CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Eager to show he’s on the job and taking action, President Trump offered upbeat reassurances Tuesday to Texans who felt the wrath of Harvey, promising local residents, “We are going to get you back and operating immediately.”
Starting his visit to Texas in Corpus Christi, Mr. Trump’s motorcade passed broken trees, knocked-down signs, and fences askew as it made its way to a firehouse for a briefing with local officials.
“This was of epic proportion,” the President declared as he pledged to provide model recovery assistance. “We want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, ‘This is the way to do it.’ ”
After the briefing, Mr. Trump stood on a ladder and spoke to a crowd of hundreds of people gathered outside.
“What a crowd. What a turnout,” President Trump said, thanking Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. “This is historic. It’s epic what happened, but you know what, it happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything.”
Mr. Trump’s optimistic reassurances stood to uplift those affected by the storm.
The more measured assessments came from emergency management officials who cautioned a long, difficult road ahead. Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who appeared with Mr. Trump, warned, “This recovery is going to be frustrating.”
“[But] this is not the Superdome,” Mr. Long added, when asked about the conditions of the George R. Brown Convention Center. “At the convention center, we are sustaining food and security.”
Mr. Long was referring to the nightmarish conditions residents of New Orleans endured while seeking shelter at a sports arena after Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.
Mr. Trump, his aides say, is eager to avoid the mistakes made by President George W. Bush in 2005, when he took a relatively hands-off approach to the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Trump drew cheers as he waved a Texas flag before the Corpus Christi crowd.
Mr. Trump, who 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, initially considered touring San Antonio, which is outside the most hard-hit areas. But he settled on Corpus Christi because it was 30 miles away from the most severely affected parts of the Gulf Coast and it sustained relatively light damage from the initial impact of the storm.
“The President wants to be very cautious about making sure that any activity doesn’t disrupt any of the recovery efforts that are still ongoing, which is the reason for the locations we are going here today,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters traveling with Mr. Trump. “As of right now, I don’t know that we will be able to get to some of the really damaged areas.”
Mr. Trump traveled with First Lady Melania Trump and Cabinet secretaries of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development, and the head of the Small Business Administration. The secretaries will play key roles in the recovery.
Mr. and Mrs. Trump and the rest of the group later flew to meet with state officials at the emergency operations center in Austin.
The Cabinet secretaries were to meet with their Texas counterparts during the visit.
In Austin, the President 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.
Vice President Mike Pence and federal officials from the Department of Homeland Security have taken the lead on negotiating details of the response, but Mr. Trump has taken pains to emphasize his involvement in the crisis.
“We are glad he’s [here],” said Ben Molina, a Corpus Christi councilman. “It’s important that he sees the damage around the coast. I’ve never seen anything like it, and neither has anybody else.”
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