President Joe Biden landed in Gainesville around 1 p.m. on Saturday on his way to Live Oak to survey damage from Hurricane Idalia.
Marine One waited on the tarmac as Air Force One landed. The president transferred to the helicopter and, escorted by three Osprey helicopters, headed north.
Biden issued an initial federal disaster declaration for seven Florida counties earlier this week, including Levy, Dixie and Suwannee, where Live Oak is the county seat. Suwannee experienced a near-total power loss from the storm.
As Air Force One landed, local residents waited around the fence of Gainesville Regional Airport for a look at the presidential plane, with some standing on vehicles.
C-17 Globemasters had dropped off helicopters at the airport on Friday, and a VIP movement notification was initiated for Gainesville, Live Oak and Perry with certain restrictions.
Anna Prizzia, chair of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, met Biden as he disembarked Saturday afternoon.
“This is what leadership looks like – Showing up in a crisis!” Prizzia later posted on Facebook. “Definitely a career highlight to meet President Joe Biden, his amazing wife Dr. Jill Biden, and the first woman FEMA Director Deanne Criswell.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for the Republican nomination for president, did not meet with Biden while he was in Florida.
Biden gave remarks from Live Oak in front of a house with a tree fallen across the roof. In speaking with the neighbors, Biden said the fallen tree behind him would have hit their daughter’s bedroom if it had fallen 10 degrees in the other direction.
He had just come from an ariel tour of the damage and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been directed to help in any way. Biden also noted that he signed Florida request for a federal emergency declaration within six hours of getting it.
He said it’s been 100 years since winds so strong had hit the Big Bend area and he prays another 100 years would pass before they came again. Despite the damage, the president said he’d seen communities and neighbors helping each other.
“When people are in trouble, the most important thing you can give them is hope,” Biden said. “There’s no hope like your neighbor walking across the street to see what they can do for you.”
The president also called on Congress to provide the dollars necessary for FEMA to be prepared for future emergencies, saying that disasters will come faster with climate change and referencing the Maui wildfires.
“Before this storm, we pre-deployed 1,500 federal personnel and 900 Coast Guard personnel,” Biden said. “That’s not to mention the State National Guard was here that has weighed in as well.”
On Friday, Biden signed off on DeSantis’ request to add six more counties to the major disaster declaration. The list now includes 13 counties: Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Pasco, Suwannee and Taylor.
Biden shook hands and took selfies with Live Oak residents after his remarks. Besides supporters, naysayers also spoke up, with videos showing some residents shouting “F— Joe Biden” as his motorcade rolled through the town.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.