Biden surveys storm damage in Florida


US President Joe Biden has travelled to Florida to survey the destruction from Hurricane Idalia and comfort victims of the storm, but not alongside Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential presidential rival, who opted not to come.

DeSantis' spokesperson said on Friday the governor had no plans to meet Biden, saying "the security preparations alone that would go in to setting up such a meeting would shut down ongoing recovery efforts."

Biden took an aerial tour and received a briefing from local officials and first responders in Live Oak, a town that was hit hard by the storm. He saw houses with fallen trees on them and said no one "intelligent" could doubt that climate change was happening.

The storm pummelled Florida's Big Bend region with Category 3 winds of nearly 200 kmh. 

The president, who has spoken to DeSantis multiple times this week, had said on Friday they would meet in person. The decision by the governor caught the White House off guard.

Asked if he was disappointed DeSantis did not come, Biden said no.

"He may have had other reasons… But he did help us plan this. He sat with (Federal Emergency Management Agency) FEMA and decided where we should go, where would be the least disruption," Biden told reporters, while standing in front of a damaged house.

DeSantis spent the day about 80 km south, touring small communities along Florida's Gulf Coast, according to his official schedule.

The Florida governor is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to oust Biden from the White House, but trails Trump in opinion polls.

It could have been politically perilous for DeSantis to be photographed with Biden overlooking storm damage now as the primary race intensifies.

When Biden visited Florida after Hurricane Ian, a photo of DeSantis standing awkwardly to the side as Biden talked animatedly with a local couple went viral, highlighting the difference between the two politicians' styles of public interaction.

IN 2012, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is also running for the 2024 Republican nomination, drew criticism for his praise of President Barack Obama when the Democrat visited his state in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

FEMA head Deanne Criswell told reporters that search and rescue operations had wrapped up and that officials were now focused on restoring power to the affected regions. Less than 1 per cent of Floridians were without power as of Saturday, she said, though that figure was significantly higher in some areas directly impacted by the hurricane.

DeSantis has been a sharp critic of Biden, and the two have clashed over COVID-19 vaccines, abortion and LGBT rights. But when they met last year when Biden came to Florida to assess the devastation from Hurricane Ian, Biden said that they had worked together "hand in glove."

Biden visited Hawaii just last week in the aftermath of deadly wildfires there, and said on Wednesday that no one could deny the climate crisis in light of the extreme weather.