‘The country is here for you’: Biden surveys California’s storm-ravaged Central Coast

With a birds eye view from Marine One, President Biden overlooked the devastation a recent procession of extreme storms have wreaked on California’s Central Coast: washed-out piers, waterfront businesses damaged by flooding, major landslides and beaches strewn with the trunks of redwood trees and other debris.

The president traveled to Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties Thursday to tour damage from the storms that pummeled the region with record rainfall and high-speed winds for the better part of two weeks. Biden flew into the region around noon, landing at Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, before heading to the coast for a helicopter and motorcade tour, during which he was accompanied by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Alex Padilla and federal emergency officials.

During a stop at Seacliff State Beach, a park and nature refuge that sustained heavy damage, Biden reflected on how a series of disasters exacerbated by planet-warming emissions, from flooding to wildfires to landslides, have hammered the state.

“Governor, you and I gotta stop taking these helicopter rides,” Biden said. “If anybody doubts the climate is changing, then they must’ve been asleep for the last couple of years.”

Biden and his entourage walked around the state park, below the tiny beach town of Aptos, near the end of a long day surveying damage across the region. He stopped to shake hands and chat with first responders as they overlooked the ruins of the park’s wooden pier, half of which was washed out to sea by the violent waves of recent storm surges.

Earlier in the day, Biden’s motorcade stopped by the quaint beach town of Capitola, where he met with business owners and residents whose properties sustained significant flooding. The town was among the region’s hardest hit, as the storm surges drowned the town’s waterfront old town area lined with tourist-friendly restaurants and shops and brightly painted cottages.

As he spoke to a gaggle of reporters and television cameras, Biden somberly reflected on how the storms had claimed the lives of at least 21 Californians, not including a 5-year-old boy whose body has not been recovered after he was swept away by floodwaters.

Biden pledged that federal agencies will help the region fully recover and rebuild. He said the government is stepping in to help people without sufficient insurance to start making repairs to their homes and businesses as soon as possible. The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Thursday that the president had signed an order allowing the agency to cover 100% of eligible costs for debris removal and emergency protective measures.

“We are not leaving until things are built back and built back better than they were before,” Biden said. “People of California, I’ll say it again, the country is here for you.”

The president also stressed that federal inflation-reduction legislation that he signed last year has already brought California more than $16 billion in funding to help mitigate the damage from extreme weather events, including projects to strengthen storm infrastructure, levees and create a more resilient electrical grid.

Newsom, who was by Biden’s side for much of the day, praised him for a swift and cooperative federal response. When extreme storms began to hit the state a few weeks ago, Newsom said Biden left him a voicemail offering to provide any emergency declarations or assistance that he requested, before the California governor had even requested it.

“There are few people with the empathy, the care and compassion that he has,” Newsom said. “It gives all of us a little bit more confidence in our fate and future.”

Dustin Gardiner is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: dustin.gardiner@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @dustingardiner