Seven days after the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in a dozen years struck the coast of Texas, leaving hundreds of square miles underwater and at least 50 people dead, a buoyant President Donald Trump arrived in Houston on Saturday morning to urge victims of the storm’s devastation to “have a good time!” in the face of losing their homes and loved ones.
During a visit to the NRG Center, a convention center in downtown Houston that has been converted into an emergency shelter for more than a thousand Texans forced from their homes by Hurricane Harvey, President Trump posed for selfies with survivors of the storm that his own FEMA director dubbed “probably the worst” disaster in state history.
“They’re really happy with what’s going on,” the president, clad in a presidential windbreaker, told reporters, summing up the praise shelter residents had for the government’s—and his own—response to the storm. “It’s something that’s been very well received. Even by you guys, it’s been very well received.”
(Trump’s estimation of his reception in the Lone Star State runs counter to the views of some Texans, who told The Daily Beast in anticipation of the president’s visit that they wished Trump would “look out for flood victims instead of waving flags.”)
On the heels of asking Congress for $7.9 billion in relief funds to aid Texas and Louisiana in their recovery efforts—damage estimates for Hurricane Harvey have reached as high as $160 billion—the president set aside some of the distractions that elicited criticism for his initial response to the storm, including “failing” magazines and pardoning ex-Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
“I’m going to do a little bit of help over here,” Trump told reporters, before joining first lady Melania Trump—no longer wearing stillettos— in handing out styrofoam boxes containing hot dogs and chips to shelter residents. “There’s a lot of love. As tough as it’s been, it’s been a wonderful thing to watch.”
The president did appear to appreciate the magnitude of the disaster, as well as that of rescue efforts. “I hear the Coast Guard saved... almost 11,000 people by going into winds the media would not go into,” President Trump said at one point.
After hugging survivors of the storm, which flooded vast swaths of the nation’s fourth-largest city and displaced tens of thousands of its citizens, President Trump flashed a broad smile to the shelter’s residents and the television cameras.
“Have a good time, everybody!” he said.