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Trump visits Texas, but keeps empathy at bay (Lead)

Washington, Aug 30 (IANS) US President Donald Trump visited Texas to survey the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, but was slammed for not meeting or mentioning any storm victims.

The President and First Lady Melania Trump on Tuesday visited Corpus Christi, where Hurricane Harvey first made landfall on Friday. Trump later went to Austin for meetings with government officials and to survey the damage, as search-and-rescue operations were in full swing across the state, CNN reported.

Trump will not be visiting Houston, the White House said as he did not want his visit to “disrupt” the emergency response. The catastrophic natural disaster has so far claimed 20 lives and forced tens and thousands of people to flee deluged homes, media reports said.

Trump pledged to mount the best ever relief and recovery effort, surrounded by grim-faced state authorities in Austin. “Probably there’s never been anything so expensive in our country’s history,” Trump said at a subterranean command centre.

“There’s never been anything so historic in terms of damage and in terms of ferocity.” Trump called the storm “epic” and said he wanted the relief effort to stand as an example of how to respond to a storm. “We want to do it better than ever before.”

The President, though, dispensed no hugs or displays of compassion to victims of the storm, whom he did not meet.

There were questions ahead of Trump’s trip about whether he would convey empathy for a region in crisis — and a few critics thought he failed to deliver, the Hill magazine reported.

Trump’s responses were more focused on the power of the storm and his administration’s response than on the millions of Texans hit by the devastating storm. As of late Tuesday local time, Trump had yet to mention those killed, visit those affected or call on other Americans to help or directly encourage donations to relief organisations.

“There was something missing from what President Trump said, that’s the empathy for the people who suffer,” Ari Fleischer, former President George W. Bush’s press secretary, told Fox News.

The President was also criticised for remarking on the “turnout” and size of the crowd that gathered for his meeting in Corpus Christi — though the hundreds gathered clapped and cheered his appearance.

The white “USA” hat the President wore (which is advertised for $40 on his site) during the address prompted a backlash from those who accused him of gratuitous marketing.

Hurricane Harvey’s damage was expected to run well into the tens of billions of dollars, making it one of the costliest US natural disasters. City officials were preparing to temporarily house some 19,000 people, with thousands more expected to flee the area.

The mayor of Houston announced an indefinite 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew amid reports of looting, armed robberies and people impersonating police officers.

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