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Trump visits Houston shelter, promises quick relief for hurricane victims

By Toluse Olorunnipa • Sep 2, 2017 at 7:51 PM

HOUSTON (TNS) — President Donald Trump traveled to Houston Saturday to see the damage from Hurricane Harvey and comfort victims displaced by the epic flooding, promising that the federal government will act quickly to help the region rebuild.

Trump shook hands and posed for pictures while visiting the NRG Center, which is being used as an emergency shelter, a day after sending Congress a request for almost $8 billion in initial relief for victims of the catastrophic storm.

The storm victims "are really happy with what's going on," Trump said, in reference to the disaster response. "It's something that's been very well received."

Trump said he hoped it would be a "quick process" to get the first sum of relief money to the areas affected. It's unclear if House Republicans will go along with White House suggestions that the aid measure be tied to raising the federal debt ceiling.

It was Trump's second visit to the storm-ravaged state within the week, after he met with state and local officials in Rockport and Austin Tuesday.

On Saturday, at a stop at the First Church in Pearland, Texas, which has been providing food to people in the region, Trump marveled at the roads he saw that had been flooded just two or three days before.

Standing alongside his wife, Melania; Texas Gov. Greg Abbott; and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas., at the church, Trump offered words of hope for the survivors of the storm.

"The water's disappearing," Trump said. "We knew we have a long way to go, but the water's disappearing. And you look at the neighborhoods and you see it's –– we just saw it through there. Two days ago, even yesterday, they had water. Today it's all swept up and cleaned up. We've got a lot of hard-working people, I'll tell you that."

Trump closed by discussing the effort to rebuild. "We're talking about, they say two years, three years, but I think that because this is Texas you'll probably do it in six months."

Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the cities of Corpus Christi and Rockport Friday to meet with victims of Harvey, pray at a church and help clear debris that had been spread when Harvey struck.

Trump's first visit to Texas stood in stark contrast to Pence's trip. The president Tuesday didn't spend much time with victims of the hurricane, saw little of the storm's damage firsthand, and didn't mention the dozens of Texans who died in record-setting flooding. The president held an impromptu rally with hundreds of supporters who had gathered to see him in Corpus Christi, saying "what a crowd, what a turnout'' and describing the hurricane as "epic.''

Meeting with storm victims on Saturday, Trump helped load bottles of water on the back of a truck at the church. At the NRC Center, he picked a young girl with beads in her braided hair for a hug and then set her back down. He later walked over to a table full of board games and played around with another child while chatting with adults.

The total cost of Harvey, which inundated Houston and has left tens of thousands of people in emergency shelters, remains to be seen. Estimates have already topped $100 billion.

As of Thursday, the balance left in FEMA's disaster relief fund was $2.1 billion, of which $641 million was then immediately available for response and recovery efforts related to Hurricane Harvey, said Mark Peterson, a spokesman for the agency.

More than 311,000 Texans have already applied for federal disaster relief money and more than $530 million already has been granted, Pence said Thursday. About 100,000 homes were damaged by the storm, White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said Thursday.

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(Anna Edgerton contributed to this report.)

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