Trump arrives in Texas, greeted warmly by storm victims at Houston relief centre

Hurricane Harvey, one of the costliest to hit the United States, has displaced more than 1 million people, with 46 feared dead from flooding that paralysed Houston.

world Updated: Sep 02, 2017 23:49 IST
Reuters, Houston
Donald Trump,Houston,Hurricane Harvey
US President Donald Trump visits with survivors of Hurricane Harvey at a relief centre in Houston, Texas on September 2.(REUTERS)

President Donald Trump visited a relief centre in Houston on Saturday to meet with victims of Harvey, the catastrophic storm that triggered severe flooding in Texas and presented his young administration with its most challenging domestic crisis.

Trump earlier landed at Ellington Field military base in Houston after a flight from Washington, dressed in a black rain jacket with no tie.

On his second visit to the devastated state this week, the president was accompanied by his wife Melania Trump, who wore a baseball cap emblazoned with the word “Texas,” green khaki trousers and walking shoes.

The visit gave the president an opportunity to show a warm and empathetic side to victims of the worst storm to hit Texas in 50 years. Some have criticized him for staying clear of the disaster zone during a visit on Tuesday, when he said he did not want to hamper rescue efforts.

At NRG Stadium, the president and first lady hugged and shook hands with people forced out of their homes by the widespread floods. At one point, Trump picked up a child and kissed her on the cheek, and he later sat with a boy playing with toys. Some of evacuees took selfies with the first couple.

After meeting with flood survivors and volunteers who assisted in relief efforts in Houston, Trump will move on to Lake Charles, Louisiana, an area hammered by the storm later in the week, the White House said.

While Trump visits the region, attention will also turn to Minute Maid Park, where the Houston Astros play their first home baseball games since Harvey devastated the fourth-most populous US city. The Saturday doubleheader with the New York Mets is expected to be wrought with emotion and punctuated with moments to honour the dozens who died as a result of Harvey.

The storm, one of the costliest to hit the United States, has displaced more than 1 million people, with 46 feared dead from flooding that paralysed Houston, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, a city of 120,000 people.

After Hurricane Harvey came ashore last Friday, much of the damage took place in the Houston metropolitan area, which has an economy about the same size as Argentina’s.

Seventy percent of Harris County, which encompasses Houston, at one point was covered with 18 inches (45 cm) or more of water, county officials said.

When Trump visited the Gulf of Mexico coastal region on Tuesday, he met with state and local leaders and first responders, largely focusing on the logistics of the government response rather than the suffering of residents.

In a letter to Congress on Friday, the Trump administration asked for a $7.85 billion appropriation for response and initial recovery efforts. White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert has said funding requests for aid would come in stages as more became known about the impact of the storm.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who accompanied the president on his visit to the Houston relief center, has said his state may need more than $125 billion.

The storm, which lingered around the Gulf Coast for days, dumped record amounts of rain and left devastation across more than 300 miles (480 km) of the state’s coast.

As water receded, many returned to survey the damage.

In Orange, Texas, about 125 miles (200 km) east of Houston, Sam Dougharty, 36, returned on Friday to find waist-high water in his backyard and barn.

His family’s house smelled like raw sewage and was still flooded to the ankles. A calf and a heifer from their herd of 15 were dead.

“This is family land,” he said. “My aunt’s owned it for 40 years and never had water here.”

The area was slowly coming back to life, Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt said on Saturday. But streets remained littered with flooded-out vehicles, and many homes were without power, he said.

From the shelter to the stadium

Harvey came on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,800 around New Orleans. Then-US President George W Bush’s administration was roundly criticized for its botched early response to the storm.

Some of the tens of thousands of people forced into shelters by Harvey will attend the Astros game, where Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner will throw out the first pitch and a moment of silence is planned for those who perished.

Sports have helped other cities rebound from catastrophe, such as when the New York Mets played the first baseball game in their damaged city 10 days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In the Harris County area of Clear Creek, the nearly 50 inches (127 cm) of rain that fell there equated to a once in a 40,000 year event, said Jeff Lindner, meteorologist with the county Flood Control District.

The storm shut about a fourth of U.S. refinery capacity, much of which is clustered along the Gulf Coast, and caused gasoline prices to spike to a two-year high ahead of the long Labour Day holiday weekend.

Meanwhile, a new storm, Irma, is expected to become a major hurricane early next week. It remained hundreds of miles from land but was forecast to possibly hit Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti by the middle of next week.

First Published: Sep 02, 2017 23:48 IST