LIVE OAK, Florida (AP).—President Joe Biden observed from above the havoc that Hurricane Idalia wreaked on a swath of Florida before embarking on a walking tour of a city recovering from the storm.
Conspicuous by his absence was Governor Ron DeSantis – Republican presidential candidate – who declined to accompany Biden after he hinted that the Democratic president’s visit could hinder disaster response actions.
When asked about DeSantis’ absence, Biden said he was not disappointed by the turn of events and welcomed the presence of Rick Scott, one of the state’s two Republican federal senators.
Biden pledged the federal government’s full support for Floridians.
“I am here today to convey a clear message to the people of Florida and the entire Southeast,” Biden declared at the end of his walking tour.
The president spoke outdoors near a church where the powerful winds of Idalia tore off parts of its sheet metal roof and from a house that was semi-destroyed by a falling tree.
“As I told your governor, if there is something your state needs, I am ready to mobilize that support,” he added. “Whatever they need in relation to these storms. “Your nation stands behind you and will be with you until the job is completed.”
Hours earlier, the mayor of Live Oak, a town about 129 kilometers east of Tallahassee, the state capital, thanked Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, for the visit and for “showing us that we are important to you.”
“Everyone thinks Florida is rich, but this county is not one of the richest in the state and there are people who are suffering,” said Frank Davis, who said he was aware that there was no loss of life or serious injuries.
At Suwannee Pineview Elementary School, where the presidential couple was briefed on the damage left in its wake by the storm, local officials praised the White House for declaring a state of emergency early on and for the swift flow of the federal assistance.
“The actions of the federal government… are important,” Scott said.
During the response and recovery briefing, emphasis was placed on helping Floridians and their communities get back on their feet, while DeSantis’ conspicuous absence apparently did not faze residents or authorities. .
Deanne Criswell, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had told reporters when the president traveled from Washington that her team and the governor’s team had “worked together” to decide on Biden’s visit to Live Oak.
Criswell said the units in his charge “had not heard any concerns about any impact on the communities we are going to visit today.”
On Friday, hours after Biden said he would meet with DeSantis, the governor’s office said in a statement that there were no plans for such a meeting.
“In these rural communities, and so soon after impact, security preparations for a gathering alone would have suspended current recovery efforts,” DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said in a statement.