WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump, facing his first major test in coping with a natural disaster, pushed federal emergency officials on Friday to be ready to help Gulf Coast residents as Hurricane Harvey bore down on the region.
Trump said on Twitter he was following the storm’s progress from the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, and the White House said he spoke with the governors of Texas and Louisiana and took briefings from emergency experts.
“His questions aren’t about the geopolitical issues or about large political consequences,” Tom Bossert, the White House Homeland Security adviser, told a news conference. “His questions are: ‘Are you doing what it takes to help the people that are going to be affected by this storm?’”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which coordinates the response to major disasters, said it had sent more than 96,000 litres of water, 306,000 meals and 4,500 tarps to support bases in Texas and Louisiana with additional supplies being readied in case they are needed.
Major storms have posed severe challenges to previous presidents. The flawed response to Hurricane Katrina, which killed well over 1,000 people and wrecked parts of New Orleans in 2005, tainted the remainder of George W. Bush’s presidency.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley warned Trump on Friday to do better than that. “Keep on top of Hurricane Harvey dont make same mistake Pres Bush made w Katrina,” he said in a tweet to the president.
The Trump administration earlier this year proposed cutting billions of dollars in funding for FEMA, and it has not yet filled key posts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, both of which closely track major weather events and coordinate with other government agencies.
But the U.S. Congress has mostly rejected the government’s proposed cuts to FEMA’s budget, and the agency is led by Brock Long, who has considerable experience in disaster management and was overwhelmingly confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June.
Some critics said Hurricane Harvey might show the administration the importance of maintaining well-financed emergency response agencies.
“Maybe this will be a moment where they sober up and realise the real-life human impact of those decisions,” said Rachel Cleetus, an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-based advocacy group.
Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Cynthia Osterman