Elected officials advocate for flood relief; Abbott to visit

EDINBURG — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will visit the area Tuesday to receive a briefing and provide an update on the ongoing response to the severe weather and flooding the Rio Grande Valley experienced last week.

Abbott will hold a news conference Tuesday morning at the Emergency Operations Center in Edinburg, his press office announced late Monday.

The governor called Weslaco Mayor David Suarez on Saturday evening to extend the state’s help. Weslaco was one of the cities that bore the brunt of the two-day storms, which forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes, while others had to be rescued.

“He (Abbott) called to let us know that whatever we need, as far as state resources, they’re going to send whatever they can,” Suarez said Monday. “Some (pumps) did arrive, and we’re getting some more as we speak.”

Abbott issued a State Disaster Declaration last week for six South Texas and Coastal Bend counties impacted by the severe flooding, including, Aransas, Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces, San Patricio and Willacy.

On Monday, however, U.S. Rep Vicente Gonzalez asked that he do more.

“I am writing to ask that you request a disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and President Donald J. Trump,” Gonzalez wrote in a letter to the governor Friday. “I urge you to start the process and contact FEMA and request a joint Federal, State Preliminary Damage Assessment.”

Without a formal request from Abbott, FEMA cannot assist in the recovery efforts, Gonzalez said, estimating that the storms had affected “about a million Texans, numerous communities, and hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses in the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend.”

Other state elected officials are also focusing on the area which, according to the National Weather Service, sustained more than $100 million in damages. That figure, however, is a preliminary estimate as counties and cities continue to tally the destruction.

The Texas General Land Office, which manages a $5 billion disaster relief grant through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced that Commissioner George P. Bush would tour the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday to meet with officials and residents about the recent floods.

Bush is scheduled to visit First Baptist Church in Weslaco, where he will meet with residents displaced by the storms. His office focuses on short-term and long-term housing needs following a natural disaster and helps administer FEMA monies.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn addressed the flooding in South Texas on the Senate floor Monday following his visit to the area. Cornyn, like First Lady Melania Trump, witnessed the flooding last week when they toured immigration detention facilities in McAllen.

“We heard that late last week more than 200 water rescues were performed in the border city of Mission alone,” Cornyn told his peers on the Senate floor. “I saw it myself when I was in the Valley (last week).”

News of the devastation was especially tough for him because some of the coastal areas recently impacted were also hit by Hurricane Harvey last year, he said.

“So just as life started to get back to normal, whatever normal is, the rains came,” Cornyn said.