President Donald Trump arrived in flood-ravaged North and South Carolina on Wednesday to assess the federal response to Hurricane Florence, which drenched the state last week.
Inside an airplane hangar at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, situated along the bloated Neuse River, Trump lauded emergency workers in North Carolina even as he predicted a costly clean up.
“The job you’ve done has been incredible. They’re talking about it all over the world,” Trump said. “We want to keep it going that way. Some of the hard work is now.”
“Even though it’s nice and beautiful and sunny,” there are still dangerous conditions for Carolinians, Trump said.
At least 36 people have died as a result of Florence, which made landfall in the Carolinas on Friday. He told those who lost loved ones that the country was in mourning with them.
“America grieves with you and our hearts break for you. God bless you. We will never forget your loss,” Trump said. “To all those impacted by this terrible storm, our entire American family is with you and ready to help. You will recover.”
After presentations from local authorities, the President made a personal inquiry, asking about conditions in the area around Lake Norman, near Charlotte. The Trump National Golf Club is situated on the shores of Lake Norman.
“I love that area. I can’t tell you why, but I love that area,” Trump said.
Lake Norman was not affected in a major way by Hurricane Florence.
Trump also traveled to Conway, South Carolina, where floodwaters are expected to rise again as early as Friday. He surveyed flooding and received briefings from local officials.
“It’s going to get rough for South Carolina,” Trump warned ahead of the expected flooding, speaking to first responders at the Horry County Emergency Operations Center.
“You’re going to have a rebuilding process and we are behind you from day one,” Trump said, calling this the “calm before the storm because you’re going to have a lot of water.”
Joined by a group of local and state officials, Trump promised the full support of the federal government.
“Washington is with you, Trump is with you, we are all with you 100% and we’ll get through it,” the President said, adding, “Anything you need, you know how to call me.”
A day earlier, the President reiterated the strength of the federal response, though imbued his statement with a sense of political grievance.
“Right now, everybody is saying what a great job we are doing with Hurricane Florence – and they are 100% correct,” he tweeted. “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!”
After storms last year, Trump made quick visits to the damage zones in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. He was accused at moments of appearing overly congratulatory, even as conditions remained dire.
On his first visit to Texas after Hurricane Harvey flooded parts of Houston, Trump met with no storm victims, choosing instead to receive high-level briefings from state officials. He later returned to the state to meet with displaced families.
When he visited San Juan after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, Trump lobbed rolls of paper towels into a crowd at a church – an image that has since come to illustrate what his critics say was a lackluster approach to the island’s destruction.
Presidents have long sought to use natural disasters as a way to project executive leadership, often in a setting where politics are set aside. But pitfalls have abounded, including in 2005 when President George W. Bush faced intense criticism for his response to Hurricane Katrina.
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.