WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden said Thursday that Hurricane Ian could be the "deadliest hurricane in Florida's history," vowing the federal government will provide assistance "however long it takes" to ensure a full recovery.
"The numbers are still unclear, but we're hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life," Biden said after he was briefed on FEMA's disaster response at the agency's headquarters in Washington.
At least 13 people were reported dead in counties across the state, though Florida officials have not released an official statewide death total.
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It wasn't clear on what Biden based his estimation on the loss of life. The 1928 Okeechobee hurricane killed an estimated 2,500 in Florida. Hurricane Andrew, which ravaged south Florida in 1992, killed 43.
"We know many families are hurting today, and our entire country hurts with them," Biden said. "My message to the people of Florida and to the country is that at times like this America comes together."
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Earlier Thursday, the Biden administration approved a major disaster declaration for Florida, making federal funding available to nine counties affected by the hurricane. Biden said the Coast Guard has deployed 16 rescue helicopters, six aircraft and 18 rescue boats and crews.
"However long it takes, we're going to be there. That's my commitment to you," Biden said.
Biden said he offered Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis "the fullest federal support" in a phone conversation Thursday morning and told Florida mayors to "call me directly" if they need help.
DeSantis said Hurricane Ian caused a "500-year flooding event" in Florida, describing the damage from the hurricane as "historic."
The president warned Americans who remain in Hurricane Ian's path "the danger is real" and to obey all warnings from emergency officials. The president also again called for oil and gas companies not to raise gas prices as a result of the hurricane, saying the temporary impact on oil production provides "no excuse" for a hike.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden says Hurricane Ian could be deadliest in Florida history