Trump surveys 'epic' damage as Harvey's rains lash Texas

HOUSTON, Aug 29 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Texas on Tuesday to survey the damage of Tropical Storm Harvey, the biggest natural disaster of his tenure, as record-setting rainfall lashed Houston and tens of thousands of people fled flooded homes.

The slow-moving storm has brought catastrophic flooding to Texas, killing at least 11 people and paralyzing Houston, the fourth most-populous U.S. city. City officials were preparing to shelter up to 19,000 people, with thousands more expected to flee the area as the flooding entered its fourth day.

A wide swath of Houston and its surrounding suburbs were under water and forecasters warned the rain would continue through Thursday, stressing the dams and drainage systems that protect the low-lying U.S. energy hub.

RELATED: President Trump, Melania Trump visit Texas in wake of Harvey

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President Trump, Melania visit Texas in wake of Harvey
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President Trump, Melania visit Texas in wake of Harvey
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington on their way to view storm damage in Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington on their way to view storm damage in Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington on their way to view storm damage in Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington on their way to view storm damage in Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington, U.S., on their way to view storm damage in Texas August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One for travel to Texas to visit the areas devastated by Tropical Storm Harvey, the first major natural disaster of his White House tenure, from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington on their way to view storm damage in Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One for travel to Texas to visit the areas devastated by Tropical Storm Harvey, the first major natural disaster of his White House tenure, from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One for travel to Texas to visit the areas devastated by Tropical Storm Harvey, the first major natural disaster of his White House tenure, from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump (C) and first lady Melania Trump (2ndR) are greeted by Texas Governor Greg Abbott (2ndL) prior to receiving a briefing on Tropical Storm Harvey relief efforts in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump (R) receive a briefing on Tropical Storm Harvey relief efforts with Texas Governor Greg Abbott (2ndL) in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump step off Air Force One prior to receiving a briefing on Tropical Storm Harvey relief efforts in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A crowd of people stand behind a makeshift cross as they welcome U.S. President Donald Trump's arrival in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump (C) waves next to first lady Melania Trump upon arrival prior to receiving a briefing on Tropical Storm Harvey relief efforts in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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Officials in Harris County, where Houston is located, warned area residents to evacuate as they released water from overflowing reservoirs to alleviate pressure on two dams, a move that would add to flooding along the Buffalo Bayou waterway that runs through the area.

Trump, speaking in Corpus Christi near where Harvey first came ashore last week as the most powerful hurricane to strike Texas in more than 50 years, said he wanted the relief effort to stand as an example of how to respond to a storm.

"We want to do it better than ever before," he said.

Trump later spoke to a crowd of people affected by the storm.

"This storm, it's epic what happened. But you know what, it happened in Texas and Texas can handle anything," Trump said, before waving a Texas state flag over the crowd, standing on a stepladder near a fire truck.

RELATED: Texans being evacuated during Hurricane Harvey

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Texans being evacuated during Hurricane Harvey
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Texans being evacuated during Hurricane Harvey
People evacuate by dump truck from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Volunteers unload evacuee Taylor Mitchell from a rescue vehicle at the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. Picture taken August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Men look for people wanting to be evacuated from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Evacuee Pete Quintana Jr. is wrapped in a blanket at the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. Picture taken August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A man carries a child after being evacuated by dump truck from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People are evacuated by a high water truck from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People are evacuated from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in a collector's vintage military truck belonging to a volunteer in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Evacuees are airlifted in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter after flooding due to Hurricane Harvey inundated neighborhoods in Houston, Texas, August 27, 2017. Picture taken August 27, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Johanna Strickland/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
People are rescued from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in an armored police mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Sterling Broughton is moved from a rescue boat onto a kayak after flood waters from Hurricane Harvey rose in Dickenson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Texas National Guard soldiers aid residents in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 27, 2017 Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD/Texas Military Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Barb Davis, 74. is helped to dry land after being rescued from her flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People are rescued from a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People are rescued from a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People are rescued from a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A boy and girl hug their grandmothers' dogs after being rescued from rising floodwaters due to Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. A deluge of rain and rising floodwaters left�Houston�immersed and helpless,�crippling a global center of the oil industry and testing the economic resiliency of a state that's home to almost 1 in 12 U.S. workers. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rescuers help a woman from a flooded retirement home into a boat after Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. A deluge of rain and rising floodwaters left�Houston�immersed and helpless,�crippling a global center of the oil industry and testing the economic resiliency of a state that's home to almost 1 in 12 U.S. workers. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People wait for a ride to a shelter after being rescued from a flooded neighborhood when it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Dean Mize holds children as he and Jason Legnon use an airboat to rescue people from homes that are inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Harvey has drawn comparisons with Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans 12 years ago, killing 1,800 people. Former President George W. Bush was widely criticized for his administration's handling of the response to that disaster, taking a heavy toll on public support of his administration.

