Prez surveys damage
Trump hands out sandwiches, handshakes in lunch line with first lady, VP
NAPLES, Fla. — U.S. President Donald Trump doled out hoagies and handshakes in the sweltering Florida heat on Thursday as he took a firsthand tour of Irma’s devastation and liberally dispensed congratulatory words about the federal and state recovery effort.
Trump, who was in and out of the state in less than three hours, got an aerial view of the water-deluged homes along Florida’s southwestern coast from his helicopter, then drove in his motorcade along streets lined with felled trees, broken traffic lights and shuttered stores on his way to a mobile home community hit hard by the storm.
Walking along a street in Naples Estates with his wife, Melania, the president encountered piles of broken siding and soggy furniture heaped on front porches, and residents who were happy to get a presidential visit.
“We are there for you 100 per cent,” Trump said before donning gloves and helping to hand out sandwiches to residents from a lunch line under a canopy. “I’ll be back here numerous times. This is a state that I know very well.”
Trump earlier met with federal and state leaders in Fort Myers, where he was brimming with enthusiasm for the state and federal response effort.
“It’s a team like very few people have seen,” he said. Quoting back from Gov. Rick Scott’s praise for the federal government’s responsiveness, Trump added: “As Rick said, we have been very, very fast, and we had to be.”
Trump’s visit offered him the chance to see how people are coping with Irma’s aftermath and how the Federal Emergency Management Agency is responding. Many Florida residents remain swamped and without electricity. Nearly 2.7 million homes and businesses, about one in four Florida customers, were still without power Thursday.
Vice-President Mike Pence, who joined Trump on the trip, promised Floridians: “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.”
Trump’s trip to Florida was his third in less than three weeks to the storm-ravaged South.
After hurricane Harvey struck Texas, Trump drew criticism for having minimal interaction with residents during his first trip in late August. He saw little damage and offered few expressions of concern.
On his second visit, to Texas and Louisiana, he was more hands-on. He toured a Houston shelter housing hundreds of displaced people and walking streets lined with soggy, discarded possessions.
This time, Trump made sure to connect with a community in recovery. He hewed toward hearty handshakes and enthusiastic promises rather than hugs and tears, but he was well received by people grappling with the storm.
As Trump passed out food with Pence and the first lady, people thanked them for coming and seemed more interested in selfies than sandwiches. One man yelled, “Make America Great Again!” Another told Trump that he had “married well.”
Trump told state officials and first responders that his administration is trying to keep people “as happy as we can under the circumstances. In many cases, they’ve lost their homes and it’s a tough situation.”
In Lee County, which includes Cape Coral and Fort Myers, the Florida Emergency Management Agency said 66 per cent of the area’s 290,000 electrical customers were still without power Wednesday.
The situation was even worse to in Collier County, home to Naples. Days after Irma passed, almost 80 per cent of homes and businesses were still without electricity, and floodwaters still covered some communities entirely.
U.S. President Donald Trump, centre, and first lady Melania Trump, in white pants, arrive to hand out food to people impacted by hurricane Irma at Naples Estates on Thursday, in Naples, Fla.