By Morgan Bryce and Michelle Key
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania traveled to Lee County today to tour the devastation caused by Sunday’s tornadoes.
The Trumps arrived via Marine One this morning at the Auburn University Regional Airport. They shook hands with a delegation that included Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Sen. Doug Jones, Adjutant Gen. Sheryl Gordon, AEMA director Brian Hastings, Sheriff Jay Jones, Lee County Commission Chairman Judge Bill English and Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller.
In caravan-like fashion, the Trumps, staffers and media in attendance traveled into the heart of the Beauregard community which was hardest hit by the EF-4 tornado. Along with Lee County Emergency Management Agency director Kathy Carson, the president evaluated the damage on Lee Road 38, which he described as horrendous.
“Well, I saw this (devastation) from the air and it’s hard to believe actually. Kathy has done an incredible job and Governor Ivey has done an incredible job and we really appreciate what they’ve done (during this time),” the president said.
There, he also spoke with the family of Marshall Lynn Grimes, who was one of the 23 individuals who lost their lives during Sunday’s storms which is pictured above.
The next stop was at Beauregard’s Providence Baptist Church, which has operated as a recovery operations center this week. Other dignitaries including Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson, Ivey, Sen. Richard Shelby and Congressman Mike Rogers were present.
Before meeting with volunteers inside the church’s sanctuary, the president spoke to Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland about the damage his city received.
Raucous cheers greeted the Trumps as they entered the sanctuary. For nearly 15 minutes, the Trumps signed autographs and spoke to the gathered crowd, even posing for photographs.
As they were leaving, amidst the chanting of “USA, USA!” by the crowd, the president offered a final piece of encouragement to those helping lead the community’s recovery efforts.
“We love you all and thank you all. We love the state of Alabama,” the president said.
State dignitaries expressed their gratitude for the president’s visit and expedition with the FEMA emergency declaration process.
“It’s wonderful that the President and the First lady would come and show the importance of standing up to help fellow Alabamians and Americans. It shows the importance of everybody getting strong and helping these folks,” Ivey said.
Prior to the president’s arrival, Senator Jones spoke of his tour of the damage in Smiths Station yesterday, praising the efforts of first responders and volunteers through difficult circumstances.
“I’d like to show my support for the president coming down here, expediting that emergency declaration the way that he did. When you can show support for a community, you need to go all out as best you can,” Jones said. “We can talk about different things in our history and heritage, but when you boil it down, what sets Alabama apart is how we treat each other in times of need. People are always there for each other. This is not Republicans versus Democrats, not black or white, no Christian or Muslim, they’re just Alabamians. That’s what we do best.”
Sheriff Jones stated that local law enforcement and volunteers will transition into the recovery phase as early as Monday of next week.
Follow the Observer for updates on recovery relief efforts across Lee County as they develop.