President Donald Trump, along with First Lady Melania Trump, flew to Florida on Thursday to meet with federal and state leaders as he surveyed damage from Hurricane Irma and praised the rapid response in the recovery effort.
The death toll from Irma stood at 81 on Thursday, including 38 in the United States, with several hard-hit Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands accounting for more than half of the fatalities, according to Reuters.
Florida officials, including Governor Rick Scott and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, greeted Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in Fort Myers, Florida.
“We have been very, very fast, and we had to be,” Trump said at an airport hangar where he and the lawmakers were joined by other community leaders.
“In many cases, they’ve lost their homes and it’s a tough situation,” the president said about the victims of Hurricane Irma, which roared through Naples, Florida, on Sunday after first destroying most of the Florida Keys.
“When you think of the incredible power of that storm, and while people unfortunately passed, it was such a small number,” Trump said, addressing first responders. “People thought thousands and thousands of people may have their lives ended and the number is a very small number, which is a great tribute to you.”
“We’re with you today. We’re going to be with you tomorrow and we’re going to be with you until Florida rebuilds bigger and better than ever before,” Pence said.
The visit marked Trump’s third visit to a storm-hit part of the United States in the past three weeks, following two visits to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s record flooding.
Roughly 3.1 million homes and businesses, representing close to one-third of the state’s population, were without power on Thursday in Florida and neighboring states. And approximately 20 percent of Florida’s gas stations had no fuel on Thursday, down from a peak of 46 percent, according to the fuel information service Gas Buddy.
Total insured losses from the storm are expected to reach around $25 billion, including $18 billion in the United States and $7 billion in the Caribbean, catastrophe modeler Karen Clark & Co. estimated on Wednesday.
Impressed with the way he was handling his state’s crisis, Trump told reporters that he was hopeful Scott, a two-term GOP governor, would run for the Senate again.
Trump and his wife then paid a visit to the hurricane-ravaged city of Fort Myers, just north of Naples; both bore the brunt of the hurricane as it rushed onto Florida’s southwestern coast. Prior to his arrival, the president got an aerial view of the devastation, which Melania Trump helped to publicize by putting out a tweet of the video.
She wrote, “Before touching down in Naples, air tour of hurricane damage. There is much work to be done, but America is with you Florida!”
Before touching down in Naples, air tour of hurricane damage. There is much work to be done, but America is with you Florida! pic.twitter.com/eWdJHmuQUK
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) September 14, 2017
The president, wearing a white baseball cap with “USA” written on it, handed out sandwiches together with Melania to residents at a feeding station. He also graciously posed for selfies and shook everybody’s hands.
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