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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump praised the federal response to the devastation of Hurricane Michael on Monday as he and first lady Melania Trump visited Florida and Georgia to view the damage firsthand.
"The job they've done, everybody has been incredible," the president said at a stop in Lynn Haven, Florida, pointing to FEMA, first responders and law enforcement.
"I think the governor would tell you we are doing a lot," he added later. "We are doing more than anybody would've done, and probably there hasn't been hits like this, certainly not very often. They say 50 years ago there was one that had this kind of power — 50 years ago, that's a long time. But we are helping the people, and we will always help the people."
The storm last week claimed at least 19 lives, with dozens of people still missing. Thousands of residents in the affected areas — from Florida to Virginia — remain without power, with damage from the storm expected to total in the billions of dollars.
With 155 mph winds and storm surges reaching 14 feet, Michael was the most powerful storm on record to ever hit the Florida Panhandle.
The Trumps were greeted when they arrived on the Florida Panhandle Monday morning by a group that included Florida Gov. Rick Scott, FEMA administrator Brock Long and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, among others.
The president and first lady took an aerial tour of the devastated coastline, flying over barren trees and roofless homes.
The Trumps then toured the damage in Lynn Haven, a town north of Panama City, with Mayor Margo Anderson and Scott, stopping by an aid distribution center where they passed out bottled water to residents.
More than 80 percent of homes in Lynn Haven were damaged beyond repair during the storm. “To see this personally is very, very tough,” Trump said.
Later, Trump downplayed the potential impact of man-made climate change on the severity of recent hurricanes that have devastated Southern states.
“For a long period of time, we’ve had very few [storms],” Trump said at a Red Cross facility in Georgia later that day.
“...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....there is something there, man-made or not.”
The president and first lady ended their trip on Monday with a visit to a soybean farm in Macon, Ga., where they met with farmers impacted by the storm. The agriculture industry, which contributes roughly $73 billion annually to the state’s economy and employs one in seven Georgians, was significantly impacted by Hurricane Michael.
FEMA director Brock Long warned of “generational damage” to crops in the affected areas. The Georgia Department of Agriculture has estimated $2 billion worth of economic damage due to the storm.
"You'll be okay," Trump reassured a farmer before he departed for Washington.