Trump dis­penses greet­ings, hoa­gies in Florida

President in­ter­acts with of­fi­cials, lo­cals in af­ter­math of Irma

Houston Chronicle - - NATION | WORLD - By Cather­ine Lucey and Ken Thomas

NAPLES, Fla. — President Don­ald Trump doled out hoa­gies and hand­shakes in the swel­ter­ing Florida heat 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 wa­ter­del­uged 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.

Prom­ise to re­turn

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 per­cent,” Trump said be­fore don­ning gloves and help­ing to hand out sand­wiches to lo­cal 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 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, lacked power Thurs­day.

But as Trump’s com­ments about Scott sug­gested, pol­i­tics wasn’t far from the sur­face in Florida, the largest and most piv­otal state in re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Trump de­feated Demo­crat Hillary Clin­ton in Florida last year by about 1 per­cent­age point.

‘We’re with you to­day’

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 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.

Doug Mills / New York Times

President Don­ald Trump and wife Me­la­nia visit Thurs­day with Naples, Fla., res­i­dents im­pacted by Hur­ri­cane Irma. Trump promised he will “be back here nu­mer­ous times.”

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