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Floridians Struggle for Hurricane Recovery as U.S. Presidential Politics Swirl

Floridians are struggling to recover from Category 3 Hurricane Idalia and the following floods as tension spirals over U.S. President Joe Biden’s survey of the damage in Florida, without meeting the state’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of his 2024 presidential rivals.

On Saturday, Biden and his wife toured areas damaged by the storm in Live Oak, met residents, and thanked emergency responders.

Addressing the damaged neighborhoods, Biden praised the “spirit of this community,” saying he was not disappointed at DeSantis’s absence who “may have had other reasons,” reported local media.

DeSantis spokesperson Jeremy Redfern told the press on Friday that the security detail of a presidential visit was so heavy that “setting up such a meeting would shut down ongoing recovery efforts.”

According to DeSantis’ social media, he also spent the day touring storm damage, but in Madison County, around 64 km northwest of Biden’s survey site.

On Friday, Biden’s administration asked Congress for an additional 4 billion U.S. dollars for the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Relief Fund, in addition to the 12-billion-dollar request in August, in response to a string of natural disasters across the United States in recent weeks.

Biden said he could not understand why some lawmakers believe the money is unnecessary even in the wake of Hurricane Idalia and wildfires in Maui.

DeSantis has been strongly lobbying for federal assistance funds for Florida.

The tension between Biden and his 2024 presidential rival is heating while damaged communities in the Big Bend Region strive for recovery, primarily to restore power amid heat waves.

The number of reported outages at one time peaked at 288,000 at 3 p.m. (2100 GMT) Wednesday, according to Reuters.

As of 3 p.m. (2100 GMT) Sunday, 38,000 accounts remained in a power outage as utility workers and electricity cooperatives continued to address damage from the storm, reported local media.

More than 88 percent of the remaining 33,593 outages are due to fallen power lines and other connectivity issues reported by cooperatives, and community-owned and operated utilities that largely serve rural areas.

The death toll from Idalia is minor compared to Hurricane Ian, which claimed nearly 150 lives in Florida last year. Kevin Guthrie, who heads the Florida Division of Emergency Management, praised on Thursday millions of Big Bend Region inhabitants for following the evacuation orders.   

So far, DeSantis has confirmed one fatality related to Idalia in Florida. A 59-year-old from Alachua County died in a car crash where rain was a major factor, according to local media, citing Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskin.

Idalia, which made landfall in Florida as a Category 3 storm earlier Wednesday, became the first major hurricane to enter Apalachee Bay since modern record-keeping started in 1851, according to the U.S. National Weather Service office in Tallahassee, the state capital of Florida.