ATLANTA - President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump flew to Georgia on Monday afternoon to survey damage left behind by Hurricane Michael.
The couple landed at Robins Air Force Base shortly before 4 p.m. after they toured the wreckage from the storm in the Florida Panhandle.
Channel 2's Dave Huddleston was there as Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and members of the 78th Air Base Wing greeted the Trumps.
Channel 2 Action News showed you live video of Air Force One landing just as Channel 2 Action News at 4 p.m. got underway.
Prior to arriving in Georgia, Trump stopped in Lynn Haven, Florida where he and Melania passed out water and other refreshments to Michael victims.
The president said someone described Hurricane Michael to him as being "like a very wide, extremely wide, tornado."
"They say that 50 years ago there was one with this kind of power. Fifty years ago. That is a long time but we are helping the people and we always will," Trump told reporters.
The Trumps initially saw uprooted trees and houses topped with blue tarps after his helicopter lifted off from Eglin Air Force Base near Valparaiso, his first stop after leaving Washington. But the severity of the damage worsened significantly as Trump approached Mexico Beach, which was nearly wiped off the map after taking a direct hit from the hurricane and its 155 mph (250 kph) winds last week.
Many of the houses in the town of about 1,000 people had no roofs. In some cases, only the foundations were left standing. A water tower lay on its side, and 18-wheelers were scattered in a parking lot like children's toys.
After arriving in Georgia, the president's motorcade swept him and the first lady to the Red Cross Command Center in Macon, where emergency crews continue to coordinate the organization's relief efforts across the state.
Channel 2 Action News had the only local reporter in Macon to cover the president's tour of the facility.
“I want to thank you for doing a terrific job, on behalf of the first lady and myself,” Trump told the workers.
The president also met with Red Cross leaders about the massive relief efforts by their organization and how it fits into the larger state and federal response.
“We have years when we’d have (no hurricanes). The last couple we had more. Hopefully we go back to none. We’ve been hit by weather, no question about it,” Trump said.
The areas Michael hit hardest are in far south Georgia.
“The people need very much basics at this point. They need safe shelter. They need food and water, with the power outages, which are improving, but they have caused wells not to work and just immediate services in the community just aren’t available,” Sherry Nicholson, with American Red Cross of Georgia, told Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant.
The Macon command center is where the Red Cross has been working with community partners to meet those needs.
The Red Cross of Georgia currently has more than 300 workers on the ground, and many are from other states.
“And they’re experts in areas of all the things we need to put an operation together, from logistics to feeding and sheltering to setting up what it takes to run a headquarters or a warehouse,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson told Diamant that the president’s trip to survey the damage and meet with top state leaders was a welcome visit.
“I think, for all of us in the disaster relief business, it’s always good to know that leadership in our country is aware of the need and is behind our organizations, who are working so hard to support folks, so that is always good to hear,” Nicholson said.
While inside the command center, the president praised not only the Red Cross' efforts, but those of all the federal agencies responding to Michael and, specifically, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Red Cross told Diamant it has three shelters in southwest Georgia and saw a spike Sunday night in the number of people showing up to them.
Officials said they are ready to set up more shelters if necessary.
Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to visit south Georgia towns damaged by the storm on Tuesday, although his office has yet to confirm those plans. He had scrapped a trip to Atlanta last week because of the hurricane.
On Monday, the White House approved Georgia's request for federal assistance for six counties impacted by Hurricane Michael: Baker, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Miller and Seminole counties.
Public assistance for emergency work and debris removal was also approved for 31 counties:
- Baker, Bleckley, Burke, Calhoun, Colquitt, Crisp, Decatur, Dodge, Dooly, Dougherty, Early, Emanuel, Grady, Houston, Jefferson, Jenkins, Johnson, Laurens, Lee, Macon, Miller, Mitchell, Pulaski, Seminole, Sumter, Terrell, Thomas, Treutlen, Turner, Wilcox and Worth counties.
Trump declared a state of emergency in Georgia on Wednesday, a designation that allows the state to tap into federal money, debris removal and other services to supplement local cleanup and rebuilding efforts.
Perdue and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black took an aerial tour of the damage on Sunday.
“Most devastating strike into the heart of Georgia Agriculture that I can remember. We are not talking in terms of tens of millions, but hundreds of millions. From what I have seen so far, I believe there will be an overall impact of over one billion dollars out of Georgia’s economy," Black said Monday.
The Associated Press and staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.
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