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Trump Pledges to Be With Storm Victims 09/20 05:55

   Handing out hot dogs, hugs and comforting words, President Donald Trump 
sought Wednesday to soothe those who suffered losses in Hurricane Florence, 
declaring that "America grieves for you" as he surveyed damage the powerful 
storm left behind.

   NEW BERN, N.C. (AP) -- Handing out hot dogs, hugs and comforting words, 
President Donald Trump sought Wednesday to soothe those who suffered losses in 
Hurricane Florence, declaring that "America grieves for you" as he surveyed 
damage the powerful storm left behind.

   After being briefed on the recovery effort, Trump helped hand out Styrofoam 
containers of hot dogs and chips at a Baptist church in New Bern, a riverfront 
city on the coast that experienced severe flooding. Trump's motorcade then 
drove through a storm-damaged neighborhood where piles of water-logged sofa 
cushions, mattresses and downed trees lined streets and boats lay on their 
sides after washing up along a grassy shore.

   "How's it doing," the president asked after a woman pointed at a house. He 
chatted and shook people's hands as he walked along a street strewn with trash, 
branches and sodden furniture, offering hugs and handshakes and posing for 
photos. Some people applauded as he went by.

   During the briefing with Gov. Roy Cooper and federal and other state 
officials, Trump pledged to be with storm victims "100 percent" as they recover 
from the torrential rains and heavy flooding that Florence left behind. A 
massive federal, state and local recovery effort is underway.

   Cooper said Florence was "epic" in nature. It's blamed for at least 37 
deaths in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia since coming ashore on 
Friday.

   At Trump's first stop, Cooper briefed the president at a Marine Corps air 
station in Havelock, which sits among areas Florence hit hardest. The governor 
asked for help "cutting red tape" to get his state the federal assistance it 
will need to recover. He noted that farmers suffered significant losses and 
scores of people lost their homes. Some 10,000 people remained in shelters.

   "We will be there 100 percent," said Trump, wearing a wind breaker and khaki 
pants, seated inside a hangar with federal and state officials. "All of the 
folks from the federal government that are around the table are confirming it."

   Trump praised first responders and offered comfort to residents who suffered 
losses in the storm, saying: "To the families who have lost loved ones, America 
grieves with you, and our hearts break for you. 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," he said.

   Trump took a moment during the briefing to ask a state official, "How is 
Lake Norman doing?" Told the lake was fine, Trump replied: "I love that area. I 
can't tell you why, but I love that area." The president has a golf club on the 
shores of the lake.

   The storm's grim aftermath, some of which Trump was expected to see 
Wednesday during stops in North Carolina and South Carolina, presented a 
challenge for a president who has struggled at times to show empathy in moments 
of national tragedy.

   In a video posted on social media the day before his trip to the region, 
Trump praised first responders, offered prayers for victims and declared the 
storm "one of the wettest we've ever seen from the standpoint of water."

   In North Carolina, where thousands of people remain in shelters or are 
staying elsewhere, Cooper has urged patience, noting that roads remain 
treacherous and some are still being closed for the first time. On Tuesday in 
Wilmington hundreds of people waited in long lines for water and other 
essentials.

   "I know for many people this feels like a nightmare that just won't end," 
Cooper said.

   Trump spent the run-up to the storm focused on criticism of the federal 
response to a hurricane that battered Puerto Rico last year, rejecting the 
official death toll of nearly 3,000 and claiming Democrats manufactured the 
number to make him "look bad."

   When Trump visited San Juan last October after Hurricane Maria, he pumped 
his fists in the air when he landed. The enduring image of the trip was of 
Trump at a church lobbing paper towels into the crowd as if shooting baskets. 
At the time, it seemed to reflect Trump's brand of playfulness. Many people in 
the crowd smiled and raised their phones to record the moment. But critics 
quickly dubbed it inappropriate for the grim crisis at hand.

   Before that, Trump's trip to Texas after Hurricane Harvey battered the 
Houston area generated blowback for his failure to meet with victims of the 
storm. Four days later, he returned --- and urged people at a Houston shelter 
to "have a good time." He also cheered on volunteers and emergency workers and 
handed out hot dogs and potato chips to residents. Some critics said the 
president's trip took on the tone of a victory lap for successful disaster 
management.

   Mindful of the recurring criticism, Trump defended the administration's 
response to Florence on Twitter on Tuesday, predicting Democrats will 
eventually look to criticize the efforts for political reasons.

   "Right now, everybody is saying what a great job we are doing with Hurricane 
Florence --- and they are 100% correct," Trump said. "But don't be fooled, at 
some point in the near future the Democrats will start ranting that FEMA, our 
Military, and our First Responders, who are all unbelievable, are a disaster 
and not doing a good job. This will be a total lie, but that's what they do, 
and everybody knows it!"


(KA)

 
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