President Donald Trump visited one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Florence in South Carolina on Wednesday, promising federal disaster relief and offering words of encouragement in anticipation of devastating flooding ahead.
“You haven’t been hit yet, compared to what’s coming,” Trump said in remarks from the Horry County Emergency Operations Center in Conway, near Myrtle Beach. “Washington is with you. Trump is with you 100 percent. ... We’ll get through it.”
Gov. Henry McMaster, who spoke alongside Trump, described the hurricane’s aftermath as possibly “the worst disaster that we’ve had in South Carolina.
“Good news,” McMaster added, “is that the team in South Carolina is up to the job.”
The area is preparing for major overflows of rivers across eastern South Carolina in the next several days after Hurricane Florence’s massive rainfall. There have already been 36 fatalities linked to the storm reported so far, including eight in South Carolina.
Trump had a chance to see some of the flooding first hand on Wednesday. He spent about 20 minutes walking up Long Avenue, greeting residents who would have to evacuate the neighborhood in the coming days and conferring with Federal Emergency Management administrator Brock Long.
Joining Trump were both the state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Horry County.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who until Feb. 2017 represented the state’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House, was in Conway as well, along with Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen and Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon.
Trump landed at the Conway-Horry County Airport around 2:30 p.m. He was heading back to Washington, D.C., shortly before 4 p.m.
The president started the day in North Carolina, accompanied by N.C. Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis. From a hangar at Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, Trump also promised disaster relief aid “will come as fast as you need it.”
FEMA currently has $25.6 billion in its Disaster Relief Fund, which is enough to address short-term recovery efforts in the Carolinas. More might be needed for long-term rebuilding, however. While Scott said on Tuesday he had seen one assessment that put the immediate cost of damage in South Carolina at about $1.3 billion, Graham said it would take more time to determine the overall price tag. The floods to come also could drive up cost of repairs.
If significantly more money is called for, fiscal conservatives in Washington could balk. Congress in the coming weeks might have to approve an acceleration of more disaster relief funding in the form of Community Development Block Grants, though Scott suggested this move would be noncontroversial.
At the Horry County Emergency Operations Center, local television news cameras picked up a brief conversation between Rice and Trump regarding Interstate 73, a $2 billion project that when complete would connect 75 miles of road from the North Carolina border to Myrtle Beach.
Though the initiative has been largely sold as an economic driver for the district, Rice on Wednesday also appeared to be selling it as a safety issue, too, one that could help with accessibility as highways are flooding. He suggested Trump include the I-73 project in the administration’s emergency disaster declaration for South Carolina, “because we need a lifeline.”
Trump didn’t immediately address this request before the camera crews were ushered from the briefing room, where the conversation was taking place, but he asked follow-up questions about the project’s progress and instructed Scott and Graham to “start looking at this, very much so.”
Before the microphones, Trump tried to put a positive spin on the inevitable relief efforts.
“The most exciting part is the rebuilding,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of rebuilding.”