President Trump doesn’t get to be graded on a curve. The Texas visit was a complete failure. No mention of the victims. No empathy for the survivors. More silly asides about crowd size and cable-TV fame. Once again, Trump proved that he will always be the “I” of the storm. Houston and Texas deserved better remarks from their president. So I wrote them myself.
This is not like any other storm we’ve ever seen. Not in Houston. Not in Texas. Not anywhere in America. No storm has ever dropped this much rainfall this quickly. The weather service had to create a new color for their precipitation maps because none of the existing shades matched the deluge that poured over Houston, drowning homes and turning streets to rivers.
Within the first few hours after Harvey made landfall, we had already run out of superlatives. We quickly realized that words were no match for what hundreds of millions of us were seeing in photos and on our television screens, what millions of you were seeing with your own eyes, and what thousands of you were experiencing as the waters rose.
We mourn the loss of life. We empathize with those who were forced to leave their houses behind, with no idea what they’d find when the waters recede and they get to return home.
We will never forget what we’ve seen during the last few days in Houston. That’s true for the rain, the flooding, the damage, and the worst of the storm. But it’s also true for the other things we’ve seen this week.
We won’t forget the sleepless first responders who have saved thousands of lives, and are still out there right now, going house to house, to make sure no one is left behind. We won’t forget the father who used a pick-axe to make a hole in his roof to help his family escape an attic that would soon be swallowed by the flood. We won’t forget the mother who jumped from her stranded pickup truck, and with her baby in one arm, somehow summoned the strength to swim through the swift current until they both made it to the safety of a rescue helicopter. We won’t forget the high school counselor in a kayak rescuing his students and their families, or the doctor who, in a borrowed canoe, rowed himself to a hospital in time to perform a scheduled surgery. We won’t forget the parents, chest-deep in the water, with children on their shoulders and pets in their arms, determined to fight the tide and make it to safety.
We won’t forget the thousands of ordinary citizens who heard their fellow Americans call for help… And they answered, traveling across neighborhood, city, and even state lines, with their boats, kayaks, and rafts to save the lives of countless strangers.
When Jordy Bloodsworth was twelve years-old, he survived Katrina. Now he’s part of a group that calls themselves the Cajun Navy. They know what it means to experience an event like Harvey. And they know how much it means when people come to help. So they packed up their rescue gear and came from New Orleans to Houston. Jordy explained, “I was young during Katrina and I know how it feels to lose everything. So being able to help others going through this situation that I have experienced, there’s no way — no way — I could pass up helping.”
A metalworker named John Brown brought his 16-foot fishing boat to Houston to take part in the rescue and he described the efforts of the thousands who joined him: “I think it’s beautiful, everybody coming together to do this.”
I think John Brown is right.
This storm isn’t over. Make no mistake, the recovery will be long and difficult. And, yes, we’ve seen the ugliness of nature’s wrath. But we’ve also seen the beauty of the American spirit and the power of the Texan community.
For the last few sleepless days, Houston’s own Ray Driver has been driving his boat in and out of neighborhoods to pick up his neighbors who faced life-threatening conditions. When asked about his heroic acts, he shook off the praise, and plainly said: “I’m no hero, it’s what we do.”
I’m here to assure you that your local, state, and federal government officials will be here to do what we do.
We’ve been humbled by the damage we’ve seen here. But more importantly, we’ve been inspired by your determination, spirit, and sheer humanity that gives us complete confidence that Houston will rebuild. Melania and I will return to Washington tonight, but we won’t forget what we’ve seen. The Federal government will help provide shelter from the storm, and we’ll still be here, once the waters pull back and the headlines subside, to provide funds and other resources as your communities rebuild.
The waters can wash away drywall, shingles, and material goods. But it can’t wash away the compassion and tenacity we’ve seen here in Texas. The road ahead is long and the challenges will be many, but by locking arms together — like John Brown, Jordy Bloodsworth, and Ray Driver have done — we can form a human ark that will lift us above the tide and guide us out of the storm and into the light of a new dawn.