WASHINGTON D.C. — President Donald Trump lauded the response to Hurricane Irma upon returning to the White House from Camp David on Sunday, adding that he intends to go to Florida “very soon” to survey the recovery efforts.
“I think it’s been going really well,” Trump told reporters. “I mean the bad news is this is some big monster, but I think we’re really well-coordinated.”
The President reserved special praise for the Coast Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“(A) group that really deserves tremendous credit is the United States Coast Guard,” Trump said, standing next to first lady Melania Trump. “What they’ve done, I mean, they’re going right into that, and you never know. When you go in there, you don’t know if you’re going to come out.”
When asked what worries him most about the storm, Trump said “just the power of this hurricane,” adding that his team will continue to monitor its path and work on coordination between the federal, state and local governments.
The President added that the response and recovery is “gonna cost a lot of money. Right now, we’re worried about lives, not cost.”
Trump, who is weathering his second hurricane as President in as many weeks, received an update earlier Sunday on the status of Irma as it continues to slam Florida.
Trump was briefed by teleconference on the hurricane’s projected path, evacuation plans and preparations for response and recovery, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
The President’s main concerns are the people in the affected areas and ensuring a “whole-of-government response,” said acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, who participated in the briefing.
“This is going to be a long recovery, hurricane response” with widespread power outages, Duke told CNN. “He really wants to make sure that we’re taking care of the people.”
About 1.2 million residents were already without power, Duke said, reiterating that outages could affect as many as 5 million people.
“What we’re going to need is … perseverance,” she said. “It’s going to be a long recovery. The critical infrastructure, the electric companies are going to be huge in this response, and also getting the word out so people know that it may not be (an) immediate search-and-rescue recovery depending on how this storm progresses — setting expectations.”
The President is focused on keeping in communication with the governors of the affected states so that the federal government can respond to their requests as quickly as possible, Duke said.
The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA will continue to brief Trump at least daily, she said, adding, “but he is at the touch of a dial away from us.”
The President, who has been meeting with Cabinet members at Camp David this weekend, spoke by phone Sunday morning with the governors of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, Sanders said. Florida Gov. Rick Scott mentioned the call to CNN anchor Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
Vice President Mike Pence and other Cabinet members also visited FEMA’s headquarters Sunday afternoon.
While there, Pence told reporters Trump has been monitoring the storm around the clock and has directed the full resources of the government to help in the response.
“This continues to be a very dangerous storm,” Pence said, calling Irma a hurricane of “epic proportions.” He reiterated that citizens need to heed the warnings of local officials either to shelter in place, if directed to do so, or evacuate.
The briefing the President received at Camp David caused Trump “great concern” because, as the hurricane moves up the west coast of the state, the storm surge could result in deaths, Pence told CNN.
“We need to take this seriously,” he said. “We need to remain vigilant.”
On Saturday, Trump said he approved emergency declarations in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
“My administration is monitoring the situation around the clock, and we’re in constant communications with all of the governors, with the state and local officials,” Trump said in a video of the meeting released by the White House.
“We’re doing everything possible to help save lives and support those in need,” he said. “Again, we’ve never seen anything like this. Together, we will restore, recover and rebuild. We will do it quickly.”