WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump traveled to Tennessee on Friday to survey the wreckage left by a powerful and deadly storm system that ripped through the state Tuesday, leveling homes and killing at least 25 people.
He stopped in Cookeville, Tenn., one of the hardest hit areas located east of Nashville, where he praised local officials including Gov. Bill Lee as well as the work of FEMA. In Putnam County, Trump’s motorcade arrived in a residential area, where he surveyed the wreckage alongside Lee, who said it had been a “tragic, painful week for our state.”
“They’re wiped out. They have nothing,” Trump said. “We’re going to be with them all the way.”
The president was expected to visit with survivors before leaving Tennessee on Friday afternoon.
He vowed to provide federal support for the state’s recovery efforts, which was approved on Thursday after Lee declared a state of emergency in the wake of the deadly storms. The funds were made available to Davidson, Putnam and Wilson counties.
Trump met emergency responders and survivors at the Church of Christ in Cookeville, where recovery efforts were underway.
“We have done everything we need to do and our hearts go out to you,” he told survivors. “When you have those who lost somebody that’s a very tough situation … We are with you all the way.”
He also met 61-year- Lamar Redmond, who told the president he lost his sister and brother-in-law in the tornado and doesn’t want anyone in the community to get left behind.
“He is a caring president,” Redmond said. “I thought he was just going to do a flyby, but he was out here walking among us.”
Like presidents before him, Trump has often traveled to sites in the aftermath of natural disasters, playing the role of “comforter-in-chief.”
Trump has made at least a dozen trips to tour damage from tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires since he took office in 2017. In the beginning of his term, those trips often made news, such as when he lobbed paper towels at residents in Puerto Rico in 2017 following hurricanes Irma and Maria. More recently his trips to weather-ravaged locales have come and gone with little controversy.
The president traveled to Florida in May to meet with victims of Hurricane Michael, which struck the state’s panhandle as a Category 5 storm.
“You got hit with a little hurricane,” Trump said of the city he visited less than a week after the storm hit. “Michael was not a nice hurricane, I can tell you that. But we’re doing well.”
The Trump administration was widely criticized early in his term for its response to the storms in Puerto Rico – criticism he continues to push back on – but since then has generally avoided high-profile skirmishes with local officials following catastrophes.
The president has also sought to downplay panic over the coronavirus outbreak as health officials warn Americans to prepare for it to further spread. The U.S. has confirmed more than 200 cases of coronavirus across 19 states, according to Johns Hopkins University. Twelve people have died after contracting the virus.
Contributing: John Fritze; Joel Ebert, Adam Tamburin and Jason Gonzales, Nashville Tennessean