Nearly 5,000 National Guardsmen are in southwest and central Florida to help communities impacted by Hurricane Ian.

Florida National Guardsmen, along with others from Louisiana, New York, and Tennessee are already positioned. Others from Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, South Carolina and Montana are on the way, according to National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson.

“In the immediate aftermath, search and rescue will be the focus,” Hokanson said. “Our concern is saving lives and getting our folks in there as quickly as possible to make a difference in that critical time — to get people out of situations that may be potentially life-threatening to them.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s west coast as a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds. The storm flooded homes, cut off a popular barrier island and left nearly 2.7 million people without power as it crossed the panhandle before moving over the Atlantic and turning north.

Hokanson said the Guard will work with local authorities to make sure the right people and equipment are in the right places to maximize impact of available assistance.

There are helicopters, high-wheeled vehicles, boats, fuel tankers and generators that Guard members can use for search and rescue operations, clearing roads and supporting law enforcement.

The Florida Guard’s 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion provided emergency communication capabilities to civilians and first responders, a necessity when there is extensive damage to infrastructure and large areas without electricity.

“We are preparing for Hurricane Ian by giving our Soldiers training on the Transportable Tactical Command Communications Ground Antenna Transmit and Receive devices,” Sgt. Justin Love, a satellite communication systems operator-maintainer with the 146th ESB, said Tuesday before the storm roared ashore. “This training will allow us to support emergency operation centers when services are needed, such as phone service and internet.”

President Joe Biden said Thursday that “our entire country hurts” along with the people of Florida after Hurricane Ian flooded communities across the state, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and forced people into shelters.

Biden said he would visit Florida and meet with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis when “conditions allow.” The president said he would also visit Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that was slammed by Hurricane Fiona.

“We know many families are hurting,” Biden said at the Washington headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he was briefed on federal response efforts. “Our entire country hurts with them.”

Ian regained hurricane strength as it spun toward South Carolina a day after devastating a cross section of Florida. The National Hurricane Center says the storm’s maximum sustained winds increased Thursday to 75 mph. It was centered about 240 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina, and moving northeast at 10 mph.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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