President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are scheduled to travel to Florida’s Panhandle today to get a firsthand look at the devastation in the region wrought by Hurricane Michael.
The president was also scheduled to visit South Georgia, which also was battered by Michael. The storm came ashore Wednesday before moving up the East Coast with 155 mph winds.
Late Sunday, Trump declared a state of emergency in Georgia, releasing federal resources to help the state. The White House said it was fully committed to helping state and local agencies with recovery efforts.
As a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, Michael was one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in U.S. history. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long has called the destruction some of the worst he’s ever seen. Before being appointed to head FEMA by President Trump, Long held emergency management positions in Georgia and Alabama, and with a private consulting firm.
As of Sunday, the storm had killed nearly 20 people in four states, while dozens more remained missing in Florida Panhandle communities. FEMA spokesman David Passey said: “We are confident that the number of people not yet accounted for will decline as family members can reconnect.”
Passey said FEMA and other agencies will remain in the area for several months to aid the recovery. The death toll was expected to rise as rescue officials continue their search for bodies or survivors. But damaged roads and infrastructure brought by the storm has hampered rescue efforts, officials say.
One of the hardest hit communities was Mexico Beach, Florida, whose mayor said dozens of residents remained unaccounted for.
“If we lose only one life, to me that’s going to be a miracle,” Mayor Al Cathey told reporters. He said of the 1,000 residents of Mexico Beach, 46 remained missing.
Cathey estimated 250 residents stayed behind when the hurricane struck. He said search-and-rescue teams in the beach town had combed areas with the worst damage. He said enough food and water had been brought in for the residents who remain. Even some cellphone service had returned to the devastated community.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said the storm left Mexico Beach with heavy debris and rubble, with some homes blown across the street. He said more than 1,700 search workers have been deployed to check 25,000 homes.