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Trump Visits Storm-ravaged Florida, Praises First Responders

  • VOA News

President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, left, participate in a briefing on the Hurricane Irma relief efforts, Sept. 14, 2017, in Ft. Myers, Fla., after arriving at Southwest Florida International airport.

On a visit Thursday to storm-ravaged Florida, President Donald Trump applauded emergency personnel and the military for their response to Hurricane Irma, which inflicted heavy damage several days ago as it churned up the western side of the state.

"The job that everybody has done is incredible," Trump said shortly after arriving in Fort Myers, his first of two stops in Florida and where he received a briefing on recovery efforts.

There were at least 25 storm-related deaths in Florida, and the president praised first responders and relief crews for preventing even more.

"While people unfortunately passed, it was such a small number that nobody would have ... people thought thousands and thousands of people may have their lives ended and the number is a very small number, which is a great tribute to you," he said.

Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, also visited Naples. The center of Irma passed through Fort Myers and Naples as the storm hit the state with strong winds and a combination of heavy rain and a storm surge that caused widespread flooding.

'We are there for you'

Trump shook hands as he walked through a Naples community and served lunch outside a trailer park as he was flanked by Pence and the first lady.

"We are there for you 100 percent," Trump said.

He has already declared Florida a major disaster area, a move that speeds up the release of federal relief funds.

Officials have cautioned that it will take a long time to repair the damage left by the hurricane, which also devastated several Caribbean islands. A top priority is restoring power to the estimated 3 million customers across the state still without it. Utility companies said full restoration could take a week or more.

Police tape surrounds the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Fla., Sept. 13, 2017.
Police tape surrounds the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Fla., Sept. 13, 2017.

Officials were investigating whether a lack of electricity to run air conditioning was to blame for the deaths of eight nursing home patients in Hollywood, Florida.

The deaths were discovered when a hospital across the street began receiving elderly patients suffering from heat exhaustion, which led to all 115 people at the home being evacuated.

Criminal probe

Governor Rick Scott has called for a criminal investigation, calling the situation "unfathomable."

The retirement home had apparently been without electricity since the storm struck. It is not clear why generators failed to keep the building cool.

Scott ordered authorities to check on other nursing facilities. About 64 of the state's nearly 700 facilities still lacked power Thursday afternoon, according to the Florida Health Care Association.

In the Florida Keys, about one-quarter of the homes were destroyed and about 65 percent heavily damaged, federal officials said.

Soldiers of the 602nd Area Medical Support Company walk out to their C-17 transport plane on Pope Army Airfield as they are deployed to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands to aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, at Fort Bragg, N.C., Sept. 13, 2017.
Soldiers of the 602nd Area Medical Support Company walk out to their C-17 transport plane on Pope Army Airfield as they are deployed to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands to aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, at Fort Bragg, N.C., Sept. 13, 2017.

The U.S. Coast Guard continued to work Thursday to clear roads and carry out search-and-rescue missions across the Keys. Officials said it would be some time before many people were allowed back in to see what is left of their properties.

Trump's visit to Florida was his third in three weeks to storm-damaged areas of the U.S. He visited Texas twice after Hurricane Harvey caused record flooding in and around Houston, killing at least 60 people and causing about $180 billion in damage.

France, Britain

Elsewhere, France and Britain have promised to boost aid to those hit by the storms in their Caribbean territories.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited St. Martin and St. Barthelemy on Wednesday after stopping on Guadeloupe. Macron has acknowledged the angry responses some people have had to what they see as inadequate help from France. Macron promised more supplies and security forces for the islands.

A crew member aboard the Coast Guard cutter Valiant brings a dog aboard after evacuating more than 95 people and pets from St. Thomas as part of Hurricane Irma response and relief efforts in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 12, 2017.
A crew member aboard the Coast Guard cutter Valiant brings a dog aboard after evacuating more than 95 people and pets from St. Thomas as part of Hurricane Irma response and relief efforts in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 12, 2017.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson toured Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands on Wednesday. Irma was a Category 5 storm when it clobbered the islands last week. Johnson said more security forces and "huge quantities of supplies" were coming, and that he expected Prime Minister Theresa May to announce further aid.

The United Nations was airlifting food and other vital relief to the islands of Antigua, St. Martin and the Turks and Caicos.

The hurricane killed at least 37 people in the Caribbean and devastated the islands, including Barbuda, which has evacuated all of its citizens to Antigua.

VOA's Chris Hannas and Wayne Lee contributed to this report

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