WASHINGTON, DC — President Trump got a firsthand look at the devastation left behind by Hurricane Michael on Monday and called it “hard to believe.” The president and first lady were touring areas damaged by the storm in Florida and Georgia.
“I’ve seen pictures, but it’s hard to believe,” the president told reporters as he made his way through a hard-hit area along the Florida Panhandle.
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Air Force One touched down at Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County late Monday morning, where President Trump and Melania Trump boarded a helicopter to tour the damage.
The first couple were joined by Florida Gov. Rick Scott during their visit to the Florida Panhandle. At one point the president handed out bottles of water to storm victims.
“Many of these people, they have no home. Some of them have no trace of a home,” the president told reporters. “It just got blown right off the footing. Our big thing is feeding, water and safety.”
The death toll from Michael’s destructive march from Florida to Virginia stood at 17, with just one confirmed death so far in Mexico Beach, Florida. The town of about 1,000 people took a direct hit from the hurricane and its 155 mph winds last week.
Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey estimated 250 residents stayed behind when the hurricane struck, and he said he remained hopeful about their fate. He said search-and-rescue teams in the beach town had already combed areas with the worst damage.
“If we lose only one life, to me that’s going to be a miracle,” Cathey said.
Trump declared a state of emergency for Georgia late Sunday after having already done so for parts of Florida. In hurricane-flattened Mexico Beach, crews with backhoes and other heavy equipment scooped up splintered boards, broken glass, chunks of asphalt and other debris Sunday as the mayor held out hope for the 250 or so residents who may have tried to ride out the storm.
Meanwhile, more than 2,000 workers have been trying to restore cellular service to some of the hardest hit areas in the Florida Panhandle. AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have deployed mobile cellular towers to provide service.
“After a catastrophic storm like Hurricane Michael, one of the most important things we can do is make sure families can connect with loved ones, find information on critical services and maintain open lines of communication with emergency response officials,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott. “At my direction, the Florida Highway Patrol has been working hand-in-hand with cellular service provider crews to get them access to service stations where repairs need to be made.”
Scott also directed the Florida Department of Transportation to provide excavators, heavy loaders, and chainsaw crews to assist cellular service providers.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
AP Photo by Evan Vucci
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