Biden Surveys Texas Weather Damage 02/27 09:43

Biden Surveys Texas Weather Damage     02/27 09:43

   

   HOUSTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden heard firsthand from Texans clobbered by 
this month's brutal winter weather on Friday and pledged to stick with them 
"for the long haul" as he made his first trip to a major disaster area since he 
took office.

   Biden was briefed by emergency officials and thanked workers for doing 
"God's work." He promised the federal government will be there for Texans as 
they try to recover, not just from the historic storm but also the public 
health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

   "When a crisis hits our states, like the one that hit Texas, it's not a 
Republican or Democrat that's hurting," Biden said. "It's our fellow Americans 
that are hurting and it's our job to help everyone in need."

   With tens of thousands of Houston area residents without safe water, local 
officials told Biden that many are still struggling. While he was briefed, 
first lady Jill Biden joined an assembly line of volunteers packing boxes of 
quick oats, juice, and other food at the Houston Food Bank, where he arrived 
later.

   The president's first stop was the Harris County Emergency Operations Center 
for a briefing from acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton and state and local 
emergency management officials.

   Texas was hit particularly hard by the Valentine's weekend storm that 
battered multiple states. Unusually frigid conditions led to widespread power 
outages and frozen pipes that burst and flooded homes. Millions of residents 
lost heat and running water.

   At least 40 people in Texas died as a result of the storm and, although the 
weather has returned to more normal temperatures, more than 1 million residents 
are still under orders to boil water before drinking it.

   "The president has made very clear to us that in crises like this, it is our 
duty to organize prompt and competent federal support to American citizens, and 
we have to ensure that bureaucracy and politics do not stand in the way," said 
Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall, who accompanied Biden to 
Houston.

   Biden was joined for much of his visit by Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. John 
Cornyn, both Republicans, four Democratic Houston-area members of Congress and 
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

   The president also stopped by a mass coronavirus vaccination center at NRG 
Stadium that is run by the federal government. Biden on Thursday commemorated 
the 50 millionth COVID-19 vaccination since he took office, halfway toward his 
goal of 100 million shots by his 100th day in office. That celebration followed 
a moment of silence to mark the passage earlier this week of 500,000 U.S. 
deaths blamed on the disease.

   Democrat Biden suggested that he and Republicans Abbott and Cornyn could 
find common cause in getting Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible.

   "We disagree on plenty of things," Biden said. "There's nothing wrong with 
that, but there are plenty of things we can work on together. And one of them 
is represented right here today, the effort to speed up vaccinations."

   Texas' other U.S. senator, Ted Cruz, an ally of former President Donald 
Trump and one of a handful of GOP lawmakers who had objected to Congress 
certifying Biden's victory, was in Florida Friday addressing the Conservative 
Political Action Conference.

   Cruz, who has been criticized for taking his family to Cancun, Mexico, while 
millions of Texans shivered in unheated homes, later said the trip was a 
mistake, but he made light of the controversy on Friday. "Orlando is awesome," 
he said to laughs and hoots. "It's not as nice as Cancun. But's nice."

   At the peak of the storm, more than 1.4 million residents were without power 
and 3.5 million were under boil-water notices in Houston's Harris County, the 
nation's third largest county.

   Post-storm debate in Texas has centered on the state maintaining its own 
electrical grid and its lack of better storm preparation, including 
weatherization of key infrastructure. Some state officials initially blamed the 
blackouts on renewable energy even though Texas relies heavily on oil and gas.

   In Washington, Biden's climate adviser said the deadly winter storm was a 
"wake-up call" for the United States to build energy systems that can withstand 
extreme weather linked to climate change.

   "We need systems of energy that are reliable and resilient," Gina McCarthy 
said in an interview with The Associated Press.

   The White House said Biden's purpose in visiting was to support, not scold.

   Biden was bent on asking Texans "what do you need, how can I help you more," 
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. "And what can we get more for you 
from the federal government."

   Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas and asked federal agencies to 
identify additional resources to aid the recovery. The Federal Emergency 
Management Agency has sent emergency generators, bottled water, ready-to-eat 
meals and blankets.

   Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in an interview that he didn't know 
what more the federal government could do to help because the failures were at 
the state level. But Henry, a Republican who is the highest county official in 
the suburban Houston county, said that if Biden "thinks it's important to 
visit, then come on down."

   Biden wanted to make the trip last week, but said at the time that he held 
back because he didn't want his presence and entourage to detract from the 
recovery effort.

   Houston also was the destination for Trump's first presidential visit to a 
disaster area in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding that 
August.

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