Wednesday 14 November 2018

Trump tours hurricane damage in Florida

Mexico Beach was nearly wiped off the map in a direct hit from the hurricane and its 155mph winds last week.

Donald and Melania Trump in hurricane-hit Lynn Haven, Florida (Evan Vucci/AP)
Donald and Melania Trump in hurricane-hit Lynn Haven, Florida (Evan Vucci/AP)

By Deb Riechmann and Darlene Superville, Associated Press

US President Donald Trump has been shown roofless homes and uprooted trees as he toured Florida Panhandle communities ravaged by the force of Hurricane Michael.

Mr Trump toured devastated coastal communities by air, land and foot before he and the first lady helped hand out bottled water at a Federal Emergency Management Agency aid distribution centre.

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Donald and Melania Trump hand out water during a visit to areas affected by Hurricane Michael in Florida (Evan Vucci/AP)

The president said someone described Hurricane Michael to him as being “like a very wide, extremely wide, tornado”.

“Look behind you. I mean, those massive trees are just ripped out of the earth. This is really incredible,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump narrowly won Florida over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, boosted by strong voter turnout in the Panhandle.

The state is important to Mr Trump not only for his hopes of being re-elected in 2020 but also as he campaigns aggressively to help Republicans expand their slim 51-49 majority in the US Senate.

Fellow Republican and Florida governor Rick Scott is running for the Senate, partly at Mr Trump’s urging, and is in a close contest against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson just weeks before election day.

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Donald and Melania Trump and Florida governor Rick Scott, right (Evan Vucci/AP)

Mr Scott shadowed Mr Trump throughout Monday’s visit.

Mr Trump and his wife Melania initially saw uprooted trees and houses topped with blue sheets after his helicopter lifted off from Eglin Air Force Base near Valparaiso, his first stop after leaving Washington.

But the severity of the damage worsened significantly as Mr Trump approached Mexico Beach, which was nearly wiped off the map after taking a direct hit from the hurricane and its 155mph winds last week.

Many of the houses in the town of about 1,000 people had no roofs.

In some cases, only the foundations were left standing.

A water tower lay on its side, and 18-wheel lorries were scattered in a car park like children’s toys.

In Panama City, where Mr Trump landed, telegraph poles bowed towards the ground, pieces of metal roofing were scattered about and pine trees had been uprooted or snapped in half.

The view on the drive towards Panama City included houses smashed by trees, bent billboards and a demolished trailer park.

In nearby Lynn Haven, where the mayor said there was no loss of life, Mr Trump walked up to a house where a massive pine tree lay on the front garden next to a palm tree that stood tall.

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Donald and Melania Trump in Lynn Haven (Evan Vucci/AP)

Repairs were being made to the home, owned by Michael Rollins, who told Mr Trump he rode out the storm there.

“I knew I had made my commitment to stay with my animals. I have two dogs and a parrot,” Mr Rollins told Mr Trump.

Throughout the day, the president profusely praised Mr Scott’s hurricane response.

“The job they’ve done in Florida has been incredible,” Mr Trump told reporters.

He told Mr Scott: “You’re a great governor.”

Mr Scott said FEMA had granted all his requests and that he had spoken with Mr Trump “almost every day”.

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Donald and Melania Trump in Lynn Haven, Florida (Evan Vucci/AP)

“Every time I’ve called, he’s come through,” Mr Scott said.

The mood at the aid distribution centre seemed lighthearted despite the surrounding devastation, as Mr Trump bantered with a crowd that seemed more interested in selfies with him than in the bottled water he was offering in the heat and humidity.

A woman carrying a toddler posed for a photo and then told Mr Trump he should come back for a barbecue.

Another woman thanked the first lady for her anti-bullying campaign.

The death toll from Michael’s destructive march from Florida through Virginia stood at 17, with just one confirmed death in Mexico Beach.

Press Association

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