As Hurricane Michael wreaks havoc on the Florida coastline and turns its fury northward, President Donald Trump will take to a stage at an ice rink in Erie, Pennsylvania, to address a crowd of supporters Wednesday at 7 p.m. Eastern time.
He announced Wednesday afternoon that he would not be skipping the rally, even though people on the nation’s unlucky southern coast were being pummeled by the worst storm to hit the U.S. mainland in nearly 50 years.
“I cannot disappoint the thousands of people that are there ― and the thousands that are going,” the president tweeted. “I look forward to seeing everyone this evening.”
The Category 4 hurricane made landfall at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. Dramatic photos and videos from the scene showed the utter devastation wrought by Michael’s 155 mph winds, crashing waves and surging water. The storm tore limbs from trees, ripped apart houses and flooded neighborhoods.
The whole picture of the destruction may not be known for days.
Trump’s decision not to change his plans because of an unfolding natural disaster recalls last fall’s Hurricane Maria. After that storm made landfall ― also on a Wednesday ― he called officials in Puerto Rico and pledged to offer federal resources as needed. He had recently taken action on hurricanes Harvey and Irma. He then spent a long weekend at his New Jersey golf resort, making no public statements as the island territory dissolved into a crisis that killed an estimated 1,400 people.
When Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Northeast in 2012, Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama ― then campaigning for a second term ― suspended his efforts, after some discussion. His opponent Mitt Romney did the same. Hurricane Matthew’s impending arrival in 2016 also led Obama to postpone a campaign event on behalf of Hillary Clinton. He was criticized earlier that year for remaining on vacation on Massachusetts’ Martha’s Vineyard when Louisiana sustained heavy flooding from prolonged rainfall.
This year, unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico allowed Michael to build up a massive amount of energy before slamming into the coast. While Trump has suggested that global warming is a hoax, researchers believe it will increase hurricanes’ destructive power.
Michael expected to veer northeast and hit Georgia with hurricane-force winds early Thursday. The storm is then expected to head farther north, over some areas that are still recovering from last month’s Hurricane Florence.
On Wednesday, after the window for evacuating areas in Michael’s path had closed, according to officials, Trump issued a message to those who stayed behind: “God bless you all.”