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President Biden surveys storm damage in Santa Cruz area during California visit

Susan Walsh
AP Photo
President Joe Biden talks on the boardwalk with Jill Ealy and California Gov. Gavin Newsom as he visits with business owners and local residents in Capitola, Calif., Thursday, Jan 19, 2023.

President Joe Biden surveyed storm damage in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties with California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday afternoon. Nine back-to-back atmospheric rivers have pummeled the state since late December, forcing flooding along highways, massive power outages, and at least 21 deaths, Newsom said.

Biden arrived in Santa Clara County on Thursday morning, where he and Newsom boarded a helicopter for an aerial tour of flooding and mudslides in the Santa Cruz area.

“Unlike when we did the aerial tour of the fires, it's not as obvious from the air just how much damage has been done,” Biden said. “Drenching rains, powerful winds, floods, landslides. But you don't feel it until you walk the streets.”

They also visited Capitola and Aptos — two coastal towns experiencing significant damage from strong winds, heavy rain and flooding — meeting with business owners and local first responders to assess the need for future federal assistance.

“If anybody doubts that climate is changing, they must have been asleep for the last couple years,” Biden said after his tour at a press gaggle in Aptos.

He added that over 500 FEMA employees have been deployed across the state to assist with recovery efforts, and encouraged storm victims to register for assistance by visiting disasterassistance.gov or a Local Assistance Center.

Biden also touched on commitments to mitigating future climate disasters, like federal infrastructure investments.

“These weeks have shown the compounding effect of the disaster. For example, places that were ravaged by past wildfires are now at a higher risk of landslides,” he said. “Extreme weather caused by climate change means stronger and more frequent storms, more intense droughts, longer wildfire seasons, all of which threaten communities across California. So we have to invest in stronger infrastructure to lessen the impacts of these disasters because they become cumulative.”

Susan Walsh
AP Photo
President Joe Biden talks with Paradise Beach Grille co-owners Chuck Maier and Ally Gotlieb, left, as he visits with business owners and local residents in Capitola, Calif., Thursday, Jan 19, 2023.

San Joaquin County was added to President Joe Biden’s major disaster declaration on Thursday, county officials announced, expanding access to funding for both individuals and local governments.

“This is the news we have been waiting to receive,” said Tiffany Heyer with San Joaquin County’s Office of Emergency Services. “Individuals who have experienced storm damage caused by flooding, wind, and other storm related causes may now qualify for much needed individual assistance.”

Biden’s initial declaration was issued on Jan. 14 in response to damage caused by back-to-back storms, and only included Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Merced counties. On Wednesday, the declaration was expanded to include Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties.

Federal assistance could come in the form of grants for temporary housing and home repairs and loans to cover property losses, among other things. The expanded declaration will provide longer-term emergency response, funding and assistance to more individuals and families.

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