- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2017

President Trump toured a neighborhood in Naples, Florida, Thursday that was ravaged by Hurricane Irma, telling residents trying to put their lives back together that the federal government was there for them “100 precent.”

“We love these people. We’re going to be back, and we’re going to help them,” Mr. Trump told a group of people as he walked down one of the streets. “I want to tell you we love you and we are there for you 100 percent.”

This was the president’s third visit to a natural disaster zone in as many weeks since back-to-back hurricanes hit Texas, Louisiana and Florida, kicking the Federal Emergency Management Agency into high gear.

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The major storms have also put Mr. Trump’s leadership to the test.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr. Trump commended the “fantastic” job FEMA and Florida Gov. Rick Scott had done preparing and responding to the massive hurricane.

Irwin Redlener, director of National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said that he was impressed so far with the federal response to the two major hurricanes that struck just days apart.

“They are doing very well. This is a night and day situation from what we had around Katrina and even what we had for response to Super Storm Sandy,” said Mr. Redlener, referring to storms that tested George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively.

He said that while Mr. Trump deserves credit for the way FEMA was operating, so did Mr. Obama for building back up an agency that had deteriorated under Mr. Bush.

Nearly half of Florida was engulfed by Hurricane Irma, which flooded neighborhoods, damaged homes and knocked out power to millions of people. At least 25 people in Florida have died under Irma-related circumstances, and six more in South Carolina and Georgia, many of them well after the storm had passed. The death toll across the Caribbean stood at 38.

Though the number of people with electricity had improved from earlier in the week, some 6.8 million people across the Florida peninsula continued to wait for power, and utility officials warned it could take a week or more for all areas to be back up and running.

At a relief staging area for food, water and other supplies, Mr. Trump helped out at a refreshments table stocked with fruit and sandwiches.

He was accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

“There’s Melania, she’s gorgeous!” said a woman in the crowd.

Mr. Trump had a difficult time fitting into the plastic gloves for handling food at the table, with one tearing as he put it on.

“They’re too small,” he said.

The president resorted to greeting people and pointing to the sandwiches for them to help themselves.

“Don’t forget a sandwich,” he said.

A man in a Trump campaign t-shirt and hat shook hands with the president and posed with him for photographers.

Mr. Trump smiled as the man yelled, “Make America great again!”

Florida’s southwestern coast is a haven for retirees seeking warm weather and beautiful sunsets across the Gulf of Mexico, but sweltering temperatures and the power outages left in the sotrm’s wake have put many residents at risk.

In Lee County, which includes Cape Coral and Fort Myers, 66 percent of the area’s 290,000 electrical customers were still without power Wednesday.

Widespread outages led to long lines outside of the relatively few stores, gas stations and restaurants that had reopened.

The situation was even worse to the south in Collier County, home to Naples. Days after Irma passed, almost 80 percent of homes and businesses were still without electricity, and floodwaters still covered some communities entirely.

The Florida Keys were particularly hard hit, with federal officials saying 90 percent of its homes were destroyed or heavily damaged. The remote island chain stretches nearly 100 miles into the Gulf of Mexico from Florida’s southern tip, connected by a single highway and series of bridges.

On Key West, at the end of the archipelago, hundreds of residents who had refused evacuation orders lined up on Wednesday outside the island’s Salvation Army outpost for water and military-style rations after enduring days of intense heat with little water, power or contact with the outside world.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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