The White House on Thursday said it is preparing for a « long, frustrating recovery » process for the tens of thousands of people displaced in the Gulf region in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
President Trump’s homeland security adviser Tom Bossert warned that conditions remain as dangerous as ever for those on the ground in Texas and Louisiana, which have been battered by historic levels of rainfall and flooding.
The tropical depression, which made landfall in Texas last week as a Category 4 storm, continues to wreak havoc on the Gulf region, and has left tens of thousands displaced.
At least 100,000 homes have water damage and Bossert advised of a coming “housing challenge” in the region, as the temporarily displaced return home and insurers face a deluge of claims.
“We’re soon going to move into a long, frustrating recovery process,” Bossert said. “The important message for me to leave for the people of Texas at this point is that we’re not going anywhere.”
Relief efforts remain in the search-and-rescue phase, and the federal government is engaged in water rescues and is relocating thousands of injured and elderly people from flooded hospitals.
There are 28 search and rescue teams from 16 states helping out, including more than 7,500 federal workers and the entirety of the Texas National Guard.
The federal government is looking to transfer 7,000 hospital patients into safer conditions. An estimated 30 people have died so far but authorities expect that number to climb once the floodwaters recede and the full extent of the damage comes into view.
“Unfortunately, we will see additional losses of life if history is any precedent,” Bossert said.
Soon, the White House’s focus will turn to disaster relief funding at a time when Congress will be grappling with how to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government funded.
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Bossert indicated that the White House would approach Congress with an initial appropriations request based on early projections and then come back at some point to request a second round of funding.
“I’m not worried at all that we won’t have the money for the operations underway and the operations that we foresee in the next month,” Bossert said.
“I think we have every reason to believe that that’s going to happen in a responsible way,” he said. “From my perspective now and from the planning session we had this morning, I don’t think there’s going to be any particular problem in our approach to the Congress in this fall.”
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said Thursday the damage may cost the federal government $80 billion, but estimated the cost to ordinary Americans would surpass $900 billion.
Meanwhile, victims on the ground are dealing with their own personal financial crises.
Bossert met with chiefs of staff of Trump’s Cabinet on Thursday to talk about housing stock in the region and how best to coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state and local officials for those who have been displaced.
“We’re trying to put all those housing solutions and all those government programs together and think through what’s available and how people might utilize that,” Bossert said.
There have also been reports of jacked-up prices of everyday goods by those looking to take advantage of people who are desperate for food, water and supplies.
Bossert scolded price gougers during the Thursday briefing, saying that “law enforcement would come down on them with a hammer.”
Meanwhile, the president and vice president have taken a hands-on approach to their first natural disaster in the White House.
Trump has pledged $1 million of his own money to the effort and will make his second swing through the region on Saturday, with trips to both Texas and Louisiana planned.
Vice President Pence and second lady Karen Pence flew into Corpus Christi, Texas, on Thursday to meet with flood victims and survey the damage.
Karen Pence led a group in prayer and Vice President Pence pulled on blue work gloves to clean up branches and debris in the Texas heat near where Harvey first made landfall on Friday.
On Thursday, the president spoke with the leaders of Mexico and Canada and was said to have been “deeply touched” by the outpouring of international support.
“Coordination is happening better than any storm that we’ve seen before, and so stressing on anything that’s not working well really is … going to be ill-informed,” Trump said this week. “I’m seeing nothing but positive. I’m seeing nothing but appropriate coordination. If there is a problem somewhere, [FEMA director] Brock Long is going to get his handle around it, and he’s going to fix it.”