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Biden tours California storm damage

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This afternoon, President Biden toured California's storm-damaged Central Coast. The region is trying to recover from a series of devastating Pacific storms that battered this state for nearly three weeks.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To the people in California, I say it again - the country is here for you and with you. We are not leaving till things are built back and built back better than they were before. You can recover from storms. We'll be with you every step of the way.

CHANG: President Biden meet with local residents and first responders just south of the San Francisco Bay area, as well as state officials like Governor Gavin Newsom.

Rachael Myrow of member station KQED is in San Jose and joins us now. Hi, Rachael.

RACHAEL MYROW, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: OK. So the White House has already approved an emergency declaration for California, and they announced even more aid last night. Can you just talk about what all of that means practically speaking, like why it's important?

MYROW: Well, in a word, money. Federal emergency aid is going to be critical to help much of the state pay for the response to these storms. It's been a heck of a month here, Ailsa.

CHANG: Yeah.

MYROW: In just 21 days, the weather killed at least 21 people at last count, swamped roads, toppled trees, cut power to tens of thousands of people at a time. Today, Marine One, the president's helicopter, took him around some parts of the Central Coast to give him a chance just to see the scale of the devastation.

CHANG: And I know that you've been reporting from some of the areas that Biden visited, right?

MYROW: Yes. I spent some time in Capitola village, the seaside town near Santa Cruz he visited today. A number of locals told me they haven't seen weather this devastating since 1982. I also talked with small business owners hit hard by extended power outages. For example, if you run a restaurant, all that food has to go.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, can you tell us more about what President Biden saw on his tour today?

MYROW: He was shown some of the most dramatic effects of the storms now past.

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BIDEN: Drenching rains, powerful winds, floods, landslides - but you don't feel it till you walk the streets or what - when you're able to walk.

MYROW: Still today, we have beaches covered with debris and huge logs, battered and broken piers and bridges, as well as stretches of highway and train tracks closed because of downed trees and massive sinkholes, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed. You know, Ailsa, 40 out of 58 counties so far have been affected by this series of storms.

CHANG: I mean, it's been so expansive. We keep hearing, you know, as Californians, these storms described as extreme. Is that at all an overstatement? I mean, or is this just a really wet winter? What do you think?

MYROW: Well, this storm series was a whopping nine atmospheric rivers, one after the other. But one of our local papers, The Mercury News, pointed out that Abraham Lincoln was president the last time it was this wet - the Great Flood of 1862. That turned the Central Valley into a massive lake and killed an estimated 4,000 people, so this winter storm's not quite as bad as that.

CHANG: That's true. Well, do we have any idea at this point of what the total bill will be for the recovery?

MYROW: Early days yet, Ailsa. Here's Administrator Deanne Criswell with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, who traveled with the president, speaking earlier today on Air Force One.

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DEANNE CRISWELL: Yeah, we're starting to get some numbers in. But honestly, because this has been so ongoing and there's so many parts of the state that they haven't actually been able to access yet because there's still significant road closures across the state, several hundred million as initial estimates. But I expect that number to go up.

MYROW: To start with, a billion dollar, Ailsa - a billion.

CHANG: A billion. That is Rachael Myrow of member station KQED, reporting from San Jose. Thank you so much, Rachael.

MYROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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