Trump tours Houston, Louisiana to meet with victims, 1st responders

U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump visited people in Houston who have been affected by catastrophic storm Harvey, and later travelled to Louisiana to speak to officials and first responders

U.S. president, wife helped hand out relief packages in battered Texas city

U.S. President Donald Trump lifts up a little girl as he and first lady Melania Trump visit with flood survivors of Harvey at a relief centre in Houston on Saturday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump met Saturday in Houston with people affected by catastrophic storm Harvey, one week after it came ashore, and later travelled to Louisiana as funerals began for some of the victims.

Trump, who travelled aboard Air Force One with his wife Melania Trump for the visit, was at Houston's NRG Stadium to speak with individuals affected by the floods. The couple spent time in an area of the shelter designated for children.

Trump said he is seeing "a lot of love" and "a lot of happiness" as he visits Harvey victims. He spoke briefly with reporters before serving food at the stadium, one of Houston's designated emergency refuge centres. The American Red Cross said this week that more than 17,000 people have sought refuge in Texas shelters.

President Trump passes out food and meets people affected by Harvey during a visit to a shelter in Houston on Saturday. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Trump also visited with children at the centre and said, "They're doing great."

Kevin Jason Hipolito, 37, an unemployed Houston resident rescued from the roof of his car two days earlier when his first-floor apartment was flooded, was pleased by Trump's visit to the fourth most populous U.S. city.

Visit 'raises morale'

"I'm a Democrat. It raises the morale," he said, while the Trumps served lunch. "This shows a lot of support."

Robert Hendricks, 48, an electrical engineer standing on line at NRG Stadium, was skeptical about Trump's visit to Houston.

"What's he going to do? Use us as props to serve us lunch?" he said, but added: "It's good that he's showing his face."

As the Trumps made their way through areas affected by Harvey, attention was also focused on Minute Maid Park, where baseball's Houston Astros returned to the city to play the first game of a double-header. The team relocated to Florida for three games and were returning to the Texas field for the first time. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner threw out the first pitch at the first game against the New York Mets, and a moment of silence was observed for those who perished.

People have been returning to the Norchester area of Houston, where homes were hit with a metre of floodwater. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Trump later touched down in Lake Charles, La., where Harvey hit as a tropical storm. During his brief stop there, Trump met with first responders and a group of volunteers known as the Cajun Navy, many of whom were in cowboy hats and waders. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards accompanied him. Trump supporters lined the route to and from the National Guard Armory, and before departing for Washington, the president posed for photos with law enforcement officers who'd led his motorcade.

1 million out of their homes

The storm, one of the costliest to hit the United States, has displaced more than one million people. Fifty are feared dead from flooding that has paralyzed Houston, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, which has a population of about 120,000.

 The storm is blamed for at least 44 deaths.

Authorities say an elderly woman was found floating face-down in water in her flooded home in Port Arthur, Texas. Justice of the Peace Brad Burnett told radio station KFDM on Saturday that the woman was found dead in her bedroom. He says the house had at least 60 centimetres of water. 

Hurricane Harvey came ashore last Friday as the strongest storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years. Much of the damage took place in the Houston metropolitan area, which has an economy about the same size as Argentina's.

Members of New Jersey Task Force 1 conduct high water rescue operations of stranded pets in the aftermath of tropical storm Harvey in Wharton, Texas, on Thursday. (Reuters)

Seventy per cent of Harris County, which encompasses Houston, at one point was covered with 45 centimetres or more of water, county officials said.

Trump first visited the Gulf region on Tuesday, but stayed clear of the disaster zone, saying he did not want to hamper rescue efforts. Instead, he met with state and local leaders, and first responders.

He was criticized, however, for not meeting with victims of the worst storm to hit Texas in 50 years, and largely focusing on the logistics of the government response rather than the suffering of residents.

People wait on the front deck of a flooded home in Orange, Tex., on Friday. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

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

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said that his state may need more than $125 billion.

Trump pledges exceed donations, says report

Trump has pledged $1 million from his own money toward Harvey relief. But the Trump Foundation came under heavy scrutiny during the 2016 presidential campaign when it was revealed that Trump frequently did not follow through on his charitable promises.

Records show that in the 15 years before his campaign, Trump made $8.5 million in pledges, but paid out about $2.8 million, according to the Washington Post.

The storm, which lingered around the Gulf of Mexico Coast for days, dumped record amounts of rain in Texas and left devastation across more than 480 kilometres of the state's coast.

As water receded, many returned to survey the damage and left hundreds of thousands wondering how they can recover.

'We never had water here'

In Orange, Texas, about 200 kilometres east of Houston, Sam Dougharty, 36, returned on Friday where waist-high water remained 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. The chickens were sagging on the top two roosts of their coop.

"We never had water here. This is family land. My aunt's owned it for 40 years and never had water here," he said.

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

Hundreds of thousands apply for disaster relief

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

Some 440,000 Texans have already applied for federal financial disaster assistance, and some $79 million has been approved so far, Abbott said.

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.

The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has risen more than 17.5 cents since the storm struck, hitting $2.59 as of Saturday morning, motorists group AAA said.

With files from The Associated Press


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