“We know it will take years to rebuild some of the devastation,” Biden said. “But we have to not just rebuild, but rebuild better.”

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden walked the cracked boardwalk of this postcard-perfect California beach town Thursday and heard from business owners struggling to repair damage to their stores after deadly storms wreaked havoc across the region and killed more than 20 people across the country.

Biden inspected a destroyed seafood restaurant and the heavily flooded Paradise Beach Grille, near the collapsed Capitol Pier and brightly painted pink, orange and tea shops that were boarded up after the storms. The walls were crumbling, debris was lying everywhere the floors are swept over stormy waters.

Paradise Beach Grille owner Chuck Meyer told Biden that water gushed through the floor and flooded his business on Monterey Bay, near Santa Cruz. “No kidding,” Biden exclaimed.

“You don’t feel it until you’re walking down the streets,” Biden said later from nearby Seacliff State Park, describing the extent of the damage and blaming climate change for the severe weather. “If anyone doubts the climate is changing, they’ve probably been asleep for the last couple of years.”

Flanked by first responders, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Dean Criswell, the president highlighted the damage from the torrential rains, strong winds, flooding and mudslides. He warned that climate change would lead to more extreme weather.

“We know it will take years to rebuild some of the devastation,” Biden said. “But we have to not just rebuild, but rebuild better.”

California averaged 11.47 inches of rain and snow across the state from Dec. 26 to Jan. 17, according to the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center, with some reports of up to 15 feet of snow in the highest elevations of the Sierra Nevada.

California gets much of its rain and snow in the winter due to a weather phenomenon known as “atmospheric rivers” — long, narrow bands of water vapor that form over the ocean and flow across the sky.

California has been hit by nine atmospheric rivers since late December. The storms have subsided in recent days. Forecasters are predicting light rain later this week, followed by a dry spell.

Criswell said Thursday during a trip from Washington that the president and staff should remember what people have gone through when traveling to places devastated by storms and other natural disasters.

“This community has suffered so much trauma, and it’s important to remember that,” he said. “These communities have lost their livelihoods and their livelihoods, and I think it’s incredibly important that they know that the president is here to support them and that the full force of the federal family will be behind them.”

Biden has already approved a major disaster declaration for the state, freeing up additional federal resources for recovery efforts. Hours before the visit, he raised the level of federal aid even higher.

More than 500 FEMA and other federal personnel have been deployed to California to support emergency operations. Thousands of passers-by gathered for the president’s visit and greeted him as he walked along the embankment.

Newsom praised the swift federal response but warned that the threat remains high in the state, which was hit by a devastating drought just a few years ago and is now facing record rainfall.

“The scale and scope of these floods is hard to understand unless you’re out there, and that’s why I couldn’t be more grateful to the president for taking the time to come out again.”


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