WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Thursday that “our entire country is suffering” along with the people of Florida after Hurricane Jan flooded communities across the state, knocked out power, forced people into shelters and sparked fears of “significant loss of life”.

Biden said the storm could be “the deadliest hurricane in Florida history.”

During a visit to Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, where he was briefed on federal response efforts, the president said, “The numbers are still unclear, but we are hearing early reports of what could be a significant loss of life.”

Biden said he would visit Florida and meet with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis if “conditions permit.” The president said he would also visit Puerto Rico, the US territory that was condemned earlier this month. Hurricane Fiona.

“We know that many families have been affected,” Biden said at FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center, where teams of professionals from across the federal government and partner organizations were monitoring the storm and helping with recovery efforts. “With them, our whole country hurts.”

He urged those affected by Jan to take seriously warnings from local authorities to stay safe and stay indoors.

“Don’t go outside if you don’t have to,” Biden said. “The danger is real, stating the obvious. Please obey all warnings and instructions from emergency personnel.”

Biden and DeSantis spoke before the hurricane and again Thursday morning as the devastation began to come into focus. Ian made landfall as one of the strongest hurricanes in United States history. The storm flooded homes on Florida’s coast, cut off the only bridge to a barrier island, destroyed a historic waterfront pier and knocked out power to 2.67 million homes and businesses. At least one person has been confirmed dead.

Early Thursday, Biden declared a major disaster for parts of Florida at DeSantis’ request, freeing up additional federal aid to state and local governments and individuals. FEMA Administrator Deanna Criswell said more counties will likely be added to the disaster declaration as assessments continue.

Asked if his administration would need additional money from Congress to respond to the storm, Biden said: “We may.”

Biden said DeSantis, with whom he has feuded politically, was “very pleased” with the federal response. The president said that “this is not about our political differences. This is about saving lives, homes and businesses.”

Biden said he also spoke with several Florida mayors on Thursday and conveyed the same message he shared with the governor about the federal government’s commitment to help with the cleanup and recovery: “We’re here.”

“We will do everything we can to provide whatever they need,” Biden said, adding that his instructions were to call him directly at the White House and communicate his needs. “They know how to do it.”

Biden also spoke to residents of Puerto Rico who are cleaning up and trying to rebuild after Hurricane Fiona devastated the US island before Ian slammed into Florida on Wednesday.

“I am committed to you and to the restoration of the island,” he said. “We haven’t gone anywhere.”