Trump sees 'a lot of love' in Houston while visiting Harvey victims

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

Trump, who travelled aboard Air Force One with his wife Melania for the visit, talked at NRG Stadium with individuals affected by the floods. The couple spent time in an area of the shelter designated for children. Trump was also to meet with a delegation of Texas officials to discuss flood relief before he travels to Lake Charles, La.

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.

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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.”

During Trump’s visit, attention was focused on Minute Maid Park, where baseball’s Houston Astros were playing their first home games since Harvey devastated the city. At the start of the Saturday doubleheader with the New York Mets, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner threw out the  first pitch, and a moment of silence was observed for those who perished.

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

In Houston, friends and family gathered Friday evening to remember 42-year-old Benito Juarez Cavazos, one of dozens of people whose deaths are attributed to Harvey. Cavazos came to Texas illegally from Mexico 28 years ago and was in the process of getting his green card.

“It’s very unfortunate that right when he finally had hopes of being able to maybe go to Mexico soon to go see his family it all went downhill,” his cousin, Maria Cavazos, said. “Sadly, he’s going back to Mexico, but in an unfortunate way.”

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.

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. 

The woman’s death raises the death count from Harvey to at least 43 people.

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.

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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.

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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 Labor 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.

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