Trump to get helicopter view of hurricane-hit Florida Panhandle

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EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Florida’s storm-ravaged Panhandle on Monday to get an aerial view of the destruction caused by deadly Hurricane Michael, and said the top priority was food and housing for residents.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump were greeted by Governor Rick Scott upon their arrival at Eglin Air Force Base, about 100 miles (160 km) west of where Michael came ashore last Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms on record to make landfall in the continental United States.

“You know many of these people, they have no homes,” Trump said before boarding a helicopter to tour the stricken area in northwestern Florida. “Some of them have no trace of a home … so our big thing is feeding, water and safety.”

The Trumps also later planned to visit part of neighboring Georgia that was hit by Michael before they return to the White House on Monday evening, the White House said.

Trump, standing beside Scott, a fellow Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate in the Nov. 6 congressional elections, said the day’s biggest objective was “just making sure everyone is safe, that they’re fed.”

Insured losses for wind and storm surge from Hurricane Michael will run between an estimated $6 billion and $10 billion, risk modeler AIR Worldwide said. Those figures do not include losses paid out by the National Flood Insurance Program or uninsured property, AIR Worldwide said.

Michael hit the Florida Panhandle with 155 mph (250 kph) winds as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

At least 18 people in four states have died because of the storm. Dozens of people remained missing on Sunday in Florida Panhandle communities left in ruins.

Rescuers said they expected the death toll to rise and they were using cadaver dogs and heavy equipment to search collapsed homes in small towns such as Mexico Beach and Panama City for more victims.


Rescue efforts have been hampered by blocked roads and huge piles of rubble in many communities such as Mexico Beach, which took a direct hit from the massive storm that killed at least one person there.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to Florida Governor Rick Scott as the president arrives to tour storm damage from Hurricane Michael at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, U.S., October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“If we lose only one life, to me that’s going to be a miracle,” Al Cathey, mayor of Mexico Beach, a town of about 1,000, told Florida media.

Cathey said 46 people who had not evacuated remained unaccounted for on Sunday.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management said that while power was returning in most areas, at least 85 percent of customers in four mainly rural counties in the Florida Panhandle were without electricity on Monday. Officials said it could be weeks before power returns to the most damaged areas.

More than 1,700 search-and-rescue workers were deployed, Scott’s office said, including seven swift-water rescue teams and nearly 300 ambulances.

In Panama City, Fire Chief Alex Baird said search-and-rescue teams were now in “recovery mode” after largely giving up hope of finding any more survivors.

Trump is fully committed to helping state and local agencies with the recovery, the White House said. It was announced late on Sunday that he declared a state of emergency in Georgia, freeing up federal resources for the state. A similar declaration had already been made for Florida.

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Trump last month visited North and South Carolina after they were hit by Hurricane Florence.

Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Panama City, Florida; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Devika Krishna Kumar in Port St. Joe, Bernie Woodall in Florida, and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Will Dunham

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