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Touring parts of Naples, Florida that were damaged by Irma, President Trump praised the work of first responders. Jonah Green reports.
HURRICANE IRMA | Long Road To Recovery

Trump tours Irma damage; Over 2 million still in dark

Thursday, September 14, 2017, 2:56 - U.S. President Donald Trump praised first responders in storm-ravaged Florida on Thursday for limiting the U.S. death toll from devastating Hurricane Irma, the second major storm to hit the United States this year.

Trump's visit came the day after police in Hollywood, Florida, launched an criminal investigation into a nursing home where eight patients died after the facility lost power and continued to operate with little or no air conditioning in sweltering heat.

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A destroyed trailer park is pictured in an aerial photo in the Keys in Marathon, Florida, U.S., September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The death toll from Irma stood at 81 on Thursday, including 38 in the United States, with several hard-hit Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands accounting for more than half of the fatalities.

Florida officials including Governor Rick Scott and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio greeted Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in Fort Myers, Florida.

The president, wearing a white baseball cap with "USA" written on it, later visited Naples, near where Irma first reached the U.S. mainland on Sunday, handed out sandwiches to resident at a feeding station under a blue shade pavilion. 

Trump praised first responders and local officials for their handling of the storm. 

"When you think of the incredible power of that storm, and while people unfortunately passed, it was such a small number," Trump said. "People thought thousands and thousands of people may have their lives ended and the number is a very small number, which is a great tribute to you."

The visit marked Trump's third visit to a storm-hit part of the United States in the past three weeks, following two visits to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's record flooding. It was seen as a clear bid to avoid the criticism that Republican President George W. Bush received for his administration's slow and inefficient response to 2005's Hurricane Katrina. 

That storm killed 1,800 people around New Orleans. 

Firefighters and medics responding to a Wednesday emergency call in Hollywood north of Miami found three people dead inside a building whose second floor the police chief later described as "extremely hot." 

Hollywood officials said eight people aged 71 to 99 died at the for-profit Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, but the causes were not yet determined. 

"We're looking into the temperature inside the facility, the staffing inside the facility, and all the conditions inside the facility in the hours leading up to this situation," Hollywood city spokeswoman Raelin Storey told a news conference on Thursday.


U.S. Southeast utilities said on Thursday they restored power to almost two-thirds of the 7.8 million homes and businesses knocked out by Hurricane Irma, leaving about 2.9 million customers, or some 6 million people, sweltering in the Florida and Georgia heat without air conditioning. 

Most of the remaining outages were in Florida Power & Light's service area in the southern and eastern parts of the state. FPL, the state's biggest electric company, said about 1.4 million customers had no power, down from more than 3.6 million on Monday. 

NextEra Energy Inc-owned FPL, which serves nearly 5 million homes and businesses, expects to restore power to essentially all its users, in the eastern portion of Florida by the end of the weekend and the harder-hit western portion of the state by Sept. 22.

Outages at Duke Energy Corp , which serves the northern and central parts of Florida, fell to 833,000, down from a peak of about 1.2 million on Monday. Duke said on its website it expects to restore service to most customers by midnight Sept. 17. 

High temperatures were forecast to reach the upper 80s Fahrenheit in Florida's two biggest cities, Jacksonville and Miami, and the mid-80s F in Atlanta over the next week or so, according to meteorologists at AccuWeather. 

Irma hit southwestern Florida Sunday morning as a Category 4 hurricane, the second most severe on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. On Monday, when most customers were without power, the storm weakened to a tropical depression. 

In Georgia, utilities reported outages declined to about 243,000, down from a peak of around 1.3 million on Monday.

Other big power utilities in Florida are units of Emera Inc and Southern Co, which also operates the largest electric company in Georgia.

Storm damage is seen from the air after hurricane Irma passed Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, September 11, 2017. Picture taken September 11, 2017. Captain George Eatwell RM/Ministry of Defence handout via REUTERS

Residents sit on their front porch watching water reside after Hurricane Irma in Everglades City, Florida, U.S., September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

The American Red Cross is opening shelters, sending supplies and putting volunteers in place around Florida. You can donate online or text "IRMA" to 90999 to chip in $10. If you want to volunteer, read this.

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