WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that "we may have been a little bit lucky" after Hurricane Irma veered from its original course and headed along Florida's west coast, instead of east. He said that path might be less destructive.
He said Irma will "cost a lot of money" but that he's most concerned at this point with saving lives.
Trump commented hours after the nearly 400-mile-wide storm blew ashore early Sunday in the Florida Keys, made landfall on Marco Island on the state's west coast and was barreling toward Tampa, which hasn't suffered a direct hit from a major hurricane in nearly 100 years.
He also spoke before state and local officials had begun to assess the damage.
"We may have been a little bit lucky in that it went on the west and it may not have been quite as destructive, but we're going to see," Trump said, addressing reporters after returning to the White House from Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland where he spent the weekend monitoring the storm.
"It's going to play out over the next five or six hours," said Trump, who was accompanied by his wife, Melania.
Trump deflected questions about the billions of dollars the government will be asked to spend to help communities in Florida and other affected states rebuild after Irma, saying "right now we're worried about lives, not cost."
Trump on Friday signed a $15.3 billion measure to replenish accounts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and speed federal assistance to victims of Hurricane Harvey, which struck southeast Texas and neighboring Louisiana towns just three weeks ago.
The president made two trips to Texas after Harvey struck. He said Sunday that "we're going to Florida very soon."
Trump said he'd be having additional meetings Sunday about coordination for the storm response.
The White House said Trump had received a "comprehensive update" on Irma earlier Sunday while at Camp David that included details on her status, forecasted path, evacuations and preparations for response and recovery. He thanked FEMA and the Homeland Security Department, which oversees the agency, for their efforts, and encouraged officials to also stay focused on the post-Harvey recovery.
Trump also spoke with the governors of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Forecasters warned that after churning up Florida's west coast, a weakened Irma could push into those states. The National Weather Service on Sunday issued a first-ever tropical storm warning for Atlanta,
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he also talked with Trump on Sunday.
Vice President Mike Pence and several Cabinet secretaries who were at Camp David for Trump's storm briefing later visited FEMA headquarters.
"The people of Florida need to know that our hearts and our prayers and all of our efforts are with them and will be with them until this storm passes," the vice president said. He said Irma was dangerous and life-threatening, and pleaded with people in the storm's path to "heed the warnings" of local officials.
"It's enormously important that every American in the path of this storm take the warnings of state and local officials to heart," Pence said.
At the White House, Trump described Irma as a "rough hurricane" and "some big monster" and said he was most concerned about its strength.
He said FEMA has been "incredible" and that the U.S. Coast Guard deserved "tremendous credit" for its storm response.
"If you talk about branding, no brand has improved more than the United States Coast Guard," said Trump, a former businessman.