US President Donald Trump travels to Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana on Saturday to meet victims of catastrophic storm Harvey, one of the worst natural disasters in US history that is presenting a test of his administration.
While Trump visits, attention will also be focused on Minute Maid Park, where baseball’s Houston Astros play their first home games since Harvey devastated the fourth-most populous US city. The Saturday doubleheader with the New York Mets is expected to be wrought with emotion and punctuated with moments to honour the dozens who died as a result of Harvey.
The storm, one of the costliest to hit the United States, has displaced more than 1 million people, with 50 feared dead from flooding that paralysed Houston, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, a city of 120,000 people.
Hurricane Harvey came ashore last Friday as the strongest storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years. Much of the damage took place in the Houston metropolitan area, which has an economy about the same size as Argentina’s.
Seventy per cent of Harris County, which encompasses Houston, at one point was covered with 45cm or more of water, county officials said.
Trump first visited the Gulf region on Tuesday, but stayed clear of the disaster zone, saying he did not want to hamper rescue efforts. Instead, he met with state and local leaders, and first responders.
He was criticised, however, for not meeting with victims of the worst storm to hit Texas in 50 years, and for largely focusing on the logistics of the government response rather than the suffering of residents.
The White House said Trump will first travel to Houston to meet flood survivors and volunteers who assisted in relief efforts and then move on to Lake Charles, another area hammered by the storm.
The Trump administration in a letter to Congress asked for a $7.85 billion appropriation for response and initial recovery efforts. White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert has said aid funding requests would come in stages as more became known about the impact of the storm.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said that his state may need more than $125 billion.
The storm, which lingered around the Gulf of Mexico Coast for days, dumped record amounts of rain and left devastation across more than 480km of the state’s coast.
As water receded, many returned to survey the damage and left hundreds of thousands wondering how they can recover.
Harvey came on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,800 around New Orleans. Then-US President George W Bush’s administration was roundly criticised for its botched early response to the storm.
Some of the tens of thousands of people forced into shelters by Harvey will attend the Astros game where Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner will throw out the first pitch and a moment of silence in planned for those who perished.
Sports have helped other cities rebound from catastrophe, such as when the New York Mets played the first baseball game in their damaged city 10 days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, or when the New Orleans Saints returned to the Superdome in 2006 for football a year after Hurricane Katrina.
In the Harris County area of Clear Creek, the nearly 127cm of rain that fell there equated to a once in a 40,000 year event, Jeff Lindner, meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District, said.
Some 440,000 Texans have already applied for federal financial disaster assistance, and some $79 million has been approved so far, Abbott said.
The storm shut about a fourth of US refinery capacity, much of which is clustered along the Gulf Coast, and caused gasoline prices to spike to a two-year high ahead of the long Labor Day holiday weekend.