Trump Praises FEMA’s Response to Carolinas Flooding

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump lauded the federal response to Hurricane Florence on Wednesday as he began a tour of areas in North and South Carolina hit over the weekend by high winds and torrential rain.

“Some of the flooding is actually epic, it’s hard to believe,” Trump said at a briefing arranged for him at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina. “Unfortunately, the money will be a lot. But it’s going to come as fast as you need it.”

Trump praised Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for doing a “great job, incredible job” in responding to the hurricane.

Trump wants to see parts of the states hardest hit by the storm and subsequent flooding, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One. He began the day with a briefing from emergency response officials; later he’ll meet people affected by the hurricane, she said.

The White House hasn’t yet released further details of his itinerary for the day.

Florence Damage

Florence may cause about $22 billion in damage to the region, according to Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler for Enki Research. At least 37 people had died as a result of the storm as of Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses lost power as a result of the storm, and major highways in North Carolina are flooded. The city of Wilmington, near where Florence made landfall, is virtually an island due to flooding, according to the Associated Press.

“Our state took a gut punch, Mr. President,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told Trump. “We have weathered storms before in our state, but Mr. President we have never seen one like this. It is a storm like no other.”

Trump asked in particular about how the area around Lake Norman was faring in the flooding.

“I love that area,” he said. “I can’t tell you why, but I love that area.”

Trump National Golf Club Charlotte is located on the shores of Lake Norman, according to the club’s website.

Trump was joined aboard Air Force One by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Republican elected officials, including Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina and Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney and Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon also traveled with the president.

Long met Trump on the ground in North Carolina. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Long has been referred for possible criminal prosecution after an investigation of his travel practices led by the DHS inspector general.

Disaster Scandals

Long’s scandal is the latest black mark for the Trump administration’s disaster response. Recently, Trump has angrily challenged the nearly 3,000 deaths attributed to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. A Government Accountability Office report released earlier this month said FEMA failed to deploy enough staff to the territory ahead of Maria, among other problems.

Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday that “everybody is saying what a great job we are doing with Hurricane Florence,” but predicted that Democrats would soon criticize the federal response.

“This will be a total lie, but that’s what they do, and everybody knows it!” Trump tweeted.

Trump called the federal response to Puerto Rico an “unsung success” last week and tweeted without evidence that an academic study that determined 2,975 deaths were attributable to the storm was the work of Democrats out to hurt him politically.

“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Trump wrote. “When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths.”

The study, conducted by George Washington University, compared the total number of deaths in the months following Hurricane Maria to historical patterns and demographic trends. Political officials from both sides of the aisle condemned the president’s statements and said they believed the death toll, which has been adopted by the Puerto Rico government.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican running for the Senate, tweeted that he disagreed with the president. Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominated to replace Scott, also issued a statement distancing himself from Trump’s statements -- a move that particularly angered the president, who endorsed DeSantis in his primary, Politico reported.

The Trump administration has also faced criticism over a decision to transfer $10 million from FEMA’s operations budget to bolster funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A DHS spokesman, Tyler Houlton, confirmed the transfer but said on Twitter that the money could not have been used for disaster relief.

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