U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania are traveling Monday to survey parts of the Florida Panhandle devastated last week by Hurricane Michael.
The White House did not give a detailed schedule for the visit, which comes as search and rescue crews continue to look for people who remain missing after the storm.
Michael came ashore Wednesday as a powerful hurricane with maximum winds of 250 kilometers per hour and high storm surge that combined to knock down buildings, cut off electricity and leave debris strewn across coastal areas.
At least 17 deaths have been blamed on the storm along its path from Florida to Virginia.
Among the hardest hit areas was Mexico Beach, a Florida panhandle town that the state’s Governor Rick Scott said now resembles a war zone.
Ahead of the Trumps’ visit, Scott toured some of the devastation with Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long, who said the damage in Mexico Beach is some of the worst he has ever seen.
Mexico Beach police chief Anthony Kelly told VOA’s Spanish Service, “When you come here and see the devastation, it’s hard, it’s emotionally hard.”
“We know each person in the majority of the houses. They know us,” Kelly said. “All these people are close to us. And now we’re going around the neighborhoods making sure that they’re not in any of these houses that are so extremely damaged.”
“Looking in the debris, seeing photos of grandkids, people that we know that have come back here year after year, that’s the emotional side,” he said. “I’ve got officers that this is their first catastrophic event, and it’s hard to explain to them, you know, it’s going to get better, because they’re seeing reality.”
The town’s medical manager, Patricia Cantwell, said, “It’s extremely sad that the devastation has been so rampant throughout the Panhandle” of the state.
“Having lived through Hurricane Andrew in south Florida (in 1992), it’s going to take a while,” she told VOA. “It’s one day at a time. It looks overwhelming to start, but, you know, one day at a time. It’s going to take years to get things back up and running.”
President Trump signed a declaration Sunday saying the federal government will, for now, pay for 100 percent of the cleanup in Florida, temporarily easing the financial burden on the state.
Trump told the CBS news show 60 Minutes in an interview broadcast Sunday that he does not know if global waning is manmade, despite the scientific research showing that pollution and human activity is the major contributor. He said he does not want to give “trillions and trillions of dollars” and lose “millions and millions of jobs” to prevent it.
Most scientists link a warming planet with storms that are more intense. Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle last week as the strongest storm to strike the continental United States in nearly 50 years.
Trump said there have been hurricanes that were “far worse” than Michael and said scientists calling for action on climate change have a “very big political agenda.”
The president has over the years called global warming a hoax and had once called it a Chinese plot aimed at wrecking the U.S. economy.
“I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again,” Trump told CBS. “I don’t think it’s a hoax, I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade.”