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Donald Trump has said he wants to provide “better than ever” recovery efforts to the victims of Storm Harvey after days of catastrophic flooding.
During a visit to Texas in the wake of the devastating storm which left most of Houston underwater, the president promised: “We are going to get you back and operating immediately.”
The US leader and First Lady Melania arrived in the crisis-hit state on late Tuesday morning local time as officials struggled to cope with the fourth day of the deluge and refuge centres were full to the brim of homeless families.
The couple arrived in coastal town Corpus Christi for briefings on the federal government’s response to the storm, which is expected to become the worst rainstorm in US history.
At least nine people, including six members of one family in Houston, are feared dead and 30,000 people are expected to be in need of emergency shelter. Authorities say they are still receiving more than 1,000 calls an hour for help.
It is the first major natural disaster since President Trump took office in January and many commentators say it is a chance for the leader to make a show of his administration’s emergency response.
Speaking to crowds in Corpus Christi after he arrived, President Trump said: “This was of epic proportion.”
“We want to do it better than ever before,” he said, referring to the recovery effort.
“We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, ‘this is the way to do it.'”
The former businessman met with Texas governor Greg Abbott and senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn in front of members of the public who had gathered to greet him.
“What a crowd. What a turnout,” President Trump said.
“This is historic. It’s epic what happened, but you know what, it happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything.”
Category four hurricane Harvey – the fiercest to hit Texas in more than 50 years – was downgraded to a tropical storm after reaching land over the weekend.
It has led to mass evacuations and paralysed much of the city of Houston, which is home to 6.8 million people. The exact death toll is unclear and continues to climb.
The adverse weather saw more than 30 inches of rain fall in some places and another 24 inches is still expected as authorities warned the worst weather could be yet to come with three more days of downpours.
The amount of rain generated by the storm would normally be seen only once in more than 1,000 years.
The president and first lady Melania Trump were pictured boarding Air Force One at the White House on Tuesday morning local time ahead of briefings on relief efforts in Corpus Christi and meetings with officials in Austin.
Many people made jibes at Mrs Trump for her choice of “sensible shoes” after spotting her in stilettos as she left the White House, with one person suggesting: “I wouldn’t normally comment on Melania’s shoes but I’m not sure if this is what you wear to go meet people who’ve lost all of their belongings”.
Others hit back on social media, with one man saying: “Ok everyone, look. Melania Trump is capable of changing her shoes.” When the couple landed in Corpus Christi, Melania had changed into a pair of white trainers.
Authorities have so far rescued thousands of people left stranded in the storm.
But fears are growing that fresh rainfall forecast to come in the next few days could bring flash flooding to Louisiana and New Orleans, which is currently marking 12 years since the devastating Hurricane Katrina.
Although the death toll from 2005’s Katrina is uncertain, more than 1,800 people are estimated to have died in Katrina, which was cited as a political disaster for then-US president George W. Bush.
Between five to 10 inches of rain is expected to drop over south east Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama over the next few days.
President Trump has already signed disaster proclamations – meaning federal relief efforts are issued – for Texas and Louisiana.
But during his visit on Tuesday, he said paying for storm relief for Harvey was going to be a “costly proposition”. He added Congress will come through with the “right solution” in terms of helping the state.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday that President Trump wants to be “very cautious” about making sure that his activities in Texas do not disrupt recovery efforts.
She said Trump’s two stops are intended to highlight coordination at all levels of government and lay the groundwork for what is expected to be a lengthy recovery after the storm.
President Trump had previously said that federal cash for the hit areas will arrive soon.
He told people suffering from Hurricane Harvey and resulting flooding that “you’re going to have what you need and it’s going to go fast”.
Mr Trump added that he has spoken with members of Congress and “everybody feels for” people in the storm’s path, telling flooding victims during a press conference on Monday that “we are 100% with you”.
He added: “We will get through this. We will come out stronger and believe me we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before.”
Vice president Mike Pence said in a series of radio interviews that the administration would “be there for the long haul to help rebuild Texas and all the affected areas from Hurricane Harvey”.
He estimated 500,000 Americans could be eligible for disaster assistance.
“The president has been continuously engaged in this. We’ve all been deeply concerned by the impact of this storm. We’re saddened by the loss of life and the president is anxious to come to the region.”
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