WASHINGTON â President Trump traveled to storm-brushed Corpus Christi, Tex., on Tuesday to survey some of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Harvey and demonstrate his personal commitment to a region still in the grips of a historic natural disaster.
Mr. Trump, who pushed aides to schedule a trip to Texas as early as possible after the storm made landfall there on Friday night, settled on visiting Corpus Christi because it was the closest he could get to the hardest-hit areas without disrupting recovery efforts, according to state officials. The port city of 325,000 is 30 miles from the most severely affected parts of the Gulf Coast, and suffered relatively light damage from the initial impact of the storm.
After meeting at a firehouse with state and federal officials, the president flew to Austin, Tex., for another meeting with officials involved in the storm response before returning to Washington.
Members of Mr. Trumpâs staff said that the trip was mainly a humanitarian mission and that the president winced while watching televised scenes of ruin and rescue on the flooded streets of Houston on his way to Corpus Christi. But they conceded that the stakes were high for Mr. Trump on his first visit to the area of a disaster, which was inevitably seen as a test of his competence and empathy.
For the most part, Mr. Trump kept to the script. But there were a few jarring, quintessentially Trumpian moments.
At Joint Base Andrews, his wife, Melania, who accompanied him, boarded Air Force One, bound for the disaster zone, in six-inch stiletto heels that became the subject of wide comment on social media. Instead of touring shelters or visiting local residents in their homes and businesses, Mr. Trump stuck close to emergency management officials â men in uniforms â and seemed most animated when he basked in the applause of an impromptu rally outside the Corpus Christi firehouse.
Although he repeatedly emphasized the difficulties and perils ahead, the president spoke effusively about the success of the response, as the storm churned ominously north and local officials cautioned against complacency.
At the meeting in Corpus Christi, Mr. Trump urged state and federal officials to make the response a model for the future. âItâs a real team, and we want to do it better than ever before,â Mr. Trump said. âWe want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it.â
Even as Mr. Trump visited Corpus Christi, attention was focused on the growing catastrophe gripping suburban Houston, a sprawling, low-lying metropolitan area with a population of 6.3 million 220 miles to the northeast.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, and other officials who met with the president, sought to allay concerns about conditions at the convention center in downtown Houston, where 9,000 residents fleeing rising floodwaters crammed into a makeshift shelter designed to accommodate 5,000.
âThis is not the Superdome,â Brock Long, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said. New Orleans residents endured nightmarish conditions while seeking shelter at that sports arena from Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago. People at the convention center have food and security, Mr. Long said.
About 1,000 people, some of them cheering, greeted Mr. Trump as he left the firehouse. He grabbed a Texas flag and shouted back to the crowd. âWhat a crowd!â he said. âWhat a turnout!â
In Austin, the president heard from other officials, including Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, at a meeting at an emergency management center in the State Capitol complex. âSounds like such an innocent name, Ben, right?â Mr. Trump said, remarking on the name Harvey. âBut itâs not innocent.â
Mr. Trump, his aides say, is eager to avoid the mistakes made by President George W. Bush in 2005, when he took a relatively hands-off approach to the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
The presidentâs appearance in Austin, a liberal stronghold in a deeply red state, was his first as president. The Texas Republican Party chairman, James Dickey, said Mr. Trumpâs visit was devoid of politics, but he acknowledged that Republican officials had discussed whether the presidential mission would interfere with disaster relief efforts.
But Mr. Dickey said that Mr. Trump could not afford to repeat the mistakes made by Mr. Bush in his response to Katrina. âAnyone paying attention will take away the lesson that they can never make that same choice no matter how well intentioned it was,â Mr. Dickey said.
Mr. Trumpâs staff also took pains to avoid the perception that he was swooping in for political gain. âThe president wants to be very cautious about making sure that any activity doesnât disrupt any of the recovery efforts,â Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One on the way to Texas. âI donât know that we will be able to get to some of the really damaged areas.â
Vice President Mike Pence and officials from the Department of Homeland Security have taken the lead in negotiating many of the details of the federal response to Harvey, but Mr. Trump has made a point of emphasizing his involvement in the crisis. On Monday, he pledged to quickly pass an appropriations bill to deal with the massive damage to private property and public infrastructure, and said he would return to the region this weekend.
Accompanying Mr. Trump from Washington was an entourage of aides that included John F. Kelly, his chief of staff; Marc Short, his legislative affairs director; several cabinet members; and specialists from the Small Business Administration, who will assist local businesses with recovery loans.
But the passenger who attracted the most attention was Mrs. Trump, who boarded Air Force One wearing a green jacket, slacks and stilettos. She emerged from the plane in Corpus Christi wearing a white jacket, a baseball cap emblazoned with âFLOTUSâ and white tennis shoes. After attracting attention for her shoes earlier in the day, Mrs. Trump issued a statement as Air Force One returned to Washington. âI want to be able to offer my help and support in the most productive way possible, not through just words, but also action,â she said.
An earlier version of this article misattributed a series of quotations. The person describing the situation for evacuees at the convention center in Houston was Brock Long, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, not Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas.