WHITE HOUSE —
U.S. President Donald Trump declared Hurricane Irma a major disaster for the state of Florida Sunday, and ordered federal government officials to make a priority of supplying aid to the worst-hit areas of the country's third most populous state.
“I hope there aren’t too many people in that path,” Trump said. “We tried to warn everybody. That’s a bad path to be in.”
The president spoke outside the White House just after he and first lady Melania Trump returned to Washington from Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.
Trump held meetings about the federal government's hurricane response earlier in the day, and said there would be more discussions of the weather crisis in the southern United States. Coordination among federal, state and other agencies responding to the hurricane has been proceeding “really well,” the president said, but “the bad news is that this is some big monster.”
Trump’s disaster declaration made federal aid funds available to storm victims in a wide area of southern Florida, where floods and other storm damage has affected millions of people. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the disaster.
Federal funds also are available for emergency work throughout Florida.
Hurricane Irma caused death and devastation in the Caribbean before turning north and crashing into Florida. Trump said the storm was “about the biggest ever recorded that hit land.”
Asked by a reporter to estimate the economic impact, the president responded: “It’s going to cost a lot of money. Right now, we’re worried about lives, not money.”
During a briefing earlier at Camp David, White House officials said Trump advised he has been in regular contact with state governors in the hurricane’s path, as well as governors of territories already impacted by the storm.
‘We need help’
The president also issued a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico Sunday and expanded federal funds available for the U.S. Virgin Islands for hurricane recovery efforts.
“We need help. We need the United States government to step up. We need military. We need security,” blogger Jenn Manes posted on the News of St. John Facebook page on Sunday. “We all survived this monster storm. But will we survive the aftermath? No one knows.”
The U.S. government has evacuated more than 1,200 people from the U.S. Virgin Islands since Friday, the State Department reported.
“Wherever Hurricane Irma goes, we’ll be there first,” Vice President Mike Pence told reporters Sunday on a visit to the headquarters in the capital of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with several Cabinet members.
“Saving lives is the priority of all of us from the president to (Florida) Governor Scott on down. And we’ll stay focused on the life-saving mission,” Pence added.
Trump's full Cabinet met to discuss the hurricane on Saturday at Camp David. Their discussions also touched on the president's plans for tax cuts and overall tax reform. “I think now with what’s happened with the hurricane I’m going to ask for a speedup,” Trump said. “I wanted a speed-up anyway, but now we need it even more so.”