AUSTIN (AP) — President Donald Trump is mischaracterizing the thousands of water rescues in Texas last year during Hurricane Harvey by saying “people went out in their boats to watch” the deadly Category 4 storm.
A look at his comment Wednesday during a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discuss preparations for the new hurricane season:
TRUMP: “I have to tell you, the Coast Guard saved 16,000 people. … And I think, you know, honestly, they don’t get enough credit in many ways. … Saved 16,000 people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is. People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane. That didn’t work out too well. That didn’t work out too well.”
THE FACTS: Some of the most powerful images from Hurricane Harvey were flooded Houston streets swarming with volunteer boaters, who answered the call of overwhelmed first responders and used their personal watercraft to rescue families from their homes.
There is no indication the Coast Guard was busy saving the lives of foolhardy hurricane gawkers drifting off the Texas coast. Coast Guard Petty Officer Edward Wargo of Houston said Thursday the service didn’t take note of how or why people got stranded during Harvey, but said most rescues appeared to occur within city limits and neighborhoods.
Before Harvey made landfall, the Coast Guard had urged the public to “stay off the water.” The Coast Guard performed several rescues in the waters off the Texas coast as Harvey first arrived, but those included commercial vessels and tugboats.
Harvey dumped nearly 50 inches of rain near Houston and left swaths of the nation’s fourth-largest city underwater. The Coast Guard has reported it rescued more than 11,000 people during Harvey, which doesn’t count those rescued by local authorities or an armada of volunteer boaters. Houston police used Twitter to urge “anyone with a boat who can volunteer to help” to get in touch.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters following the Trump briefing that he had “no information one way or the other” about Trump’s claim that people were on the water to watch Harvey. But the outgoing speaker of the Texas House, Republican Joe Straus, rejected the idea Thursday.
“The people who took their boats into the water during Harvey were not storm-watchers,” Straus tweeted. “They were heroes who went toward danger to rescue friends, neighbors, strangers. Texans helping Texans in a time of desperate need.”