President Trump, First Lady to visit storm-ravaged Florida Panhandle

US

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will travel to Florida’s storm-ravaged Panhandle on Monday, the White House announced, in the president’s first tour of the destruction left by the deadly Hurricane Michael.

A sign is pictured on a damaged building in Mexico Beach, October 12, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

It was previously announced that Trump would also inspect south Georgia, also battered by the storm that came ashore on Florida’s Gulf Coast last week before it moved up the U.S. East Coast.

With 155 mph (250 kph) winds, Michael hit land on Oct. 10 as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in the continental United States since records have been kept.

The president’s exact itinerary was not released late on Sunday but he and the first lady are scheduled to arrive at Elgin Air Force Base in the Panhandle about 11:30 a.m. local time on Monday and are not scheduled to return to the White House until 8:30 p.m., the White House said.

Damaged and destroyed homes in Mexico Beach, October 12, 2018. REUTERS/Dronebase

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

Rescuers said they expected the death toll to rise and they were using cadaver dogs and heavy equipment to search through 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.

Slideshow (5 Images)

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, Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office said, including seven swift-water rescue teams and nearly 300 ambulances.

In Panama City, one of the hardest-hit communities, 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.

Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Panama City, Fla.; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Devika Krishna Kumar in Port St. Joe, Bernie Woodall in Florida, and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Tait

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