PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump got a bird’s-eye view Monday of Florida communities left in ruins by Hurricane Michael, including houses without roofs, a toppled water tower and 18-wheel trucks scattered in a parking lot during a nearly hour-long helicopter tour of portions of the Panhandle.
Trump initially saw uprooted trees and houses with blue tarps covering damaged roofs after his helicopter lifted from Eglin Air Force Base near Valparaiso. But the severity of the damage worsened significantly as Trump approached Mexico Beach, a town of about 1,000 people that was nearly wiped off the map in a direct hit from the hurricane and its 155 mph winds last week.
Many of the houses in Mexico Beach had no roofs. In some cases, only the foundations were left standing. The water tower lay on its side and 18-wheelers were scattered in a parking lot like a child's toys.
Trump also saw Tyndall Air Force Base, which was heavily damaged by the storm.
Reporters trailed the president in a separate helicopter.
At the end of the tour, Trump landed at an airport near Panama City, where power poles bowed toward the ground, pieces of metal roofing were scattered in brush land and pine trees had been uprooted or were snapped off halfway up their straight trunks. On the drive toward Panama City, the president could see houses smashed by trees, bent billboards and a demolished trailer park. Power crews were working to restore power.
More than 190,000 homes and businesses in Florida were without electricity as of Sunday, along with about 120,000 in Georgia, where Trump also planned to survey hurricane damage.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott greeted Trump upon his arrival at Eglin Air Force Base, and Trump immediately praised Scott for an "incredible" storm response.
"The job they've done in Florida has been incredible," Trump told reporters. With Scott at his side, Trump told him: "You're a great governor."
Scott returned the praise, saying he's gotten everything he's asked for from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said he's spoken with Trump "almost every day."
"Every time I've called, he's come through," Scott said of Trump.
Trump tweeted before leaving the White House accompanied by his wife, Melania, that he will meet with law enforcement and government officials aiding the massive recovery effort. He said "maximum effort is taking place, everyone is working very hard. Worst hit in 50 years!"
He tweeted after arriving in Florida that he's "also thinking about our GREAT Alabama farmers and our many friends in North and South Carolina today. We are with you!" Trump was also surveying hurricane damage in Georgia before returning to the White House later Monday.
The death toll from Michael's destructive march from Florida through to Virginia stood at 17, with just one confirmed death in Mexico Beach.
Superville reported from Washington.