Trump praises rescue effort as Houston deals with ‘epic’ flood

Two dams overflowing as Texan authorities rescue more than 3,500 with 15 believed dead

US president Donald Trump made a brief visit to Texas on Tuesday as the city of Houston and its environs were left devastated by the impact of Tropical Storm Harvey.

Two dams to the west of the city began to overflow, posing a threat to towns in the surrounding areas, with further flooding expected in the coming days.

A record 50 inches of rain had fallen by late Tuesday in the east of Houston, breaking the previous record of 48 inches set during tropical cyclone Amelia in Medina, Texas in 1978.

More than 3,500 people had been rescued since the storm battered the Texas coast on Friday, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said.


While the death toll was reported to have reached 15, Houston's mayor Sylvester Turner said officials were "still trying to assess" how many people were missing. He also confirmed that 60-year-old police officer Steve Perez was among the dead. He died in his patrol car after leaving his home in the early hours of Sunday morning to help in the rescue effort. His body was recovered by officers on Tuesday morning.

More than 9,000 people have gathered in the Houston Convention Centre seeking shelter, with authorities predicting that 30,000 people may be left temporarily homeless by the effects of the storm, the worst to hit Texas in 50 years. As neighbourhoods were engulfed by rising water, thousands of people were evacuated by volunteers and private boat owners.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Louisiana, preparations were under way for the arrival of Tropical Storm Harvey which was expected to land in the Cameron Parish area in the southwest of the state on Wednesday morning, about 320km (200 miles) west of New Orleans.

Some areas of southwest Louisiana had already received 10-20 inches of rain.

As New Orleans prepared to mark the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the city was also making preparations for a possible rise in water levels, with up to 10 inches of rain predicted. Schools in the city have been closed and teams are trying to mend pumps and turbines that were put in place after Hurricane Katrina which ran into difficulty earlier this month.

The US president and his wife Melania were briefed by the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and other officials in Corpus Christi just over 320km southwest of Houston on Tuesday.

They then left for Washington in the mid-afternoon from Austin, further north in the state.

Officials said that a decision had been made not to divert resources into receiving the president at the heart of the flooding crisis in Houston.

‘We love you’

Speaking at a press conference in Corpus Christi, Mr Trump praised the rescue effort. “We want to be looked at in five years and in 10 years from now as this is the way to do it. This was of epic proportion, no one has ever seen anything like this and I just want to say that working with the governor [Abbott] and his entire team has been an honour for us.”

The president also made an impromptu appearance outside the fire station where the briefing was taking place. Wearing a white baseball cap with the word “USA” printed on it, he thanked the assembled crowd.

“We love you, you are special, we are here to take care of you. It’s going well,” he said to the crowd.

“What a crowd, what a turn out.”

He also thanked the governor and the state’s two senators. “This has been a total co-operative effort. It’s historic, its epic, but I tell you it happened in Texas and Texas can handle anything,” before waving a Texan flag to cheers.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent