(Bloomberg) – Tropical storm Florence is set to inflict more damage on the southeastern U.S. and states further north will soon feel the impact too, the head of the U.S. emergency-response agency said, as residents and rescue workers in the Carolinas battled the deluge.
“Unfortunately we’ve still got several days to go,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said on Fox News Sunday. The slow-moving storm would be “dumping copious amounts of rains” on central and western North Carolina, he said, and “we’re also anticipating you’re about to see a lot of damage going through West Virginia all the way up to Ohio.”
Long was the front man for the administration’s storm response on Sunday morning television, even as his future leading the Federal Emergency Management Agency is in doubt. He’s the target of an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general into whether he misused government staff and vehicles for frequent travel to his home in Hickory, North Carolina, Politico reported last week.
Long was not asked about the report on Fox. He defended the agency’s management of the storm and coordination with state officials. “I don’t see any holes,” he said.
FEMA is monitoring the region’s dams and has seen evidence that some have been “compromised,” but the agency isn’t aware of any life-threatening risks, Long said. Inland flooding would be worsened by recent rains that saturated rivers.
Also on Fox, Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina warned of floods still to come in midweek that will probably be “as damaging or more damaging than the original event.” He said the economic impact will be “in the billions of dollars.”
At a media briefing on Florence last week, Long said he would “own up to mistakes” if necessary, but the administrator didn’t attend his agency’s briefings over the weekend. He did brief President Donald Trump on Florence by phone Friday, Jeffrey Byard, associate administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery at FEMA, said Saturday.
Long may have bolstered his standing with Trump, at least for now, by complimenting him for his support of FEMA’s efforts. Trump responded positively on Twitter on Saturday.
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump Thank you Brock – it is my honor!“We (@fema) have never had the support that we have had from this President.” Administrator @FEMA_Brock Sent via Twitter for iPhone.
“Our administrator is our administrator,” Byard said when asked whether Long would remain head of the agency. “He’s given the team very clear guidance that the focus is Florence. FEMA is clearly engaged, and we know where our focus needs to be.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Long’s boss, talked to him about his travel in late August, according to Politico. The Trump administration is considering replacing Long, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing people familiar with the matter it didn’t identify.
‘Open and honest’
Investigators put Long under surveillance and found that he has spent about 150 days in North Carolina since taking his FEMA post last year, often accompanied by aides who stay in nearby hotels, the Journal reported. Long’s boss, Nielsen, “is confident in the leadership at FEMA and their proven disaster management ability,” Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for DHS, told the Journal.
Long told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that Nielsen hadn’t asked him to resign and he didn’t intend to. He defended use of the agency vehicles, saying that they’re “designed to provide secure communications,” but acknowledged that “maybe some policies were not developed around these vehicles that we will get cleared up.”
Long also said that an internal report on FEMA’s handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, which concluded that agency could have done more to anticipate damage to infrastructure, was “an open and honest assessment.”
He refused to back island officials who said in August that storm caused almost 3,000 deaths. Long instead lent credence to Trump’s recent attacks on the official toll. The president drew condemnation from politicians in both U.S. parties by questioning the science behind the count and claiming it was part of a political attack.
“There’s several different studies out there that are all over the place when it comes to death,” Long said. “There is a difference between direct deaths and indirect deaths.”
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