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President Trump Tours Damage In North Carolina Done By Hurricane Florence

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump flew to North Carolina today to tour areas hit hard by Hurricane Florence and its aftermath. Trump handed out meals. And he met with Governor Ray (ph) Cooper, who described the storm as a gut punch. As NPR's Brian Mann reports, crews are now beginning to pivot from emergency response and rescues to the long, slow clean-up and recovery.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: The president walked down a street in New Bern, N.C., where the Neuse River threw boats up on shore and gale-force winds battered historic homes. Near the Temple Baptist Church, he handed out meals to people in cars.

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MANN: Earlier, at a nearby Marine base, Trump promised Congress would send the money to jumpstart a massive recovery.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. Going to take care of everybody.

MANN: There's no dollar figure yet on how much damage was done by Florence across the South. But with at least 27 dead in North Carolina alone, the president acknowledged the storm left deep wounds.

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TRUMP: 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.

MANN: North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper met with Trump and said the risk remains high for families living along the dozen or so rivers here still above flood stage.

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ROY COOPER: Our state took a gut punch, Mr. President. And our people are still reeling.

MANN: The governor said 10,000 people in North Carolina are still in shelters. Sections of Interstates 40 and 95 remain closed. Farms and businesses have been hit hard by flooding and power outages.

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COOPER: We have weathered storms before in our state. But, Mr. President, we have never seen one like this. This one has been epic. It has been disastrous, and it has been widespread. It is a storm like no other.

MANN: There is progress here. Duke Energy, North Carolina's biggest utility, says more than 1.2 million customers have had power restored, though it could be a week before line crews reach areas where roads remain flooded. Local officials and recovery workers here say they're happy President Trump visited. Bill and Kay Williams are truckers who've been supplying fresh drinking water.

BILL WILLIAMS: He's a hands-on president. He sees something, he takes action to get the job done to what people need.

KAY WILLIAMS: He's making America great again. He's doing what he said he would do.

MANN: Not everyone welcomed the president's tour. Omar Farrow lives in New Bern and was helping with the clean-up. Ahead of Trump's visit, he worried the president would say something divisive or controversial at a time when people are fragile.

OMAR FARROW: If he's going to be here, I just hope something positive comes out of, you know, what he chooses to do, comments made. I just hope he sees that a lot of people are in pain, and right now we're just looking for love.

MANN: Some people here have questioned the pace of the response and whether FEMA and other agencies have the resources to help this region of the South rebuild in a way that will help prepare for the next big storm. But Benny Whitley, a fire chief in Newport, N.C., says he's satisfied by the state and federal response.

BENNY WHITLEY: All the resources that's been in, National Guard has been heavy. We've had their high-water vehicles, their humvees and stuff. They've been in the water with us at times, helping make rescues during those first two days.

MANN: But even as the president was on the ground here, people were taking stock of the damage to their towns and their own lives. Whitley says a lot of his rescue crews are exhausted. And now they're finding their own homes were destroyed.

WHITLEY: So our first responders have been here through the storm trying to help, keep focused. And now, when they get their first chance to go home for a little bit, they're finding out they don't have a home to go back to.

MANN: One break for the Carolinas and the recovery crews is that the weather here has finally improved, with thunderstorms and tornadoes giving way to blue skies and sunshine. Brian Mann, NPR News, New Bern, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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