U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump flew to Texas on Tuesday for a first-hand look at the flood-ravaged state, even as Tropical Storm Harvey continues to dump heavy rain on the region.
Trump told rescue officials in Corpus Christi, near where Harvey, then a powerful hurricane, first made landfall last Friday, that he was "very, very proud" of their efforts to save lives and help people escape the massive flooding in the state.
Trump said he hopes that in five or 10 years natural disaster managers would look at the government's rescue efforts this week as "the way to do it. We want to do it better than ever before."
Before flying to the state capital of Austin, Trump waved a Texas state flag and told cheering supporters that the storm is "historic, it's epic but it happened in Teas and Texas can handle anything."
But Brock Long, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned of difficult times ahead, even when the rains finally end. A U.S. tropical storm record of more 125 centimeters (49 inches) of rain has already fallen on southern Texas.
"This recovery is going to be frustrating," Long said, while assuring the state's residents, "We're going to be here with you."
Later, Trump, wearing a white baseball cap emblazoned with "USA" lettering and a presidential windbreaker jacket, and his wife will head to the state capital, Austin, to receive more briefings from local and state leaders, and to tour an emergency operations center.
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There were no plans for the Trumps to visit Houston, where massive floodwaters have routed thousands of people from their homes, to avoid hindering the rescue efforts in America's fourth-largest city. But the White House said Trump plans to return to Texas on Saturday to view more storm damage, by which time forecasters are predicting the storm finally will have weakened, its remnants dissipating to the north.
More than 3,500 people have been rescued in Houston as churning and rising waters have inundated their homes, with government rescue workers and volunteers with boats, rafts and inflatable dinghies going door to door looking for people who want to escape. Rescue helicopter workers plucked people stranded on rooftops and also rescued 300 animals imperiled by the flooding.
"This is a storm of historic proportions," said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
The perils of the storm mounted Tuesday, with officials in Brazoria County, south of Houston, reporting that storm waters had breached a levee at Columbia Lakes. In a Twitter message, they told nearby residents, "Get out now!"
Ahead of his Texas visit, Trump on Monday pledged that the national government would provide whatever rescue assistance and financial help Texas and the neighboring state of Louisiana need to recover from the tens of billions of dollars in damage caused by the storm.
"We are one American family," Trump said as he faced the first large-scale natural disaster of his seven-month presidency. "You're going to have what you need and it's going to go fast."
He pledged that the federal government would be there to help on the "long and difficult road to recovery."
The Red Cross said more than 17,000 people stayed at shelters Monday night, and officials say 30,000 eventually may be moved to an array of government buildings, churches and other facilities to stay safe.
One Coast Guard commander, Vice Admiral Karl Schultz, told CNN he had 18 helicopters in Houston, with a dozen in the air at any one time, alongside those of the National Guard.
"If you can get to your roof, wave a towel," he urged Houston residents. "Leave a marking on the roof so helicopter crews can see you."
The official death toll from the storm stood at three, but six other deaths may be storm-related.
Houston police chief Art Acevedo said he was worried the toll would climb once the rains stop, waters recede and recovery efforts begin. Other news media place the death toll higher.
"I'm really worried about how many bodies we're going to find," he said.
Rain continued to batter south Texas and Louisiana to the east, with another 60 centimeters expected on top of the 90 centimeters that have already drenched parts of the region.
Weather experts say the amount of rain would normally only be seen once in a thousand years. The storm's center edged off the coast of Texas into the Gulf of Mexico, drawing energy from the warm waters there and pushing band after band of heavy rain onshore.
The storm is expected to again cross back onto the mainland on Wednesday before heading north and losing strength.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters he deployed the entire 15,000-member Texas National Guard to help deal with the disaster.
Abbott praised local leaders along the Texas Gulf Coast, calling them "humane, courageous, and heroic." He said the way people got through the storm and that so many lives were saved is "remarkable."
Trump already has declared 18 counties in Texas and Louisiana as disaster areas, making them eligible for federal help. Abbott has made a similar designation for 54 counties to speed state aid.
Trump said 8,000 federal workers are on the ground in Texas, including many with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.