US President Joe Biden on Thursday warned that Hurricane Ian may end up being Florida's "deadliest" storm ever and cited fears there could be "substantial" numbers of fatalities across the state.
"This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history," he said after a briefing at the FEMA emergency management headquarters in Washington.
"The numbers... are still unclear, but we're hearing reports of what may be substantial loss of life," he said, adding that when conditions allow, "I'm going to be going to Florida."
Biden also told reporters it was his "intention" to visit the US Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, which is reeling from the earlier Hurricane Fiona.
Biden praised Florida's emergency services, describing the huge scale of the task facing them as they enter zones devastated by Ian's punishing wind and flooding.
"Search and rescue operations got underway before dawn this morning for people stranded and who are in desperate shape," he said.
Among the "many" resources in action, the US Coast Guard has deployed 16 helicopters, six airplanes and 18 boats, he said. "These are dangerous missions."
Addressing Floridians, Biden said "many are hurting today and our entire country hurts with them."
"We're continuing to see deadly rainfall, catastrophic storm surges, roads and homes flooded. We're seeing millions of people without power and thousands hunkered down in schools and community centers," the Democrat said.
"They're wondering what's going to be left."
Biden also offered an olive branch to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a right-wing Republican who is widely seen as competing with former president Donald Trump to be the lead challenger in the 2024 presidential election.
While DeSantis has emerged as an uncompromising opponent to Biden, the president said they had put politics aside during the crisis.
"We're going to pull together as one team," he said.
"This is not about... anything having to do with our disagreements politically. This is about saving people's lives, homes and businesses," Biden said, adding that he'd talked with DeSantis "four or five times" over hurricane response.