CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS / WASHINGTON —
President Donald Trump on Tuesday inspected the huge cleanup and rescue work in southeastern Texas from Hurricane Harvey and said the storm recovery would probably be one of the most expensive efforts the U.S. has ever undertaken.
The storm is already a record-breaking disaster. More than 49 inches (124 centimeters) of rain have poured down on Houston since Friday night — the most rain ever to fall in the continental U.S. in such a short period.
Visiting an emergency operations center in the Texas capital of Austin late Tuesday, Trump said his administration and Congress would come up with the "right solution" to help storm victims.
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The president and first lady Melania Trump spent the day in Texas to get a firsthand look at the indescribable damage caused by Harvey. No longer a major hurricane, the tropical storm was still dumping heavy rain on southeastern Texas and western Louisiana.
Several Cabinet members accompanied Trump, including Health and Human Services chief Tom Price, who said his department was trying to make sure storm victims get the medical care they need, especially those with chronic diseases who may be unable to reach their regular physicians.
Housing Secretary Ben Carson said his department was reallocating assets from routine spending to disaster relief.
In Corpus Christi, where the hurricane hit the Texas Gulf Coast, Trump said he wanted his administration's storm recovery effort to be "better than ever before."
In an ironic convergence of hurricane history, Tuesday was the 12th anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana and caused catastrophic damage in New Orleans.
Trump said Harvey was a "historic ... epic" storm. Waving a Texas state flag as he spoke to cheering supporters in Corpus Christi, he added: "But it happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything."
Total damage estimates from Harvey have ranged between $30 billion and $100 billion. But the immediate job for emergency workers, including firefighters, doctors and the Texas National Guard, is rescuing thousands of people still trapped by floods inside or on top of their homes.
More than 3,500 people in the Houston area already have been rescued in around-the-clock efforts by emergency personnel and volunteers pushing boats, rafts, inflatable dinghies and even floating plastic furniture through streets and highways that now resemble brown, debris-filled rivers.
As many as nine storm-related deaths have been reported. They included Houston police Sergeant Steve Perez, who drowned in a highway underpass Saturday when his car was overwhelmed by floodwaters as he tried to get to his post.
Police Chief Art Acevedo could barely hold back his tears when he talked about Perez, saying the 59-year-old veteran officer would get a proper tribute from the city as soon as possible.
More rain fell in Houston Tuesday as the storm, which has moved back out over the Gulf of Mexico, remained near the Texas coastline, sucking up moisture from the warm Gulf waters, normally above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (above 30 degrees Celsius) at this time of year.
Forecasters said Harvey would move back inland, passing north and east of Houston Wednesday. Once it moves away from the Gulf, the tropical storm is expected to weaken further as it heads toward the U.S. East Coast by the end of this week.
Rough days ahead
But the worst may not be over for storm survivors. Brock Long, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said difficult times lie ahead, even after the rain stops.
"This recovery is going to be frustrating," Long said in a message of assurance to Texas residents, adding, "We're going to be here with you."
Trump did not visit Houston, where flood recovery and relocation efforts were concentrated, in order to avoid disrupting rescue efforts. But White House officials said the president planned to return to Texas as soon as Saturday to see how the recovery effort is going. He also plans to stop in Louisiana, east of Texas, which also has received a heavy share of Harvey's rains.
VOA's Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.