President Donald Trump on Wednesday visited the two states most heavily affected by Hurricane Florence and promised that "a lot of money" will be coming from Washington and significant resources will be invested in reconstruction in the region, although he also sparked controversy by expressing interest in an area where he owns a golf course.
Trump traveled to North and South Carolina, which were deluged last week by a storm that killed at least 36 people in the region, forced the evacuation of thousands and caused economic damage valued at up to $60 billion, according to preliminary estimates.
"To the families who have lost loved ones, America grieves with you, and our hearts break for you. God bless you," the president said in a statement.
"We will never forget your loss. We will never leave your side. We're with you all way. And to all those impacted by this terrible storm, our entire American family is with you and ready to help. And you will recover," he added.
The president, who last year visited Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico after the passage of several hurricanes, repeated several activities that he had undertaken there, distributing hot dogs and other food to people forced from their homes and chatting with some of those affected.
During one stop in the coastal town of New Bern, North Carolina, where heavy flooding damaged more than 4,300 homes, Trump was surprised to see a yacht that had been washed against the back porch of a home.
"Is this your boat?" the president asked the homeowner, and when the owner said no, Trump reportedly smiled and replied, "At least you got a nice boat out of the deal."
Although the president avoided mistakes such as he made last year in Puerto Rico, where he downplayed the tragedy and said that Hurricane Maria had not been a "real catastrophe," he did spark some criticism by taking advantage of his trip to visit Navy installations in North Carolina to ask about the condition of Lake Norman.
"I love that area. I can't tell you why, but I love that area," said Trump, avoiding mentioning that one of his golf courses, Trump National Golf Club, is located on the shore of Lake Norman, near Charlotte.
Trump also had a sober warning for South Carolina, whose authorities still fear significant additional damage due to flooding caused by Florence.
The president said at the emergency center in the town of Conway that the help that local residents had seen is "nothing" compared to what will be arriving soon.
South Carolina's Republican governor, Henry McMaster, said that "the worst is yet to come," and predicted that the floodwaters could reach some five feet in height, adding that the storm and its aftermath could be the worst disaster ever to hit South Carolina.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, about 10,000 people are still being housed in shelters and "thousands" of people have not had the power restored in their homes, the state's Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, said in his meeting with Trump.
Of the 36 people confirmed dead in the storm by local authorities, 27 died in North Carolina, eight in South Carolina and one in Virginia.
Crops of cotton and peanuts in those states have also suffered and 3.4 million chickens and 5,500 hogs drowned on North Carolina farms, according to official calculations.