• Trumps visit storm-ravaged Georgia, Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael

    By: Jeremy Redmon, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Updated:

    MACON, Ga. - President Donald Trump and first lady, Melania, arrived at Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia Monday afternoon aboard Air Force One.

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    The first couple toured areas impacted by Hurricane Michael after first visiting the devastation in the Florida Panhandle.

    The hurricane killed at least 18 people, knocked out power to millions, left a trail of destruction through four states and decimated Georgia’s agricultural industry.

    During his first stop in Georgia at a Red Cross facility, the president said he would ask Congress for additional disaster aid funding. 

    When he was asked about climate change and if he ever thought weather would occupy so much of his time during his presidency, he responded: “Weather has been a factor and yet, they say [the] worst hurricanes were 50 years ago.

    “For a long period of time, we’ve had very few,” he said, according to reporters traveling with the president. “I have a home in Palm Beach Florida and frankly for years, we had none and then, the last couple of years we had more. Hopefully, we’ll go back to many years of having none. We’ve been hit by the weather, there is no doubt about it.” 

    Gov. Nathan Deal greeted Trump at Robins. And U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, and Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, accompanied Trump. 

    Trump also weighed in on several other issues during his stop in Georgia, including the disappearance of a dissident Saudi journalist in Turkey. Trump said a lot of people in his administration are working on the case involving Jamal Khashoggi, the missing columnist for The Washington Post. He added he is sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Saudi King Salman about it.

    The president called the nation’s immigration laws the “dumbest in the history...and we are getting them changed one by one.” Further, he responded to the news that U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren had released the results of a DNA test that she said indicated she had Native American ancestry. In releasing the results, the Massachusetts Democrat was responding to taunts from Trump and others, who have mocked her as “Pocahontas” and claimed she used her heritage to gain an advantage when she was a law professor. Trump had vowed to contribute $1 million to Warren’s favorite charity if she took a DNA test and it showed she had Native American roots.

    “I’ll only do it if I can test her personally, and that will not be something I will enjoy doing either,” he said in Georgia Monday.

    Trump left the Red Cross building to visit a local farm, where he planned to meet cotton and pecan growers who have suffered storm-related losses. 

    On Sunday, Trump issued a disaster declaration for Georgia and ordered federal aid for parts of the Peach State affected by the storm. The president's decision makes federal funding available to people in Baker, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Miller, and Seminole counties. That funding can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs.

    Federal funding will also be made available to state and local government agencies and nonprofit groups on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in the the following 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.

    Georgia residents and business owners can begin applying Monday for assistance by registering at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362.

    The president stopped in Georgia after surveying hurricane damage in Lynn Haven, Fla., where volunteers were registering storm victims. 

    “These are some of the people who make it work, and they do it beautifully,” Trump said, according to reporters traveling with the president. 

    “Somebody said it was like a very wide, extremely wide, tornado,” Trump said, standing next to Florida Gov. Rick Scott. “This was beyond any winds they’ve seen for — I guess — 50 years. Nobody has seen anything like it.” 

    Scott thanked Trump for the federal response. 

    “I want to thank the president for always taking my call — and for showing up. And I want to thank the First Lady,” he said. 

    Georgia Power said that as of noon Monday it had restored power to 97 percent of its customers impacted by the storm. 

    Candace Reese, spokeswoman for Dougherty County, said Sunday that about 14,000 people were without power in the Albany area but officials expected power to be back by midweek. Churches and Tyson Foods were offering hot meals as 10 extra chainsaw crews headed down to cut the city out from under the many trees that fell.

    Phil Buckhalter, an Early County farmer near the Alabama border, said Saturday that conditions were getting worse and would continue that way, with farmers and residents alike running out of gas to power generators. With no clear answer to when power will return, Buckhalter and other farmers have been sharing the precious fuel they have on their farms with desperate residents, who don’t have the means to get their own. The farmers want to help less fortunate residents who aren’t as well off, and certainly not after an unprecedented hurricane. 

    But that means the farmers can’t use the gas to power machinery for saving the few crops they have left in their battered, soggy fields. 

    “It’ll run out directly,” Buckhalter said. 

    Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said his office is scrambling to get generators up and running and to reopen sites where peanuts can be graded and dried.

    “One of the things we are working on right now is bringing things back on line,” he said as he awaited Trump in Macon. “There are so many places and people that are still without power. And our team has been working together on some of those priority places to get plants back open.”

    The hurricane has also whipped up the race for Georgia governor. Republican Brian Kemp traveled to southwest Georgia on Saturday to help local officials prepare for the start of early voting and returned to the area on Monday. His campaign organized a disaster relief drive and briefed supporters from a distribution center in Bainbridge. 

    “The response on the ground, while there is much to do, has been unbelievable from the federal, state and friends and neighbors who are helping men and women indeed,” Kemp said. “It makes you proud to be in Georgia.” 

    His rival, Democrat Stacey Abrams, ticked through the spate of hurricanes that ravaged her hometown of Gulfport, Miss., to a crowd in Macon as she outlined how she would handle disaster recovery if elected. 

    “It’s about immediate response and also about long-term planning,” she said. “And I’m running for governor because I believe in making sure that we have a leader who sees these communities not only in the moment of devastation and the immediate aftermath, but a year out when folks have walked away and supplies have dwindled. “ 

    The New York Times, the Associated Press, The Washington Post and AJC staff writers Ben Brasch, Greg Bluestein and Joshua Sharpe contributed to this report.

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