President Donald Trump reassured residents of the storm-damaged Carolinas on Wednesday that “we’re giving you a lot of help” as he toured areas still dealing with flooding, power outages, and road and school closures from Florence, considered among the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
Trump visited several sites in North Carolina and South Carolina nearly a week after the storm, which began as Hurricane Florence, started dumping rain on the southeastern United States. The storm has caused widespread damage, and nearly 40 deaths across the Carolinas and Virginia.
“Some of the hardest work is taking place right now, even though it’s nice and beautiful and sunny,” Trump said as he led a briefing with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, D, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and others.
Trump praised the federal effort as well-organized and expansive. He said Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator William “Brock” Long, facing an inquiry for potential misuse of government cars, was doing an “incredible job.”
“In moments of despair, we’ve witnessed the true character of the American people. Citizens all across our country rallied to rescue the stranded, to protect the innocent, and to restore hope to families who’ve experienced tremendous and unbearable loss,” the president said.
“Our hearts break for you. God bless you.”
Trump visited a church distributing meals in New Bern, North Carolina, and helped hand out Styrofoam packages containing hot dogs, peas and apple sauce. He then toured a low-lying neighborhood where brick and clapboard houses were swamped by the Neuse River. Residents stood along streets and sidewalks and pointed out damage, including a beached yacht lodged against one resident’s deck.
“At least you got a nice boat out of the deal,” Trump joked to the man.
Speaking to reporters, Trump said the owner told him his insurance company didn’t want to pay for the damage to his home.
“We’re going to find out the name of the insurance company,” the president said.
“I think it’s incredible what we’re seeing,” he added. “This boat just came here.”
“They don’t know whose boat that is,” he added. “What’s the law? Maybe it becomes theirs.”
As people milled and took pictures under an incongruously sparkling sky, Trump seemed to enjoy his role as consoler and doler in chief. The federal bill for storm relief is still unclear, but one preliminary analysis said that property losses could total as much as $20 billion.
“We’re giving you a lot of help,” Trump told one woman, before stopping to hug another woman and to hear a third point to her badly damaged home and explain that the storm had been too much.
“We’re going to move,” she told Trump. She pointed to a pile of sodden furniture outside.
There was a lighthearted moment as one man told Trump that he had named his dog after the president.
“That’s nice,” Trump replied.
The federal response to Florence has gotten much better reviews than when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico a year ago. Trump was criticized not only for an uneven federal response to that storm but for an off-note moment during a visit to San Juan in October 2017, when he rolls of paper towels into a crowd at a hurricane relief center.
Trump was accompanied Wednesday by Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, both North Carolina Republicans, and Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, both South Carolina Republicans.
“We’re ready and they’re ready to do whatever we have to do to make this perfect. And that means, unfortunately, the money will be a lot, but it’s going to come as fast as you need it. We’re going to take care of everybody,” Trump said.
“Hurricane Florence was one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the Carolinas. One of the most powerful and devastating storms ever to hit our country,” he continued. “To the families who have lost loved ones, America grieves with you, and our hearts break for you,” he added.
“God bless you. We will never forget your loss. We will never leave your side. We’re with you all the way. And to all those impacted by this terrible storm, our entire American family is with you and ready to help. And you will recover.”
In Conway, South Carolina, Trump toured the Horry County Emergency Operations Center, where officials were preparing for expected flooding.
He met with state and local officials including Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who said Florence “may be the worst disaster that we’ve had in South Carolina.”
Trump praised the state’s response to the damage, but cautioned, “You haven’t really been hit yet by comparison with what’s coming.”
“You’re going to have a rebuilding process, and we are behind you from Day One,” Trump promised.
Before he left, Trump called out to the crowd, “Anything I can do, you all know where to call me.”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Anne Gearan