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|19 September, 2018

Trump to visit North Carolina as waterways rise after Florence

At least 35 people killed, mostly in North Carolina

Houses sit in floodwater caused by Hurricane Florence, in this aerial picture, on the outskirts of Lumberton, North Carolina, U.S. September 17, 2018.

Houses sit in floodwater caused by Hurricane Florence, in this aerial picture, on the outskirts of Lumberton, North Carolina, U.S. September 17, 2018.

REUTERS/Jason Miczek

WILMINGTON, N.C.- U.S. President Donald Trump is expected on Wednesday to visit North Carolina, where thousands of homes and roadways remain underwater and swollen rivers threaten more flooding less than a week after Hurricane Florence made landfall.

Trump, who has been criticized for his response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, plans to arrive at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina, at about 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT) and return to Washington at 6:15 p.m. (2215 GMT), 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.

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"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 61.5 feet (19 meters), four times its normal height, on Wednesday in Fayetteville, a city of 200,000 near the Fort Bragg army base in the southern part of the state, 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 killed at least 35 people, including 26 in North Carolina and eight in South Carolina, where local media reported that two female mental health patients drowned on Tuesday after a sheriff's van they were in crashed.

One person was killed in Virginia by a tornado that spun off from Florence.

SWOLLEN RIVERS

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 resulting from Florence, which has dumped up to 36 inches (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.

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.

As Florence was bearing down on the Carolinas last week, Trump reignited the controversy over his handling of Maria by disputing the official death toll of 2,975 in the U.S. territory, which was compiled by public health experts at George Washington University. Trump said, without offering evidence, that Democrats had inflated the figure to make him look bad.

In addition to the deaths, Maria devastated the infrastructure of Puerto Rico, whose 3 million citizens are Americans but do not vote in presidential elections, and left much of the island without power for months. Critics said the Trump administration was slow to recognize the extent of the damage and slow to help.

 (Reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Patrick Rucker; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Miami; Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Jessica Resnick-Ault and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Anna Mehler Paperny in North Carolina and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Bill Trott Editing by David Stamp and Paul Simao) ((Bill.trott@thomsonreuters.com))