As the death toll from Hurricane Florence grew to 11, President Donald Trump was expected to receive an update Saturday afternoon on the Carolinas’ coastline’s response to the powerful storm.
But amid the threat to America’s eastern coast, the president’s Twitter feed remained preoccupied by the hurricane that claimed thousands of lives in Puerto Rico last fall.
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Florence made landfall Friday as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m. at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, with more than 2 feet of rain falling in places by midday Saturday, according to the Associated Press. The most glaring threat remains the deluge of precipitation Florence is emptying onto cities and farmland as it crawls inland, said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.
“Powerful torrents of water are flooding homes, wiping out roads and sweeping away cars in North Carolina,” Cooper said. “These cruel floodwaters are life-threatening and destructive.”
More than 20,000 people displaced by the storm are being housed in 157 shelters, Cooper said. Upward of 800,000 people throughout the state are without power.
Emergency personnel have so far conducted nearly 250 rescues in the state by boat and air, and Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said his office is “currently engaged in large-scale search and rescue operations” in North Carolina’s coastal counties.
“Let me assure you,” Sprayberry said, “this flooding is only going to get worse.”
FEMA announced Saturday that Trump had made disaster assistance funds available to eight affected North Carolina counties, and Cooper said he plans to request federal aid for more counties in the near future.
“We in North Carolina have been through tough storms, and this one is sure testing us,” Cooper said. “But now is the time for us to persevere.”
Vice President Mike Pence was also expected to attend the storm briefing with the president.
Following a day of promoting government disaster resources, hurricane safety tips and civilian rescue efforts on social media, Trump late Friday returned to relitigating his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria.
In two tweets sent after 10 p.m., the president again re-upped his assertion, without evidence, that the reported number of lives lost in Maria was an inaccurate count intended to blight public perception of his job performance.
The findings of a comprehensive study released this summer — conducted by researchers at George Washington University and requested by the Puerto Rican government — estimated Maria’s death toll to be nearly 3,000.
“‘When Trump visited the island territory last October, OFFICIALS told him in a briefing 16 PEOPLE had died from Maria.’ The Washington Post. This was long AFTER the hurricane took place. Over many months it went to 64 PEOPLE. Then, like magic, ‘3000 PEOPLE KILLED.’” Trump wrote online.
“They hired … GWU Research to tell them how many people had died in Puerto Rico (how would they not know this?),” the president continued. “This method was never done with previous hurricanes because other jurisdictions know how many people were killed. FIFTY TIMES LAST ORIGINAL NUMBER – NO WAY!”
The president had earlier pointed to various Fox News commentators’ defenses of his handling of the 2017 storm. And just after 11 p.m. on Friday, he jabbed at Barack Obama for a campaign trail blunder the former president made in 2008.
“When President Obama said that he has been to ’57 States,’ very little mention in Fake News Media,” Trump wrote online. “Can you imagine if I said that…story of the year!”
In all, Trump’s account had tweeted or retweeted posts some 31 times on Friday. His first post on Saturday came at about 4:30 p.m., when he thanked NYC Emergency Management workers for assisting with water rescues in River Bend, North Carolina.
Trump also on Saturday offered a shout-out to FEMA administrator Brock Long, tweeting an apparent quote from the administrator praising the president and commenting: “Thank you Brock – it is my honor!” The Department of Homeland Security inspector general is currently investigating Long for potential misuse of taxpayer-funded government vehicles.