President Donald Trump hailed first responders Sunday for their efforts thus far in preparing for Hurricane Irma in Florida, singling out the Coast Guard for high praise.
"I'll be going to Florida very soon" to survey the damage and hear firsthand from Gov. Rick Scott, R-Florida, and others on the response, Trump said at the White House. He later Tweeted that he would make the trip on Thursday. Trump went twice to Texas and Louisiana following Hurricane Harvey.
Trump spoke late Sunday afternoon after arriving at the White House from the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, where he convened his Cabinet on the Irma response.
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"I think it's been going really well," Trump said. "It's a rough hurricane," he said, and "the Coast Guard has been amazing already. You've been hearing what they're doing right in the middle of the storm."
In addition, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) "has been incredible. We're working very well with the governor (Scott) and the other governors in the surrounding states."
"And I'll tell you what, we have great people, and a group that really deserves tremendous credit is the United States Coast Guard," Trump said. "If you talk about branding, no brand has improved more than the United States Coast Guard."
The Coast Guard carried out more than a thousand rescues in Hurricane Harvey and Rear Adm. Peter Brown, commander of the Coast Guard's 7th District covering Florida, said earlier "We are ready" for Hurricane Irma.
The 400-mile wide storm hit the Florida Keys early Sunday, unleashing violent wind gusts and storm-surge flooding, on a path that traced Florida's Gulf Coast.
At 5 p.m. Sunday, Irma's eyewall was about five miles north of Naples, Florida, which recorded a wind gust of 142 mph, the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Irma was downgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph as it approached Naples, the NHC said
U.S. Northern Command said that the military was working through FEMA to support authorities in Florida, as well as in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which were hit by Irma last week.
The amphibious assault ships Wasp and Kearsarge, and the dock landing ship Oak Hill, with Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard, were conducting a large offload of relief supplies in the Virgin Islands while continuing air search and rescue, NorthCom said.
"Over the past 24 hours in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft have conducted medical evacuations of 73 medical patients and the Defense Logistics Agency has delivered 2,000 tarps, 40 pallets of food, water and medical supplies," NorthCom said in a statement.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.