the richest counties in the state and there are people who are suffering, said Frank Davis, adding he knew of no loss of life or serious injury.

At Suwannee Pineview Elementary School, where the Bidens were briefed on the storm damage, local officials offered praise for early disaster declarations by the White House and the quick flow of federal aid. “What the federal government is doing … is a big deal,” Scott said.

Helping Floridians and their communities get back on their feet was the emphasis at the briefing on response and recovery efforts, with DeSantisconspicuous absence seemingly not a concern for residents and officials.

Deanne Criswell, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters as the president flew from Washington that her team and the governors team had “worked collectively” to determine that Biden would visit Live Oak. She said her teams have heard no concerns over any impact to the communities that we’re going to visit today.’’

On Friday, hours after Biden said he would be meeting with DeSantis, the governors office issued a statement saying there were no plans for that. “In these rural communities, and so soon after impact, the security preparations alone that would go into setting up such a meeting would shut down ongoing recovery efforts, DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said in a statement.

DeSantis office said his public schedule Saturday included stops in Keaton Beach, about 60 miles southwest of Live Oak, and Horseshoe Beach, about 75 miles away, with the last event beginning at 1:45 p.m.

Criswell said aboard the flight that power is being restored and the roads are all open in the area where Biden was going. “Access is not being hindered,” she said, adding that her team had been in “close coordination” with the governors staff.

Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning along Florida’s sparsely populated Big Bend region as a Category 3 storm, causing widespread flooding and damage before moving north to drench Georgia and the Carolinas.

As Biden left Washington on Saturday morning, reporters asked what happened with the meeting. “I don’t know. He’s not going to be there,” the president said of DeSantis.

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