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Trump to visit North Carolina as waterways rise

Donald Trump’s trip to the state follows criticism for his handling of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last year, and more recently for disputing the official death toll of 3,000 in the US territory.

A man wades through rising flood waters on the Cape Fear River during Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina on 14 September 2018. In the port city of Wilmington, residents awoke to the sound of power transformers blowing up, plunging homes into darkness as Hurricane Florence's howling winds whipped through the streets sending metal signs, water and debris flying. Picture: AFP

WILMINGTON - US President Donald Trump is expected on Wednesday to visit North Carolina, which is bearing the brunt of Florence’s deadly deluge and where rivers are still rising while thousands of homes and roadways remain submerged.

Trump’s trip to the state follows criticism for his handling of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last year, and more recently for disputing the official death toll of 3,000 in the US territory.

Trump plans to arrive at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina at about 10:30am local time and return to Washington DC at 6:15pm, according to the White House.

More than 15,000 people remain in shelters and more than 200,000 customers are without power across North Carolina, six days after Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, according to state officials.

“We continue to feel the effects of this massive storm,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Tuesday. “Even though there is no substantial rain in the forecast and the sun may be shining across many parts of our state, rivers continue to rise and we will see more flooding.”

The Cape Fear River was expected to crest at 19 meters, quadrupling its normal height, on Wednesday in Fayetteville, a city of 200,000 in the southern part of the state near the Fort Bragg army base, according to the National Weather Service. That has disrupted efforts to restore power, clear roads and allow evacuated residents to go home.

“There is a strong potential that those who live within the 1-mile evacuation area of the Cape Fear River will be impacted by flooding,” the city said in a statement.

The city manager told CNN that 12,000 people are “in harm’s way”.

Florence has already killed at least 35 people, including 26 in North Carolina and eight in South Carolina where local media reported that two mental health patients drowned on Tuesday when the sheriff’s van the women were in crashed.

One person was killed in Virginia when the storm spawned about 16 tornadoes there on Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Thousands of rescues have taken place in the Carolinas. Fire and rescue crews were waiting to go into many areas to assist with structural damage after Florence dumped up to 91 cm of rain in parts of North Carolina since Thursday.

At least 16 rivers remained at a major flood stage with three others set to crest in the coming days in North Carolina, the state said.

More than 1,100 roads were still closed across North Carolina, Cooper said, including several portions of Interstates 40 and 95. In South Carolina, 40 major roads were closed.

In the town of Fair Bluff, North Carolina, which has struggled to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, only about 50 residents remained on Tuesday, Fair Bluff Police Chief Chris Chafin told Reuters.

The town has largely been cut off by flooding from the still-rising Lumber River, which was expected to crest on Wednesday.

Much of Columbus County, where Fair Bluff is located, was underwater, according to Steve Abbott of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, with most roads closed and “driving not advised”.

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