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.

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