Trump Visits Southwestern Florida Amid Hurricane Irma Recovery Efforts

Sep 14, 2017
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence traveled to south Florida today to areas walloped by Hurricane Irma. Together they walked through a badly damaged neighborhood in Naples. And joining us to talk about that visit is NPR's Russell Lewis. Hi, Russell.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: So where exactly did the president go in Naples? Who did he talk to there?

LEWIS: Yeah, so he spent most of his time in a mobile home park. It was called Naples Estates. And there were, you know, pockets of heavy damage everywhere. I mean I saw roofs that were completely ripped off. I saw other roofs that were partially ripped off. I saw trees that were knocked over. And really no matter where you walk, you saw debris everywhere. We should remember; the storm hit, you know, Sunday into Monday.

CHANG: Yeah.

LEWIS: If you think how many days that is and just seeing that debris - you know, I saw power poles that were snapped cleanly in half. And all throughout this neighborhood at least, electricity was still off. And it's really hot today. Like most days in Florida in the summertime, you know it's in the 90s...

CHANG: Sure.

LEWIS: ...With high humidity. But the president walked through one of the streets. He was chatting with folks. He also went to a food line. And he and the vice president handed out sandwiches and drinks to people there.

CHANG: What about the reception he got there? How did residents react to the president's visit?

LEWIS: Oh, they were ecstatic. You know, I mean they were so happy to see them and to have them there, right there in their neighborhood. There were representatives from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that were there as well as some insurance adjusters. I also spoke to resident Dave Newkirk afterwards. His home was completely destroyed, but he loved the fact that the president visited his neighborhood.

DAVE NEWKIRK: Well, at least he's not golfing. And you know, he cares about the people. He's been in Texas, Louisiana. So this is where he really belongs. Well, I guess he loves us, and he loves the Americans. And he's got a full grasp.

LEWIS: And when you're talking about being in Texas and Louisiana, that's when the president visited those states after hurricane Harvey. Newkirk says that he plans to rebuild but somewhere else in Naples. You know, I spoke with about a half dozen homeowners there, and everyone, like Newkirk - they voted for Trump, and they were just so pleased that he was there.

But I did say that (laughter) - I spoke to a few folks who lived in a condominium complex across the street - also damaged, also without power. And they were actually a bit disappointed that the president didn't stop by to see them.

CHANG: (Laughter) Well, are power outages widespread still?

LEWIS: You know, in parts of the state, yeah. You know, at the height of the storm, about two-thirds of the state - two-thirds of the state was without power. You know, and there have been steady improvements on that front. At last check, about 2.3 million customers still do not have power, and that's about 22 percent of the state.

I saw three gas stations that were open here in Naples, and those three - all of them had lines at least 30 cars deep. And two of those gas stations had a police officer at the head of the line to make sure that no one got unruly.

CHANG: Wow. So Russell, I know you know the area well there. How would you describe what Naples looks like now compared to what it looked like before the storm?

LEWIS: Yeah. Gosh, you know, I used to live here in the older part of Naples. And I'm actually - where I'm speaking to you from is really sort of in the general neighborhood where I lived. And I mean I have to say; it's shocking - the amount of damage, the royal palm trees that were knocked over, the stately banyan trees that are uprooted. It's just sad. And it's like a totally different place.

I mean this is a place known for its beauty, a place where snowbirds come to spend the winter. And I think when the winter visitors return in a few months, they're going to find that this place is not at all like they remember it. But you see signs of progress. Several restaurants are open, and there's also a grocery store. And some of the traffic lights are functioning once again.

CHANG: OK. That's NPR's Russell Lewis in Naples, Fla. Thank you.

LEWIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.