Trump clearly was aiming to avoid a similar reaction.

An 11th death was reported on Tuesday -- Houston Police Sergeant Steve Perez, 60, a 34-year veteran of the force whose body was found after apparently drowning while attempting to get to work on Sunday, Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters.

Acevedo said Perez' family had urged him not to leave the house because of the dangerous flooding but the officer told them, "We have work to do."

Some 3,500 people have been rescued from high waters in the Houston area with police, firefighters and National Guard troops continuing to try to locate those marooned in high waters.

Large numbers of civilians also formed ad hoc rescue groups, many using boats to pluck neighbors from flooded homes.

Gloria Stilwell, 44, who described herself as a stay-at-home mom, said she agreed with Trump's assessment that Houstonians were well equipped to handle the storm.

"I totally agree with him. Texas can definitely handle it," Stilwell said as she registered to volunteer at a shelter. "I've lived here since 1980, through plenty of hurricanes. Texans have always banded together."

Nurse Lisa Ike, 39, was less impressed.

"Texas can handle anything? I just lost my house and three cars. We need help," Ike said, after being shown Trump's comments.

She said she had not voted in the presidential election and said she had not yet made up her mind about Trump, adding, "My opinion will be made by how he handles this situation." 

RECORD RAINFALL

The storm broke rainfall records for the continental United States, with one site south of Houston recording 49.2 inches (1.25 meters) of precipitation since the storm's start. The rainfall about what the region typically sees in a year and exceeds 48 inches (1.22 meters) recorded in 1978.

Multiple looters were arrested overnight, police said.

Harvey has roiled energy markets and wrought damage estimated to be in the billions of dollars, with rebuilding likely to last beyond Trump's four-year term in office.

After Corpus Christi, Trump was headed to the state capital Austin to meet with officials. Houston was not on his itinerary because much of it is impassable.

About 9,000 evacuees were staying at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said his office had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assets to allow the city to shelter another 10,000 people.

"I'm just trying to stay strong," said Julio Gamez, 35, who evacuated to the center on Saturday night with his wife after floodwaters rose to within a foot (30 cm) of his roof. "We've lost everything. But at least we're safe."

Other shelters were set up in Dallas, about 250 miles (402 km) to the north, for about 8,000 people, and Austin, 160 miles (258 km) west, to take in 7,000 people. The Red Cross said it had 34,000 cots in the region and enough food for that many people.

LOUISIANA ALSO THREATENED

Harvey was also drenching Louisiana 12 years after Hurricane Katrina hit the state and killed 1,800 people.

The slow-moving storm's center was in the Gulf of Mexico about 93 miles (150 km) southeast of Houston by midday Monday. It was likely to remain just off the coast of Texas through Tuesday night before moving inland late Tuesday or early Wednesday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Harvey was expected to produce another 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) of rain through Thursday over parts of the upper Texas coast into southwestern Louisiana.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to half of U.S. refining capacity. The reduction in supply led gasoline futures to hit their highest level in two years this week as Harvey knocked out about 16 percent of total U.S. refining capacity, based on company reports and Reuters estimates.

 

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