WASHINGTON — President Trump landed in storm-brushed Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday to see for himself some of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Harvey and demonstrate his personal commitment to a region still in the grips of a historic natural disaster.
Trump had pushed aides to schedule a visit to Texas as early as possible after Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas, on Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane. He settled on Corpus Christi to avoid disrupting emergency efforts, aides said.
”We are going to get you back and operating immediately,’’ Trump told the impromptu crowd.
The city is 30 miles away from the most severely affected parts of the Gulf Coast and it sustained relatively light damage from the initial impact.
“It’s a real team, and we want to do it better than ever before,” Trump said of the response effort during a meeting with officials from local, state, and federal agencies in a Corpus Christi firehouse. “We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as — this is the way to do it.”
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas, sitting next to the president, sought to allay concerns about the situation at the convention center in downtown Houston, where 9,000 residents fleeing rising floodwaters have crammed into a makeshift shelter designed to accommodate 5,000.
“This is not the Superdome,” Brock Long, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said, referring to the nightmarish conditions residents of New Orleans endured while seeking shelter at a sports arena after Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.
“At the convention center, we are sustaining food,” added Long, who sat near the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz, who was briefly trapped by flooding in Houston on Monday.
The people at the convention center have food and security, Long said.
“I have an incident management team inside the city of Houston,” he said. “And more and more people are being moved to shelters to stabilize the situation.”
“All eyes are on Houston, and so are mine,” added Long.
After conferring with emergency management officials, the president, accompanied by Melania Trump, the first lady, boarded Air Force One to travel north to Austin, to meet with other officials.
As he exited the firehouse, Trump noticed a crowd of about 1,000 people, some of them cheering.
He grabbed a lone star Texas flag and shouted back to the crowd, seeming to forget, for the moment, that he was at the scene of a disaster and not one of his rallies. “What a crowd!” he said. “What a turnout! This is historic. It’s epic what happened, but you know what, it happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything.’’
In the state capital, the president also met with several members of Congress and with local elected officials and mayors. He had no plans to meet the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner.
Aides say Trump is eager to avoid the mistakes made by President George W. Bush in 2005, when he took a relatively hands-off approach to the response to Hurricane Katrina.
The president Monday pledged to quickly pass an appropriations bill to deal with the massive damage to private property and public infrastructure.
Trump’s vow of swift action on billions of dollars in disaster aid is at odds with his proposed budget, which would eliminate the program that helps Americans without flood insurance rebuild their homes and cut grants to states that would allow them to take long-term steps to reduce the risk of flooding before disaster strikes.
Trump’s budget for 2018 zeroes out the Community Development Block Grants, a key program that helped the Gulf Coast rebuild after Hurricane Katrina and helped New York and New Jersey come back from Superstorm Sandy. In the 2017 budget, the Republican-led Congress restored some of the block grant money.
Vice President Mike Pence and federal officials from the Department of Homeland Security have taken the lead on negotiating many of the details of the Harvey response, but Trump has taken pains to emphasize his involvement in the crisis.
Trump left Washington on a rainy morning, boarding Air Force One with an entourage of aides that included John F. Kelly, his chief of staff; Marc Short, his legislative affairs director and his point man with elected officials in the region; and specialists from the Small Business Administration, who will assist local businesses with recovery loans.
Melania Trump boarded wearing a green jacket, slacks, and stilettos — attire which was widely noted on social media. She emerged from the plane in Corpus Christi wearing a white jacket, a baseball cap emblazoned with “Flotus” and white tennis shoes.
Donald Trump did not change clothes en route. He wore leather boots, khakis, and a white collared shirt with a windbreaker bearing a presidential seal; his white baseball cap read “USA.”