By Maegan Vazquez and Nikki Carvajal, CNN
The White House is closely tracking Hurricane Ian as it barrels toward Florida, with President Joe Biden receiving regular updates and speaking with local officials in the storm’s projected path ahead of landfall in the United States.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Hurricane Ian remains at Category 3. The storm’s winds rose slightly to 120 miles per hour, after decreasing as a result of making landfall over western Cuba. Ian is expected to continue strengthening later Tuesday and become a Category 4 before the end of the day. It is expected to hit Florida on Wednesday.
“(The) forecast can change, but for now the experts say this could be a very severe hurricane, life threatening and a devastating impact,” Biden said from the Rose Garden Tuesday at an event on lowering health care costs. “The administration is on alert and in action to help the people of Florida.”
Biden spoke with Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday evening, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a tweet, “to discuss the steps the Federal government is taking to help Florida prepare for Hurricane Ian.”
“The President and the Governor committed to continued close coordination,” Jean-Pierre said
Jean-Pierre said earlier during Tuesday’s press briefing that Biden held separate calls with Mayors Jane Castor of Tampa, Ken Welch of St. Petersburg and Frank Hibbard of Clearwater.
Biden later said the mayors he called are “focused on the safety of their communities and they’re doing everything they can to get people out of harm’s way.” The President relayed that he “told each one of them in my conversations separately, whatever they need — I mean it sincerely, whatever they need — contact me directly.”
Additionally, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell said Tuesday that she spoke with the governor on Friday at the President’s request.
“I did speak with Gov. DeSantis on Friday to hear his main concerns and his priorities for the response and the preparedness actions. And we immediately began moving resources and personnel in, and President Biden signed Gov. DeSantis’ pre landfall emergency declaration request on Saturday. This made sure that we were able to immediately start supporting the governor’s concerns that he relayed to me,” Criswell said.
She later added, “The President directed me to contact the governor early on before we enacted the declaration. I did that. My regional administrator is with the governor right now, making sure that we’re understanding what the needs are and our focus is on the current life safety needs that need to be met.”
Criswell added that Biden asked the mayors about their needs and their progress with mandatory evacuation orders in their cities during their calls.
During his remarks, Biden urged Florida citizens to listen to local officials and follow evacuation orders, saying their “safety is more important than anything.”
“I know our hearts are with everyone who will feel the effects of this storm. And we’ll be with you every step of the way,” he added. “We’re not going away.”
Criswell said she also spoke by phone Monday with the governors of South Carolina and Georgia about potential storm effects to their states.
Castor said on Tuesday that the forecast for Hurricane Ian’s effect on the city “hasn’t changed a great deal,” as the slow moving storm is expected to bring a “devastating amount of water” to the Tampa Bay area.
Castor said that on the call with Biden and Criswell, the President “just wanted to ensure that we had all the resources that we needed and clearly wishing us the best.”
This story has been updated with additional information Tuesday.
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CNN’s Brandon Miller, Rebekah Riess and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.