1 of 2 | President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday before traveling to Florida to survey damage caused by Hurricane Idalia and meet with residents impacted by the storm. Photo by Ting Shen/EPA-EFE/Pool
Sept. 2 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden on Saturday met with rescuers and officials in northern Florida while assessing the extensive damage wrought by Hurricane Idalia earlier this week.
Idalia caused flooding, damaged homes and knocked out power for thousands of state residents when it reached Florida on Wednesday as a Category 3 storm.
The Bidens and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell arrived in Gainesville early in the afternoon before traveling by helicopter to an elementary school in Live Oak, Fla., a community that was severely impacted by Idalia.
At the school, the first couple, Criswell and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., met with Live Oak Mayor Frank Davis and Suwannee County Chairman Franklin White.
Following a tour of the area, Biden delivered remarks "reaffirming his commitment to supporting the people of Florida."
After thanking local fire and police, FEMA and elected officials, Biden vowed to do what it takes to repair damage and specifically to restore power to the area -- 53% of Suwannee County, Fla., remained without power on Saturday.
"The power is out across the county at chicken processing plants and manufacturing places so they can't make things," he said. "It is the way people make their living and feed the world.
"It is amazing. Hundreds of broken power poles and downed power lines mean many of you still do not have power. I know it is frustrating and hard. I directed FEMA to help you out in every way they can," Biden added.
Families, he said, "are piecing their lives back together. Through it all, you have seen things that are good, too, like neighbors helping neighbors. With determination and optimism, the spirit of this community is remarkable."
The president was not joined on the visit by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a frequent harsh critic and contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said it was DeSantis' decision not to attend and that the administration had not been informed in advance of the move.
"We're going to let the governor speak for himself," she said.
Criswell told reporters on Air Force One while en route to Florida the president was "going to see is what I saw earlier this week. He's going to see downed trees and power lines. But he's also going to see communities that are working together to help and begin their recovery efforts."
The FEMA administrator praised the efforts of rescue workers.
"While there was one tragic loss of life as a result of this storm, this storm could have been very -- so much worse," Criswell said. "In total, we still have over sixteen hundred - one thousand six hundred -- federal responders on the ground. They're supporting things like feeding and sheltering operations; power, communications restoration -- power and communications restoration; as well as public health and safety."