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Hurricane Harvey is expected to slam the coast of Texas and Louisiana tonight or early tomorrow, bringing winds in excess of 125 mph and dumping up to 35 inches of rain.
Meteorologists are warning the downpour could cause a “flooding catastrophe” that will cost lives through the weekend.
Mr Trump weighed in on Twitter last night, saying: “As #HurricaneHarvey intensifies – remember to #PlanAhead.”
“With Hurricane Harvey approaching landfall, remember, the USA is the most resilient nation on earth because we plan ahead,” Mr Trump said in a second tweet including a video showing him touring the Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier this year. “Preparedness is an investment in our future,” he added.
Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center has predicted that a direct hit would “easily” cause more than $100 billion (£78bn) in damages.
Forecasters said Hurricane Harvey had all the ingredients to be a “monster” storm that could trigger sea surges as high as 12 feet.
“Life-threatening and devastating flooding expected near the coast due to heavy rainfall and storm surge,” the National Hurricane Center said.
Louisiana and Texas declared states of disaster, authorising the use of state resources to prepare for the storm, which was expected to grow from a category two to category three. “We’re forecasting continuing intensification right up until landfall,” added NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen.
In the coastal Texan city of Corpus Christi where the storm was expected to strike first, the mayor issued a voluntary evacuation order and supermarket shelves were clearing quickly, with sandbags provided to residents.
Energy companies shut coastal refineries, pulling workers from offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and halting onshore drilling in south Texas.
Serious questions were being asked about how ready the president was for the fall-out from the storm that is predicted to be the most powerful to strike the mainland since 2005.
Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist and president of the Potomac Strategy Group, feared the president may not be up to the task.
“What’s unusual about Trump is that he has, as far as I know, zero disaster response experience,” Mr Mackowiak told Business Insider.
“Now, that’s true for 99.9 percent of individuals, but it’s unusual for political figures.”
He added: “This is going to be an interesting challenge.”
While the president has named a new leader for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Brock Long, Alabama’s former top emergency manager, the department is said to be in a state of upheaval with a number of key positions still unfilled.
Ron Klain, former chief of staff for vice presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, warned in a column for the Washington Post that Mr Trump may not be up to the test.
“Would the Trump administration respond effectively?” he asked.
“The president just stripped the Department of Homeland Security of its leader, was blasted by the outgoing head of hurricane forecasting for how his budget cuts could set back this work, and lacks any experience (as a senator or governor) with navigating a difficult disaster response.
“As a political matter, a botched hurricane response in the Gulf Coast or Florida would see Trump criticised – not by blue-state leaders he can mock or ignore, but by key members of his own coalition.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr Trump has been briefed and is keeping “a very watchful eye” on developments.
“You’ve got acting [Homeland Security] Secretary Elaine Duke, watching this closely, very involved in the process, along with the acting director for FEMA,” she said. “I think we’re in great shape having General [John] Kelly sitting next to the president throughout this process.”
She added that there’s “probably no better chief of staff for the president during the hurricane season.”
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