SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) — With local residents cheering in the background, President Joe Biden and Governor Gavin Newsom toured one of the hardest hit regions of California’s storm-battered coastline, talked with flood victims, and met first responders leading local recovery efforts. 

“Over the past weeks, Californians have endured some of the deadliest and most destructive storms in recent memory,” Newsom said Thursday. “I am grateful for the president’s commitment to helping California recover.”

Biden began the day by flying from the White House on Air Force One to Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View. He later boarded a helicopter for an aerial tour surveying storm damages across Santa Cruz County.

An impressive presidential motorcade drew crowds of residents hoping to catch a glimpse of Biden during his ground tour around Capitola and Seacliff State Beach in Aptos. “The whole town is here!” one teenager holding a skateboard exclaimed.

“I skipped naptime. My mom took us all the way to see the president,” Quinn Runzler, 6, of Soquel told KRON4. Her brother, 10-year-old Ryan Runzler, added, “Two helicopters flew over my school today! Then I went down here and I got to see the president. It was awesome.”

Parker Kava, 7, of Aptos, said if he could talk to the president, he’d say, “Thank you for helping us.”

Governor Newsom welcomed President Biden as he arrived in California. (Image courtesy California Governor’s Office)

Spirits of storm-weary locals lifted when Biden waived through his SUV’s window as the motorcade departed the beach.

A brutal “parade of storms” left behind more than $55 million in damages in Santa Cruz County, officials said. Statewide, nearly 150,000 people were under evacuation orders and 21 victims died in storm-related incidents, including lightning strikes and falling trees.

The Capitola Wharf in Captiola, California was split in half on Jan. 5, 2023. (Image courtesy Santa Cruz County)

Biden and Newsom visited businesses heavily damaged by flooding, tide surges, and powerful ocean waves. With Seacliff’s cement ship and destroyed pier as his backdrop, the president gave a speech pledging federal funding for rebuilding.

“To the people in California: The country is here for you and with you.  We are not leaving until 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 — and I mean that sincerely — every step,” Biden promised.

Severe Weather California
Powerful storm waves roll into Seacliff State Beach between the “cement ship” and the heavily damaged pier on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (Shmuel Thaler/ Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP)

Biden approved Newsom’s request for an expedited Major Disaster Declaration for several counties and sent 500 FEMA workers to California. The declaration allows residents who suffered losses to be eligible for federal disaster assistance.

The president said, “Yesterday, I directed the federal government that we’ll cover 100 percent of the cost of removing debris, and emergency measures like sheltering evacuees and paying overtime for first responders.”

A flooded house is seen partially underwater in Gilroy, California, on January 9, 2023. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden personally met with and reassured Chuck Hammer, owner of Pizza My Heart restaurant. Hammer told KRON4, “He was very personable. He truly wanted to hear the story of each one of the restaurant owners here.”

The National Weather Service said between December 26 and January 17, 35 inches of rainfall was recorded in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Boulder Creek.

Sunny weather finally returned on Thursday and damages from the relentless rainstorms are still being tallied across the state.

“We know some of the destruction is going to take years to fully recover and rebuild,” Biden said.

President Joe Biden walks with a park ranger and California Gov. Gavin Newsom before he speaks at Seacliff State Park in Aptos, Calif., Thursday, Jan 19, 2023, (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden is joined by California Governor Gavin Newsom as he tours the damage done to Seacliff Pier and Seacliff State Beach in Aptos, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)
President Joe Biden walks 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. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden, escorted by Colonel Matthew Jones, Commander, 89th Airlift Wing, walks to board Air Force One on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 before he traveled to California. (AP Photo / Susan Walsh)

To apply for assistance from FEMA, go to DisasterAssistance.gov. Counties included in the president’s declaration are: Santa Cruz, Merced, Sacramento, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara.