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News Brief: Hurricane Heads Toward Carolinas, Trump Approval At 39 Percent, Basra


When a major hurricane is approaching, you often hear government officials say - everyone, take this one seriously. Well, they're really hitting that message right now, saying Hurricane Florence could truly be different.


Yeah, different because the storm is expected to bring really dangerous levels of flooding, storm surges, along with massive amounts of rain. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says more than a million people are under mandatory evacuation orders right now. In Charleston, S.C., the traffic on one major interstate was reversed to send everyone - every lane inland, rather. In North Carolina's Outer Banks, where a handful of bridges and ferries are used to access the mainland, authorities there say residents should get out immediately. And this - of note, when hundreds of thousands of people in coastal Virginia tried to get information on evacuations, the state's emergency management website totally crashed.

GREENE: All right, a lot to cover here. And I want to turn to NPR's Greg Allen, who is on the Carolina coast. He is in Wilmington, N.C.

Hi there, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: All right, so what is the forecast? Are you in a place that is expected to really take a direct hit here?

ALLEN: Well, I think so. Yeah. So this track has been very consistent for days here - it's been remarkable how little it's changed since Florence was a thousand miles out to sea - headed directly for this area just north of the South Carolina-North Carolina border near Wilmington. And as it gets closer, of course, the track kind of narrows more and more. The models tend to converge. It is expected to make landfall as a major hurricane, as you say.

People focus on the winds, these 140 mile-per-hour winds, and it could be building today even more. But we think it'll probably hit around - at that velocity. But the big concern that meteorologists always talk about is the water. The storm surge at the coast is likely 9 to 13 feet. That's why they've ordered all these, you know, coastal counties to be - coastal communities to be evacuated. Even perhaps worse will be the rainfall, 15 to 25 inches. And as we've watched over the last several hours, Florence looks like it's going to slow down and stall as it hits coast. Meteorologists keep pushing back the time for landfall. Now we're looking at perhaps early Saturday morning for landfall.

GREENE: Into the weekend.

ALLEN: And as it comes in, it brings a significant rain and stalls. And it might actually start to drift south toward South Carolina. So it's creating this scenario that - rainfall, people are saying, could be biblical. Here's what North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper had to say yesterday. He was trying to get everyone's attention about this - the magnitude of the issue here.


ROY COOPER: This storm is going to be intense, likely historic and deadly. And we're asking people not to try to ride out a monster.

GREENE: Wow. I mean, we saw what flooding can do in the city of Houston with Hurricane Harvey. I mean, you talk about biblical-feeling flooding. Greg, I mean, North Carolina knows hurricanes. But tell me a little bit more about Wilmington, the community where you are, because they've been relatively safe in the past. Right?

ALLEN: Yeah, that's right. You know, this is like nothing this region has seen in several decades. I mean, people talk about Hurricane Hugo in '89, but that hit south of here - did a lot of damage. Hurricane Hazel in 1954, another Category 4 storm, is maybe a better example. But people are taking it very seriously, very concerned, real nervous is what I've seen. And I think many people have already heeded a voluntary evacuation order that's in effect here.

GREENE: Although it sounds like there's been some chaos as people have been trying to get information on evacuations and try to hit some of these roads.

ALLEN: Right. Here it's - the governor doesn't order mandatory evacuations. It's left up to local community leaders. And they do it to get you out of a storm surge and low-lying areas that can flood. But that said, I think people are moving and starting to get out of this area and starting to evacuate.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Greg Allen in Wilmington, N.C., one of the NPR reporters who is going to be covering the storm as it comes through, it sounds like at the end of this week or into the weekend.

Greg, we appreciate it.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

MARTIN: All right, let's bring in another voice here, NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. She's also the host of the NPR Politics Podcast. And we're turning to you, Tam, because, obviously, there's a federal response whenever you've got a storm that's this big that is coming towards the U.S. What's President Trump had to say about this?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Absolutely. The president was briefed yesterday by both FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. He's receiving regular updates. And what the FEMA director, Brock Long, said is that the federal government is assisting states with evacuations; focusing now on mass care and sheltering; and also just trying to get the word out to take this storm seriously. Here's what President Trump said in the Oval Office yesterday.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They haven't seen anything like what's coming at us in 25, 30 years - maybe ever. It's tremendously big and tremendously wet, tremendous amounts of water.

KEITH: The FEMA administrator, Brock Long, said that he thinks that this storm could be (clearing throat) - sorry, got a cold - similar to hurricanes Hugo or maybe Floyd from 1999.

MARTIN: Right. Also, the president was asked about the preparations. And he said well, hey, we did a great job in Puerto Rico. Of course, we should note, 3,000 people died in that hurricane. So that has been up for debate about the U.S. response in that particular storm.

KEITH: The president's power of positive thinking is something to behold at times.

GREENE: OK. So Hurricane Florence, we're certainly going to be keeping an eye out as that storm bears down on the East Coast. And we'll bring you the latest on your radio and also at our website, npr.org.

Tam, stick with us because I want to turn now to some political news. We, NPR and Marist, have a new poll out today. What's it telling us?

KEITH: That's right. And one big headline from it is that President Trump's approval is below 40 percent. It's at 39 percent. That's actually holding steady from July, in our poll then. But what's interesting is that's the third poll this week to show him below 40 percent. And why does it matter? It's because the midterms are coming up.

And midterm elections are historically rough for a president, but they are historically brutal for presidents when their ratings are below 50 percent. In the past when a president's approval was below 50 percent, their party lost an average of 41 House seats in that first midterm. And that would put Democrats comfortably in control of the House. We should say, President Trump sees himself as sort of the great exception and talks about a red wave instead of a blue wave. But if you look at how Republican lawmakers and consultants are talking these days, the concern is real. And it's reflected in these polls.

GREENE: And one term that we're starting to talk about now as we look at this poll and some others is the generic ballot. For people who don't follow politics that closely, what exactly does that mean? What is that?

KEITH: The question that is asked is whether voters are more inclined to support a Democrat or a Republican in their congressional district in November. And by a 12-point margin, they said that they plan to support Democrats. That's a big increase from July. What's driving it? Suburbs - and also the Midwest, where there was a huge swing away from the president's party.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Tamara Keith.

Tam, thanks so much, we appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome.


GREENE: All right, we're going to turn now to the unrest that is just still going on in the second-largest city in Iraq.

MARTIN: Yeah, we're talking about Basra. This is a port town near huge oil reserves. Anti-government protests have been happening there all summer. And last week, protesters burned down political offices. Several people were killed by security forces in those standoffs.

GREENE: I want to turn to NPR's Jane Arraf, who is in Basra. And we should say that Jane's line, there's a bit of a delay. It's not that she's not listening to me or wanting to respond, we just have a delay on the line.

Hi there, Jane.


GREENE: So can you just give us the context here as these protests continue? What is happening in Basra exactly? And why are people out here protesting?

ARRAF: So the thing we have to understand about Basra mostly is it is Iraq's economic lifetime - lifeline, sorry. Most of its oil exports go through there. It has the major commodity report. But despite that, it's been battered and it's been neglected for decades. It's so close to Iran you can actually see the lights of Iranian cities from here. And it bore the brunt of the Iran-Iraq War in the '80s.

So after the U.S. invasion in 2003, it fell under militia control. There was rampant corruption. And it's now the poorest city in Iraq, and that's really what's driving these protests. This summer, the temperatures are topping 120 degrees. There are electricity cuts. There are no jobs. You turn on the taps and contaminated water comes out. So thousands of young men have taken to the streets to demand change.

GREENE: OK. So the physical damage we're seeing in these protests - I mean, it's government buildings that are burning but also the Iranian Consulate. When we see these young men out in the streets, who exactly are they angry at?

ARRAF: Well, this is something we've seen across the Middle East. They're angry at pretty much everyone - here, specifically government leaders and foreign countries. If you listen to some of the chants at the protests, which have been going on every night, you'll hear them saying they want all political parties out of Basra.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

ARRAF: So here, they're saying yes to Iraq and no to the political parties. They actually describe this as a revolution. And they say they want an entirely new form of government. This is how one protester, Ahmed Ali (ph), put it.

AHMED ALI: We are tired of their killing. We are tired of their corruption. All the parties in the government now, they are corrupted - all of them. But there is no exception. We want to change them.

ARRAF: So Ali and others say it wasn't them. It wasn't the protesters who burnt down the government buildings. They say it was people who infiltrated the protest to cause trouble.

GREENE: Well, this is all coming at what is already a really delicate moment for Iraq. Right? The new Parliament is going to be meeting to form a new government - you know, not exactly the time you want to be forming a new government when you have these serious protests in such a large city.

ARRAF: Absolutely. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who's backed by the U.S. by the way, has been struggling to contain this. He's fired the head of security forces, promised to release money. But it isn't enough. And some of his former political partners seem to have turned against him. They're looking for someone else to lead the country.

GREENE: All right. We always appreciate your reporting.

NPR's Jane Arraf in the Iraqi port city of Basra.

(SOUNDBITE OF STS9'S "TOKYO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.