Trump to visit storm-ravaged Texas after natural disaster causes billions in damage

Residents use boats to evacuate flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey along Tidwell Road east Houston, Texas, U.S. Aug 28, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

HOUSTON (Reuters) - US President Donald Trump will visit Texas on Tuesday (Aug 29) to survey the response to Tropical Storm Harvey, the first major natural disaster of his White House tenure.

The slow-moving storm has killed at least eight people and paralysed Houston, the fourth-most populous US city, with unprecedented flooding.

It had also roiled energy markets and caused damage estimated to be in the billions of dollars, with rebuilding likely to last beyond Mr Trump's current four-year term in office.

"My administration is coordinating closely with state and local authorities in Texas and Louisiana to save lives, and we thank our first responders and all of those involved in their efforts," Mr Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday.

Mr Trump will arrive on Tuesday morning in Corpus Christi, near where Harvey came ashore on Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years. The president will later go to the Texas capital, Austin, to meet state officials, receive briefings and tour the emergency operation centre, the White House said.

Forecasters could only draw on a few comparisons to the storm, recalling Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and killed 1,800 people in 2005.

The administration of then President George W. Bush faced accusations of launching a slow and inadequate response, dealing a political blow to Mr Bush's presidency.

Flood damage in Texas from Hurricane Harvey may equal that from Katrina, one of the costliest natural disaster in US history, an insurance research group said on Sunday.

In Texas, thousands of National Guard troops, police officers, rescue workers and civilians raced in helicopters, boats and high-water trucks to rescue the thousands stranded in the flooding that turned streets into rivers and caused chest-high water build-ups in scores of neighbourhoods.

In Cypress, Texas, Ms Kayla Harvey, 26, has been monitoring Facebook, finding where people are stuck and organising friends with boats to go out and help.

"This is just what we do for our community. We don't wait for someone to come and help, we just go out and do it," she said.

Since coming ashore, Harvey has virtually stalled along the Texas coast, picking up warm water from the Gulf of Mexico and dumping torrential rain from San Antonio to Louisiana.

The Houston metro area has suffered some of the worst precipitation, with certain areas expected to receive more than 127cm of rain in a week, more than they typically receive for a year.

Harvey is expected to produce another 25.4cm to 50.8cm of rain through Thursday over parts of the upper Texas coast into southwestern Louisiana, the National Weather Service said.

"These stationary bands of tropical rain are very hard to time, very hard to place and are very unpredictable," said Mr Alek Krautmann, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Louisiana.

Schools and office buildings were closed throughout the Houston metropolitan area, home to 6.8 million people.

Federal Emergency Management Agency director Brock Long estimated that 30,000 people would eventually be housed temporarily in shelters.

Houston and Dallas have set up a shelters in convention centres and Austin is preparing to house as many as 7,000 evacuees.

Hundreds of Houston-area roads were blocked by high water. The city's two main airports were shut as the floods turned runways into ponds and more than a quarter of a million customers were without power as of Tuesday morning.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to almost half of the nation's refining capacity. The reduced supply led gasoline futures to hit their highest in two years this week as Harvey knocked out about 13 per cent of total US refining capacity, based on company reports and Reuters estimates.

The floods could destroy as much as US$20 billion (S$27.05 billion) in insured property, making the storm one of the costliest in history for US insurers, Wall Street analysts say.

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