President Trump Visits Houston As The Aftermath Of Hurricane Harvey Sets In | KERA News

President Trump Visits Houston As The Aftermath Of Hurricane Harvey Sets In

Sep 2, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program today in Houston, where floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey have mostly receded. Residents there are starting to turn their sights toward rebuilding. But in places farther east, like Beaumont and Pasadena, many communities are still under water. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Houston now, and he's here to tell us about all of that. Adrian, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: So give us a sense of how people are feeling in Houston.

FLORIDO: Well, I was out yesterday, and I just was getting this sort of sense of, you know, bewilderment and desolation from a lot of people over the extent of the damage. Many people here are, you know, getting back home after having evacuated the city or gone to shelters and realizing they truly did lose everything and are now trying to wrap their minds around exactly what it's going to take for them to rebuild.

For a scope of the magnitude, Michelle, just, I mean, the DHS says that 100,000 homes have been either damaged or completely destroyed by the storm. And it's not just homes. I was out yesterday with a bunch of guys who were, you know, trying to fix their cars. They had been completely flooded, you know, trying in vain to start the engines. Their cars had been destroyed too, so now, you know, no way to get to work.

MARTIN: So you would imagine that the demand for government help is going to be pretty huge after this because most people in the area don't have flood insurance. Have people started signing up for help? Is there any way for them to do that?

FLORIDO: There is. I mean, FEMA has begun taking requests for assistance. It says that 450,000 people have registered for FEMA help so far. About 120,000 of those requests have been approved. And more approvals are obviously on the way. There are also a lot of private initiatives in the city to help people. The Red Cross is still here. There is a big government Navy ship on its way to the Gulf Coast, loaded with supplies. And then there are also a lot of private organizations that are ramping up their efforts too, nonprofits going out into neighborhoods, especially lower income and immigrant communities, where there might be less people less likely to seek help, either because of language barriers or lack of transportation or immigration fears, going out and trying to help folks in those neighborhoods, too.

MARTIN: Now, President Trump made his second visit to the Gulf Coast today. He went for the first time on Tuesday. People who watched that visit may recall that he got some criticism for spending most of his time there being briefed by government officials. Was his visit to Houston today different?

FLORIDO: It was. He landed at a military base here, and he immediately met with victims of the storm. He then made his way to a couple of relief centers. He shook hands with volunteers and with victims of the storm. He handed out hot dogs. In a brief interaction with reporters, he spoke about the federal government's commitment to help. And listen to what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're signing a lot of documents now to get money into your state.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: What documents?

TRUMP: Seven point nine billion. We signed it. And now, it's going through a very quick - hopefully quick process.

FLORIDO: So he was referring there to the initial funding request that the White House has made to Congress. And that's just an initial request. They're going to request another $7 billion in the next few days. And it's expected that tens of billions of dollars will be allocated by the federal government to the relief efforts over the next months and years.

MARTIN: So tell us a bit more about places that are - so east of Houston, places like Beaumont, for example. What's the situation there - places closer to the Louisiana border?

FLORIDO: Yeah, cities like Port Arthur, Beaumont, those are still largely underwater. And residents there have been without tap water and electricity for several days. Some of those things are just getting back online. Thousands of people have lost homes and are taking shelter there. Listen to what Pastor Michael Nichols of the Breath of Life Ministry in Port Arthur told us.

MICHAEL NICHOLS: We didn't have no loss of life in our church, but it was difficult. We lost 22,000 homes in that flood in three hours' time. We only have three members of our church that still have a house.

FLORIDO: So that's the scene, Michel, across much of Eastern Texas right now. And once the floodwaters recede, folks there are going to themselves have to start looking toward recovery the way that folks in Houston have started to do just in the last couple of days.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Adrian Florido. He is in Houston. Adrian, thanks so much for speaking with us.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.