Panama City Beach- Monday was an historic day for Bay County. Michelle Obama became the first sitting First Lady to visit Bay County when she arrived for a briefing on the oil-spill, then made remarks at an invitation only event on Panama City Beach.
First Lady Michelle Obama arrived at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport around 2:30 Monday afternoon. "Well it's a great opportunity to welcome the First Lady to our community and we're very excited at the airport here to have choose us as her arrival and departure point," said Randy Curtis, Airport Executive Director.
From the airport the First Lady headed to the Tourist Development Council to speak with local officials and business leaders regarding the toll the BP oil disaster has taken on the local economy. "The ramifications I think will probably come maybe in another year or so, because the people who are not coming on vacation may not come back. And so it's the loss of business and unfortunately that's a way of life for us," said Panama City Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst.
The First Lady arrived at the Boardwalk Beach Resort to a rousing welcome. The 200 invited guests included state and local leaders as well as residents who've lived here their entire lives. "I've got sand in my shoes, well I guess that means I will be back, right?" said Obama.
During her 15 minute speech she praised the beauty of our beaches. "It's welcoming, it's pristine, and everybody should come here!" said Obama. She also reinforced a crucial message. "It's important for the rest of the country to know these places are just as beautiful as they have always been." Obama also shared a possible solution. "Truly, the best thing your fellow Americans can do is come down here and spend some money."
After the speech Ms. Obama spent some time signing autographs and posing for pictures. "I can't even explain how wonderful it is for her to be here and to be apart of it, that's just... I have no words for that," said Patricia Boyd, who grew up in Bay County. "I was uplifted by what she said. I hope the nation sees that this really is the most beautiful places on the planet," said Chief Mark Bowen, the head of the Emergency Operations Center. "It's beautiful, spectacular, and it's great to have Mrs. Obama echo that message to the nation," said Panama City Beach City Council member John Reichard.
While most say her visit helps, some say more needs to be done. "The regulatory agencies are far too stringent on what they are allowing. Those agencies have to work together. People are blaming BP. BP is constrained by those agencies," said Bob Zales II, a charter boat fisherman.
After her speech the First Lady headed to the Pink Pelican Ice Cream Parlor to cool off and speak with more locals and visitors alike. What did she order? A single scoop of Chocolate Hurricane ice cream.
Owner Rick Dormand was shocked and excited to find out just minutes before her arrival that the First Lady wanted to stop by. "It was very nice to actually meet her, very pleasant, very sweet and she took her time, she took time to speak with my customers." A sweet ending to a visit that many hope brings positive publicity to our beautiful beaches.
Ms. Obama also said the president is doing all he can to make sure the oil leak gets plugged, that the beaches stay clean, and that BP is held responsible for the damage the disaster has caused.
A man, who was protesting BP, was removed for being in an unauthorized area. He was shouting "We want the truth from BP" and holding a sign.