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Trump declares state of emergency in the Carolinas, Virginia

President Donald Trump, left, listened as FEMA Administrator Brock Long, center, talked about Hurricane Florence in the Oval Office on Tuesday. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen listened at right.
President Donald Trump, left, listened as FEMA Administrator Brock Long, center, talked about Hurricane Florence in the Oval Office on Tuesday. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen listened at right. (Susan Walsh/AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. — President Trump said the safety of the American people is his ‘‘absolute highest priority’’ as Hurricane Florence takes aim at portions of the East Coast.

Trump has declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina and Virginia, and canceled campaign events Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the storm.

Trump was being briefed by the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Oval Office on Tuesday.

He said the federal government is ready to respond to the Category 4 storm.

“The safety of the American people is my absolute highest priority. We are sparing no expense,” said the president. “We’re as ready as anybody has ever been.”

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Trump said the hurricane would be one of the largest seen “in decades,” adding that the storm would be “tremendously big and tremendously wet — tremendous amount of water.”

The president also said the states affected could get “more water than we have ever seen in a storm or a hurricane.”

Asked what lessons were learned from the storm that hit Puerto Rico last year, the president said the federal response in Puerto Rico was “incredibly successful.” He said problems related to the recover effort were complicated by Puerto Rico being an island and its energy grid being in bad shape before the storm hit.

“Unlike Puerto Rico they have very strong power companies,” he said of the Carolinas and Virginia. He said the power companies had moved extra lineman into the area to respond to outages.

Trump also called the federal response in Puerto Rico an “incredible unsung success.”

FEMA administrator Brock Long warned that the hurricane will be a ‘‘devastating event’’ and urged Americans to evacuate if they’ve been asked to leave their homes. He said electric power could be out for weeks.

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“Unfortunately, Hurricane Florence is setting up to be a devastating event in the Carolinas and central Virginia as well,” he said.

Long also said the storm was expected to make landfall as a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane.

“The biggest hazard that we are worried about is storm surge,” he said. “That’s the primary driver of the evacuations that are underway.”