Trump pledges $1 million of his personal money to Harvey relief

Texans still face rising floods as search and rescue teams go door-to-door

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a flag of the state of Texas after receiving a briefing on Tropical Storm Harvey relief efforts at a local fire station where local residents gathered to welcome the president in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON, Aug 31 — President Donald Trump will pledge $1 million of his own money to relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Thursday.

“I am happy to tell you that [Trump] would like to join in the efforts that a lot of the people that we have seen across this country do and he’s pledging $1 million of personal money to the fund,” Sanders told reporters at a White House briefing.

The announcement comes as the president returns to Washington after visiting southern Texas just days after Harvey roared ashore as the most powerful hurricane to hit the Lone Star state in a half-century.

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump traveled to Austin and Corpus Christi on Tuesday, and say they plan to return to the area this weekend. The White House said they chose to avoiding Houston — which has been paralyzed by the storm — as to not get in the way of search and rescue teams that have begun conducting a block-by-block search of homes to rescue stranded survivors and recover bodies.

At least 37 people are dead or feared dead in six counties including and around Houston, according to local officials.

U.S. President Donald Trump (C) and first lady Melania Trump (R) receive a briefing on Tropical Storm Harvey relief efforts with Texas Governor Greg Abbott (2ndL) in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 29, 2017. (REUTERS / Carlos Barria)

In Port Arthur on Thursday, soldiers and police in helicopters and special high-water trucks rescued thousands of Texans stranded by floodwater.

Jessica Richard, 24, said she had waited out the storm in her home ninety miles east of Houston until Thursday morning, when water on her street rose to waist-high. She headed out and was picked up by a passing truck.

“All my family is safe even though there were a few close calls,” said Richard, adding that her nephew had been trapped overnight in a flooded apartment with several family members. “He said there were snakes in the water and spiders crawling up the walls. But they got out.”

Some 779,000 Texans had been ordered to evacuate their homes and another 980,000 had fled voluntarily amid concerns that swollen reservoirs and rivers could bring new flooding, according to Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Elaine Duke.

A worker helps a woman from a rescue boat as it evacuates people from the rising waters of Buffalo Bayou following Hurricane Harvey in a neighborhood west of Houston, Texas, on August 30, 2017. (REUTERS / Carlo Allegri)

In Beaumont, Texas, doctors and nurses evacuated some 190 people from a hospital that halted operations after the storm knocked out water service in the city of almost 120,000 people.

“Everybody goes,” Baptist Beaumont Hospital Dr. Chima Nwaukwa said as patients were loaded into helicopters and trucks.

“Things can get worse from here, definitely worse from here, if we get more rain,” the cardiologist said.

Orange County, which borders Beaumont, on Thursday ordered remaining residents to evacuate the area amid a forecast that the Neches River would crest on Friday, threatening homes.

The experience has proved to be heartbreaking for many.

Anita Williams, 52, was among dozens of people lined up Thursday morning at a shelter at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center to register for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

She said she had returned to her neighborhood on Wednesday to survey the damage to her one-story house.

“It’s not my house anymore. My deep freezer was in my living room,” she said, her voice breaking.

Eric Beech, Peter Henderson and Mica Rosenberg for Reuters News Service contributed to this article.