Trump travels to Texas as storm Harvey rages

Weathering the storm: Governor Greg Abbott said Texas must prepare for “a new normal”. © Getty

More than a trillion gallons of water has fallen on Harris County in Texas, flooding Houston. Yesterday, President Trump arrived to survey the damage. Has he responded well to the disaster?

Yesterday, as the rain in Texas continued to fall, President Donald Trump called storm Harvey a disaster “of epic proportion,” adding that “no one has ever seen anything like this.”

He is right. Swathes of Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, are submerged in water. Experts say it will take years for the region to return to the way things were, if such a thing is even possible. So far, around 20 deaths have been confirmed, and 30,000 people have taken refuge in emergency shelters.

Emergency services are so stretched that volunteers have begun using private boats to rescue people who are trapped in their homes, often using social media as a guide.

Trump travelled to Texas yesterday to show support for Harvey’s victims. While he was there, he promised cheering crowds that “we are here to take care of you,” and told reporters that he was aiming to manage the disaster “better than ever before.”

Natural disasters are always seen as key tests of a president’s abilities. And as Trump tweeted support for the relief effort and the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) earlier this week, he clearly had the disaster responses of his predecessors on his mind.

The most infamous of these was President George W. Bush’s actions in the days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The president decided not to visit the scene directly, but instead flew over in Air Force One. The move severely damaged his reputation, as did his comment that the FEMA director was doing a “heck of a job”, despite clear errors in judgement that emerged later.

Barack Obama was careful to show that he was fully engaged in the wake of the disasters of his presidency, and his poll numbers surged after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But he was also criticised for remaining on holiday during the Baton Rouge floods last year, and his handling of the BP oil spill in 2010.

How is Trump’s response so far?

Disaster zones

Good, say some. As his adviser Tom Bosserti put it, handling the logistics of a disaster “is right up President Trump’s alley.” He has focused on helping ordinary people and he has attempted to unify the country, declaring: “We are one American family.” For many, it is a welcome contrast to his divisive comments after Charlottesville this month — it might even repair some of his damaged reputation.

It is also vital for the president to think about the bigger picture, counter others — and here Trump fails. Ten days before Harvey struck, he abolished Obama-era rules on flood protection. He is also avoiding tackling climate change, which makes storms like Harvey more dangerous. Good leadership after a disaster is one thing — but a great leader is trying to prevent the next one.

You Decide

  1. Is President Trump doing a good job in handling Harvey?
  2. What should be the president’s main priority after a natural disaster?

Activities

  1. Create a poster to help raise money for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.
  2. Research another disaster in US history, and write a report on five lessons that it teaches us about how to respond.

Some People Say...

“There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ disaster.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The tropical storm was downgraded from a hurricane on Saturday, but it is still hovering over Texas and Louisiana. Yesterday a major dam began to spill over in Houston, as reservoirs reached their limits. Record amounts of rain have fallen in some areas of Texas over the last four days.
What do we not know?
How long the storm will last, or how many lives will have been lost in the process. The final number is likely to be far higher than currently reported, as not all locations can be reached by officials, and emergency services are currently focusing on rescuing people rather than surveying the extent of the damage. We also do not know how long it will take to rebuild the damaged areas of Texas, or what the crisis will do to President Trump’s public image.

Word Watch

Hurricane Katrina
During this same week in 2005, Katrina caused devastation to the Gulf Coast of Mexico — particularly in New Orleans, where flood protections failed and the city was submerged in water for days. In the end, 1,245 people were killed.
Errors in judgement
In 2006, a government report criticised FEMA for its “slow and ineffective response”. It said there was a lack of clear leadership; not enough emergency housing; and an “ill-prepared” search-and-rescue operation.
Hurricane Sandy
In 2012, a week before Obama was re-elected president, the largest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded hit the east coast of the USA. It affected 24 states and flooded parts of New York City.
Baton Rouge
The capital of Louisiana. Thirteen people were killed in the floods, which were caused by an unnamed storm.
BP oil spill
In April 2010, an explosion at a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico caused around 210 million gallons of oil to spill into the ocean, the largest oil leak in history.
Abolished
The rule required government agencies to consider climate change predictions when building new projects.

Subjects

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