By Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will visit Texas on Tuesday to survey storm damage caused by Harvey, the first major U.S. natural disaster since he took office in January, the White House said on Sunday.
Harvey came ashore late on Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years and has killed at least two people. The death toll is expected to rise as the storm lashes the state for days, triggering record floods, tidal surges and tornadoes.
“The president will travel to Texas on Tuesday,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “We are coordinating logistics with state and local officials, and once details are finalized, we will let you know. We continue to keep all of those affected in our thoughts and prayers.” The widespread flooding caused by Harvey in Texas, including in Houston, the fourth most populous U.S. city, is the first test of how Trump, who never previously held political office, responds to a major storm on his watch.
Former President George W. Bush, a fellow Republican, was sharply criticized for his handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the last time a storm of Harvey’s magnitude struck the United States. Bush was called insensitive for not initially visiting New Orleans, hard hit by Katrina, and instead releasing a photo of himself looking out a plane window at the damage.
Since the president travels with a large retinue of Secret Service agents and under a rigorous security protocol, most administrations avoid visiting during the height of natural disasters for fear they will pull resources away from rescue and aid attempts.
During a video conference with his Cabinet on Sunday afternoon, Trump “reminded everyone that search and rescue efforts will transition to mass care, restoring power, providing life-sustaining necessities for the population that sheltered in place, and economic recovery,” according to a White House statement.
A year ago, Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, and his running mate, Mike Pence, toured the scenes of major flooding in Louisiana and criticized Democratic President Barack Obama for vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts during the storm.
Trump spent Saturday and part of Sunday at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland where he tweeted frequently about Harvey and other issues.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott told a news conference on Sunday that coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its new director, Brock Long, was going smoothly.
Long said Harvey’s effects would last for years.
“This disaster is going to be a landmark event,” Long told CNN on Sunday. “We’re setting up and gearing up for the next couple of years.”
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Mike Stone; Editing by Andrew Hay and Peter Cooney)