HOUSTON (Reuters) - Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday pushed the U.S. government to quickly approve funds for Tropical Storm Harvey relief efforts and clear any regulatory hurdles to recovery.
“I’m hoping that people at the federal level, at the very top, will understand this was catastrophic,” Turner said at a news conference. “We just need the red tape to be cleared. All of us have to act with a degree of urgency.”
Turner said he did not want the city to pay for relief efforts on its own and then seek reimbursement. Such a scenario would be “totally unacceptable,” said the mayor, a Democrat who took office last year.
Instead, Turner pushed federal officials to release funds and other resources as soon as possible for Houston and surrounding communities, with thousands of people in emergency shelters after historic rainfall and flooding inundated the region.
“People are angry and they’re frustrated,” Turner said. “They’re wet. They’re out of their homes. They want assistance yesterday. And they are going to be heard.”
U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican, were at Turner’s news conference, and the mayor needled both to push for aid in Congress, which would have to approve funding.
The mayor also pushed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to have staff in the field as quickly as possible to help storm victims process relief requests, and not just keep staff in emergency shelters.
“We need a whole lot of FEMA representatives on the ground now,” he said.
Turner’s comments came as the city’s police and other first responders pivoted away from rescue operations and back to regular law enforcement. A curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. so far has been obeyed, and no arrests have been made, the mayor said.
The city’s airports will resume limited operations on Wednesday afternoon, Turner said, adding that he had asked the Houston Astros baseball team not to cancel a home game set for Friday in order to help the city return to some sense of normalcy.
The number of evacuees at Houston’s convention center fell by about 2,000 overnight as other shelters opened and some storm victims moved on, the mayor said. That left 8,000 still in the convention center.
“We’re providing shelter for the people who have come in from the surrounding regions,” he said. “It’s not just Houstonians.”
Turner said the city wanted to move people out of the shelters as quickly as possible.
Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Grant McCool and Jonathan Oatis