President Trump and the first lady toured the Florida Panhandle and parts of Georgia on Monday morning in the wake the destruction left by Hurricane Michael last week.
Speaking to the media shortly after landing at Eglin Air Force Base and ahead of an aerial tour of the destruction, Trump praised the work being done by Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott and emergency workers throughout the southeast in the wake of the storm.
“Gov. Rick Scott has done an incredible job,” Trump said. “He steps up in the biggest emergencies and the biggest problems.”
The storm crashed ashore Wednesday before moving up the East Coast with 155 mph winds. As a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, Michael was one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in U.S. history. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long has called the destruction some of the worst he’s ever seen.
Trump declared a state of emergency in Georgia last week, releasing federal resources to help the state. The White House said it was fully committed to helping state and local agencies with recovery efforts.
During his helicopter tour of the storm-battered region, Trump initially saw uprooted trees and houses with blue tarps covering damaged roofs after his helicopter lifted from Eglin Air Force Base near Valparaiso. But the severity of the damage worsened significantly as Trump approached Mexico Beach, a town of about 1,000 people that was nearly wiped off the map in a direct hit from the hurricane and its 155 mph winds.
Many of the houses in Mexico Beach had no roofs. In some cases, only the foundations were left standing. The water tower lay on its side and 18-wheelers were scattered in a parking lot like a child's toys. Trump also saw Tyndall Air Force Base, which was heavily damaged by the storm.
Trump landed at an airport near Panama City, where power poles bowed toward the ground, pieces of metal roofing were scattered in brush land and pine trees had been uprooted or were snapped off halfway up their straight trunks.
On the drive toward Panama City, he and first lady Melania Trump could see houses smashed by trees, bent billboards and a demolished trailer park. Power crews were working to restore power to the more than 190,000 homes and businesses in Florida that were still without electricity, along with about 120,000 in Georgia.
In the nearby city of Lynn Haven, where blue tarps topped many of the homes, Trump walked up to a house where a massive pine tree lay on the front yard next to a palm tree that stood tall.
“To see this personally is very, very tough," Trump said, according to the pool report. The president and first lady also visted a water station to hand out bottles of clean drinking water.
As of Sunday, the storm had killed nearly 20 people in four states, while dozens more remained missing in Florida Panhandle communities, Reuters reported. FEMA spokesman David Passey told Fox News: “We are confident that the number of people not yet accounted for will decline as family members can reconnect.”
Passey said FEMA and other agencies will remain in the area for several months to aid the recovery. The death toll was expected to rise as rescue officials continue their search for bodies or survivors. But damaged roads and infrastructure from the storm have hampered rescue efforts, officials say.
Trump said Monday that there are thousands of personnel currently working to restore power to the area, but noted one issue is that many homes have been devastated beyond repair. The president added that his main goal is to make sure that residents in Florida and Georgia are safe and being taken care of.
“Our big thing is feeding, water and making sure that everyone is safe,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.