President Joe Biden tours Hurricane Ian devastation, visits SWFL officials, business owners


President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis visited with and encouraged one another after each of them took separate tours of viewing the devastation along the Southwest Florida coastline.

A week after Hurricane Ian ruined and shut down every business on Fort Myers Beach, Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass accompanied Biden on a helicopter tour of the damage. They also flew over Sanibel and Captiva islands and Pine Island from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

They landed at and then arrived by motorcade to the southern end of San Carlos Island, adjacent to the Matanzas Pass Bridge and in front of two local businesses, Dixie’s Fish Co. and Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Cafe, next door to the Fort Myers Beach Doc Ford’s restaurant.

Afterward, they held court, not just with local elected officials but with local business owners as well.

“I heard you were a hugger,” said Rexann Hosafros, a Fort Myers Beach Town Council member who lost her home and car to Hurricane Ian.

Biden grinned and hugged her as he continued making the rounds.

Biden also spent a couple of minutes talking in private with John Dammermann, the owner and co-CEO of TPI Hospitality, which is building the Margaritaville Resort on Fort Myers Beach. The storm will set the project back by several months. But the concrete walls suffered no serious structural damage, Dammermann said. The construction site, however, remains a mess.

Fort Myers Beach was decimated by Ian. (CREDIT: WINK News)

After spending about 15 minutes meeting with small groups, including the rest of the Lee County commissioners and elected officials from Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs, Naples, Cape Coral and Fort Myers, DeSantis, followed by Biden, each gave speeches in front of the ruined Bonita Bill’s.

“This was very unique,” said Jim Atterholt, a Fort Myers Beach town council member and a small business owner. Atterholt, a Republican, said Biden impressed him with his demeanor and with spending the amount of time on the ground that he did. “It’s really special,” Atterholdt said. “I thought we were all going to be used as some sort of a backdrop. But he took the time and talked to each and every one of us.”

That included Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy and Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jacki Liszak. They were supposed to introduce Biden, but DeSantis did so instead.

“This clearly shows us that he’s here to listen,” Liszak said of Biden. “Clearly, their resources have been deployed.”

At the end of his speech, Biden stressed the word “united” in United States of America several times, a fact that grabbed the attention of many in the crowd of about 50 people on hand for the visit. Biden and DeSantis have sparred – not directly at each other but with comments to the media. None of that happened at the visit Wednesday.

“You have my commitment – America’s commitment – that we will be here for you, even long after the cameras are gone,” Biden said. “The key here is to build back better and stronger.”

Liszak lost her four-suite hotel and gift shop, the Sea Gypsy, to Hurricane Ian’s storm surge on Fort Myers Beach. All that remains is a wooden ramp that led to the front door.

“Right now, we’re America,” Liszak said. “There is no politics right now. They’re talking right now, and they’re doing what’s right for us.”

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