“We just left Florida, and the people there are thrilled with our people and our talent,” Trump said in Macon. “What they were not thrilled with was this hurricane.”
Congress approved $1.68 billion in emergency aid after Hurricane Florence — funds that were included in a broad reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this month. FEMA’s disaster aid account contains $31.7 billion, according to a spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Trump and the first lady arrived at Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County, Fla., and later went to Warner Robins, Ga. They were greeted by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Long and other officials.
“Rick Scott, your governor, has done an incredible job, and all of your people have been amazing — working with FEMA, working with the first responders, and always law enforcement,” Trump said before boarding a helicopter to survey the storm-damaged areas. He noted that the storm was so strong that some homes had been washed away entirely.
“Some of them have no trace of a home. You wouldn’t even know it,” Trump said, adding that the government’s priority was to provide food, power and safety to those affected.
Scott thanked Trump, who he said had “come through and done exactly what he said he was going to do.” Scott is in a tight Senate race against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, who did not appear with the president on Monday.
The Trumps then flew over devastated parts of Mexico Beach and Panama City, Fla. Mexico Beach is a tiny town that was nearly wiped out by the storm; the president’s helicopter tour took him over the debris-filled scene, which included thousands of uprooted trees, a toppled water tower and homes torn off their foundations.
At a FEMA aid distribution center in Lynn Haven, Fla., before handing out water bottles alongside his wife, the president described the damage caused by the storm that killed more than a dozen people after it made landfall last week.
“These are massive trees that have been just ripped out of the earth,” Trump said. “We’ve seen mostly water. And water can be very damaging, and scary, when you see water rising 14 or 15 feet. But nobody’s ever seen anything like this. This is really incredible.”
Trump noted that “we’re doing more than has probably ever been done,” and as he introduced himself to a police officer, said: “In 30 days, you will not recognize this place.”
Amid the heavy-duty debris clearance and continued search-and-rescue operations going on in Mexico Beach, residents stopped for a moment around midday as four helicopters, two of them military, made a low and slow pass over the demolished town.
Had the president opted for a ground tour of the hardest-hit areas, he would have found many supporters.
“It’s very good he’s coming down here, but I’m most thankful he waited a few days until search-and-rescue could do their thing,” David Childs of Griffin, Ga., said as he boarded up his beachfront vacation home. “If you see him, tell him the boys in 1B want to shake his hand.”
Jim Ostman, a 27-year resident of the town who rode out the hurricane in his condo, said that Trump was “absolutely doing enough for us.”
“I see what’s happening here. What they’re doing is incredible; everything is in a sequence and in line, and they’re following protocol,” he said, adding that “every single carpenter I know has lost his tools and truck, so help there would be nice.”
The helicopter route also took Trump near Tyndall Air Force Base, which was damaged by the storm.
After the helicopter tour, the president, first lady, Scott and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen surveyed a street of damaged homes in Lynn Haven. Trump shook hands and chatted with residents; he was accompanied by Lynn Haven Mayor Margo Anderson.
Michael made landfall on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, tearing through parts of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. The storm has killed at least 18 people, a number that officials say will probably rise as emergency crews work to reach some of the hardest-hit areas.
Scott noted on Sunday as he toured the area for a third day with Long that “one of the most frustrating problems is telecommunications.”
Since Thursday, 17,000 utility workers have arrived to rebuild and repair the crippled infrastructure, and 2,000 cellphone company workers and 18,000 search-and-rescue personnel have arrived in the region, joining 4,000 Florida National Guard troops and multitudes of police officers and firefighters.