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Trump, first lady visit hurricane-ravaged Florida Panhandle

By Reuters - Oct 15,2018 - Last updated at Oct 15,2018

The presidential helicopter Marine One is seen flying along with Osprey planes over the areas destroyed by Hurricane Michael, in Mexico Beach, on Monday (AFP photo)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, United States — US President Donald Trump arrived in Florida’s storm-ravaged Panhandle on Monday to survey the destruction caused by deadly Hurricane Michael and said the top priority was food and housing for residents.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump were greeted by Governor Rick Scott upon their arrival at Eglin Air Force Base, about 160km west of where Michael came ashore last Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms on record to make landfall in the continental United States.

The Trumps also planned to visit part of Georgia that was hit by Michael before they return to the White House on Monday evening, the White House said.

Trump, standing beside Scott, a fellow Republican who is running for the US Senate in the November 6 congressional elections, said the day’s biggest objective was “just making sure everyone is safe, that they’re fed”.

“You know many of these people, they have no homes,” Trump said before boarding a helicopter to tour the stricken area in northwestern Florida. “Some of them have no trace of a home... so our big thing is feeding, water and safety.”

Insured losses for wind and storm surge from Hurricane Michael will run between an estimated $6 billion and $10 billion, risk modeller AIR Worldwide said. Those figures do not include losses paid out by the National Flood Insurance Programme or uninsured property, AIR Worldwide said.

Michael hit the Florida Panhandle with 250kph winds as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

At least 18 people in four states have died because of the storm. Dozens of people remained missing on Sunday in Florida Panhandle communities left in ruins.

Rescuers said they expected the death toll to rise and they were using cadaver dogs and heavy equipment to search collapsed homes in small towns such as Mexico Beach and Panama City for more victims.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by blocked roads and huge piles of rubble in many communities such as Mexico Beach, which took a direct hit from the massive storm that killed at least one person there.

“If we lose only one life, to me that’s going to be a miracle,” Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey told Florida media.

Cathey told ABC News that 46 people out of the town of some 1,000 residents remained missing or unaccounted for on Sunday.

Survivors grappled with power outages and shortages of food and water amid the mazes of uprooted trees and debris. Electricity and telephone service were being slowly restored but it could be weeks before power returns to the state’s most damaged areas.

More than 1,700 search and rescue workers were deployed, Scott’s office said, including seven swift-water rescue teams and nearly 300 ambulances.

In Panama City, Fire Chief Alex Baird said search-and-rescue teams were now in “recovery mode” after largely giving up hope of finding any more survivors.

Trump is fully committed to helping state and local agencies with the recovery, the White House said. It was announced late on Sunday that he declared a state of emergency in Georgia, freeing up federal resources for the state. A similar declaration had already been made for Florida.

Trump last month visited North and South Carolina after they were hit by Hurricane Florence.

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