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Biden makes surprise appearance at FEMA headquarters amid Hurricane Idalia recovery efforts

U.S. President Joe Biden, with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (R), delivers remarks as he visits FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI
U.S. President Joe Biden, with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (R), delivers remarks as he visits FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI

Aug. 31 (UPI) -- As the remnants of tropical storm Idalia moved offshore late Thursday, residents in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas assessed damages from the storm's heavy rains and relentless winds.

Also on Thursday, President Joe Biden visited FEMA headquarters, where he praised employees for their efforts in the storm and called on Congress to ensure the agency is fully funded for future climate disasters.

The storm, which at one time was a Category 4 hurricane, has been blamed for at least three deaths.

As recovery efforts continued Thursday in large parts of the southeastern United States after Idalia passed, the president visited the D.C. headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

There, Biden gave an impassioned speech to emergency workers broadcasted by MSNBC in which he thanked them for their efforts after repeat disasters have devastated the country in recent years.

Damaged buildings on Thursday offer testament to the strength of Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall in the town of Horseshoe Beach, Fla., a day earlier as a Category 3 storm with winds of 125 mph. Photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE
Damaged buildings on Thursday offer testament to the strength of Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall in the town of Horseshoe Beach, Fla., a day earlier as a Category 3 storm with winds of 125 mph. Photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE

"I hope the American people have a sense -- it's hard to understand it because you know we're not this engaged this often," Biden said, turning away from the cameras to speak to FEMA workers.

"But this last couple of years with climate change really kicking in, you guys are going 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. It seems to just be piling up. And I mean it sincerely, I admire what you do."

A boat is stranded in the town of Jena after Hurricane Idalia made landfall near Keaton Beach, Fla., Wednesday. Photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulaschkevich/ EPA-EFE
A boat is stranded in the town of Jena after Hurricane Idalia made landfall near Keaton Beach, Fla., Wednesday. Photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulaschkevich/ EPA-EFE

Turning back to the cameras, Biden said, "there are still some deniers out there" about climate change.

"Every American expects FEMA to show up when they're in the middle of a disaster," Biden said. "I'm calling on Congress to make sure you're able and have the funds to be able to continue to show up to meet the needs of the American people."

President Joe Biden meets with FEMA employees at their headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI
President Joe Biden meets with FEMA employees at their headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI

Biden called search and rescue efforts "just the beginning" when a disaster strikes and said that recovery from such disaster can take years.

"The first 72 hours after a storm are the most crucial," firefighter David Varona, a first responder from the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue team, told the Tallahassee Democrat.

A 100-year-old oak tree that fell on the Florida Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee on Wednesday as Hurricane Idalia made landfall in the Sunshine State. Photo via Casey DeSantis/UPI
A 100-year-old oak tree that fell on the Florida Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee on Wednesday as Hurricane Idalia made landfall in the Sunshine State. Photo via Casey DeSantis/UPI

In their initial search after a disaster hits, firefighters typically quickly mark houses and businesses on their GPS as they go by to note areas with the greatest amount of damage for FEMA before knocking on each door in an affected area.

Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Florida's Big Bend region as a Category 3 hurricane on Wednesday morning, bringing strong winds, heavy rain and storm surge. The storm weakened to a tropical storm as it moved through Georgia and South Carolina, but it still caused widespread damage.

Debris litters Horseshoe Beach, Fla., on Thursday in the wake of what had been Hurricane Idalia, which hit the area Wednesday. Photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE
Debris litters Horseshoe Beach, Fla., on Thursday in the wake of what had been Hurricane Idalia, which hit the area Wednesday. Photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE

In Florida, there have been reports of at least two deaths.

Additionally, Idalia's storm surge washed away an untold number of homes in Florida's Horseshoe Beach and surrounding areas.

The storm also destroyed the only gas station in the small town of Cedar Key, where the eye of the storm passed Wednesday. In Perry, Fla., the storm's winds tore away the roof and brick facade of an apartment building.

Idalia downed trees and power lines in Georgia. There has been one reported death in the Peach State, and the storm causeed significant damage to the coastal city of Savannah.

The storm surge flooded several streets and businesses, and some homes were damaged, according to local news reports.

South Carolina escaped the worst of the storm, as reported by the Post and Courier. There have been no reports of deaths in South Carolina.

Idalia's arrival in Charleston coincided with a king tide -- an unofficial term for an abnormally high tide. The tide crested over 9.23 feet around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Flooding in the coastal community of McClellanville, S.C., reached about 3 feet.

Video footage from a highway in Goose Creek, northwest of Charleston, showed a car being flipped by a small tornado that touched down earlier Wednesday when Idalia was still at hurricane strength.

Later, a tornado caused by the storm reportedly damaged at least one home in Myrtle Beach, according to the news site Myrtle Beach Online. A 30 mph wind gust was recorded early Thursday at Myrtle Beach International Airport.

Still, the state remained "mostly unscathed" with some businesses and homes damaged.

In North Carolina, the storm knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and flooded dozens of businesses -- particularly in Columbus County, WTVD reported.

Most of the structures damaged were built in flood plains.

"We're playing a lot of catch-up from the sins of our forefathers, because we just didn't know at the time," Director of Emergency Services Hal Lowder told the news station.

A likely tornado blew a portion of the roof off the Four Paws Veterinary Hospital in St. James.

As of Thursday morning, Idalia was moving offshore but still producing heavy rain. The National Hurricane Center warned of the potential for flash flooding, urban flooding, and moderate river flooding in the Carolinas.

The storm is expected to weaken further and dissipate by Friday. The full extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Idalia is still being assessed. Preliminary estimates have put the total damage and economic loss from Idalia as high as $20 billion so far.