President Donald Trump handed out box lunches and hugged children at an emergency shelter in Houston as he sought to rally America behind victims of Hurricane Harvey while they dig out of the devastation left by the megastorm.
The president has called for a “National Day of Prayer” Sunday, one day after his visit to Texas and Louisiana to meet with victims and review the damage left by the catastrophic flooding unleashed by storm. “We’re signing a lot of documents now to get money. USD 7.9 billion,” Trump said at the giant NRG Center exhibition space that has been turned into a shelter.
“We signed it and now it’s going through a very quick, hopefully quick process.”
Houston, the country’s fourth largest city, was taking tentative steps back to normalcy after a week of flooding that claimed the lives of 42 people and damaged 40,000 to 50,000 homes.
Full recovery is expected to take years, and the costs are conservatively estimated at tens of billions of dollars, with analysts putting the range between 30 and 100 billion dollars.
Trump and his wife Melania shook hands and posed for selfies at the NRG Center shelter with evacuees eager to greet the VIPs.
Accompanied by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Trump went to a section of the hall where a homemade banner that read “KID ZONE!!” hung on the wall. He was quickly surrounded by small children who gave him hugs, handshakes and high-fives.
One young girl grabbed the president in an embrace — and the grandfather of eight responded by picking her up and giving her a kiss.
“As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing. I think even for the country to watch it, for the world to watch. It’s been beautiful,” he told reporters.
Clearly enjoying himself, Trump then joined volunteers handing out box lunches. He chatted with evacuees who rushed over, while many more crowded behind security barricades with their phones aloft.
Kevin Jason Hipolito, 37, an unemployed Houston resident who was rescued from the roof of his car after his first floor apartment flooded, said he was pleased that Trump visited the city after omitting it on an earlier visit to the state.
“I’m a Democrat. It raises the morale. When he went to Corpus, I was like, ‘man he just forgot about us.’ This shows a lot of support. It perks up morale.”
But Ima George, a 42-year-old whose young son was in the children’s play area, was less impressed.
“The first time he came to Texas he didn’t even bother to come to Houston,” she said. “It doesn’t make any difference if he came or not. The city is supporting itself and supporting other people outside of the city.”
Downtown cafes were open and a couple was even seen jogging, though area hotels were packed with exhausted families — including many who have received vouchers to help pay for rooms. Some checked in carrying their belongings in plastic bags.