President Trump acknowledged the start of hurricane season with a conference call with state and local leaders responsible for decision-making during the storms. He rightfully thanked the U.S. Coast Guard for their work rescuing 16,000 people during Hurricane Harvey last August but then his remarks took a turn. For some reason, he blames the high volume of responses to Texans in boats watching the hurricane.
“Sixteen thousand people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is. People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane,” Trump said. “That didn’t work out too well.”
I have no idea what the man is talking about. I lived through Hurricane Harvey and watched the 24/7 local television coverage of it My family was stuck inside our home for 10 days due to flooded streets surrounding us, leaving us feeling as though we were on an island, so the television was on during our waking hours. I can assure you that no one was out on a boat “watching the hurricane.”
I’ve lived on the Gulf coast for most of my life and I have yet to hear a story of a boat owner going out to watch any hurricane, for that matter. Boat owners bring in their boats to protect them during storms. Trump’s remark conjures up a vision of boats bobbing in the Gulf of Mexico or inland bayous leisurely sightseeing as the storm moved in. It didn’t happen.
What did happen was the Coast Guard acted heroically rescuing thousands of people stranded in high water and rapidly flooding areas. They deserve all the recognition and thanks that came their way. Hurricane Harvey was a storm of historic proportions both in rainfall and in destruction. Coastal areas were wiped out and further inland, in Houston for example, over 50 inches of rain fell.
The big story, though, is the way local residents pulled together and rescued those in need of help. Every kind of watercraft could be seen going out into flooded areas, including residential areas, to pick up people waiting for help and deliver them to dry ground. This would have been a good time to acknowledge their work, too. Local law enforcement even called for people with boats to help with rescues. Their calls were answered and it is estimated that some 60,000 additional people were rescued. I’ve never seen anything like it. I watched from our window as airboats and rubber Zodiac-style craft came in and out of a nearby neighborhood along with regular fishing boats.
Local officials were quick to give comments to reporters asking about Trump’s unusual statement. Mostly Democrats, they all were noting that their calls for action from non-professional first responders were answered without hesitation. The Cajun Navy came from Louisiana and did yeoman’s work as well.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez took umbrage with the president’s remarks, crediting civilians with making an “extraordinary effort” with their own boats to rescue neighbors, relatives and pets as Hurricane Harvey flooded the Texas coast with 52 inches of rain last year.
“I didn’t see anyone taking the approach that would reflect his comments,” Gonzalez said. “I’ll be sure to invite the president to ride out the next hurricane in a jon boat in Galveston Bay the next time one approaches,” he added.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Edward Wargo said: “I don’t know how we would go about confirming that,” when asked for evidence.
“I don’t even know how to respond to that,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.
The sheriff’s snark aside, his comments were aligned with others. One man who coordinated rescue teams and used his own boat, a self-described Trump supporter, couldn’t explain the president’s remark, either. The Republican Governor Greg Abbott said Texas is ready for the new hurricane season.
After the president’s conference call, Abbott said Texas is prepared to handle another future Hurricane Harvey. He stressed a need to create a culture of preparation and readiness for future weather disasters, which includes strengthening collaboration between state and local governments, lining up contracts and equipment that can be tapped to quickly respond and set locations for emergency shelters and to house supplies.
“We are ready,” Abbott said. “We are getting everything lined up to make sure that we will be capable of responding to a replication of Hurricane Harvey.”
The governor, too, was at a loss for words when asked for comment.
When asked by the Houston Chronicle to confirm if Texans were out on boats gawking at the storm, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he had “no information one way or another about that.”
Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.