During a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing this week, President Donald Trump paused from extolling the Coast Guard for rescues accomplished when hurricanes battered the United States in 2017 to suggest that people in Texas had foolishly gotten in boats to watch Hurricane Harvey.
He said the Coast Guard had “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.”
We didn’t recall that happening, so we asked the White House for elaboration on Trump’s statement. It didn’t respond, nor did other agencies provide any information showing that people took boats out to watch the powerful hurricane that swept ashore at Rockport before touching off days of heavy rain and flooding in Houston and Southeast Texas.
The Houston Chronicle reported that law enforcement first responders were baffled by Trump’s boating claim which, the story said, nobody could explain.
The story quoted Harris County’s sheriff, Ed Gonzalez, crediting civilians with making an “extraordinary effort” with their own boats to rescue neighbors, relatives and pets as Hurricane Harvey flooded the Texas coast with as much as 52 inches of rain. “I didn’t see anyone taking the approach that would reflect his comments,” Gonzalez said.
Gov. Greg Abbott said he had “no information one way or another about” what Trump described. Coast Guard Petty Officer Edward Wargo told the Chronicle, “I don’t know how we would go about confirming that.”
Our search of the Nexis news database turned up a September 2017 Tampa Bay Times news story about a man rescued from a Florida shrimping boat overtaken by Hurricane Irma, yet we found no news accounts of people taking boats out to watch hurricanes.
Chad Saylor, a Coast Guard spokesman at its Washington, D.C., headquarters, said he had no comment on the president’s boating claim. He said the Coast Guard, teaming with multiple law agencies, rescued nearly 12,000 people during the nation’s 2017 hurricanes, mostly from rooftops in urban areas.
We also reached Bill Read, a resident of League City, outside Houston, who is a former director of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
Read said he was unaware of anyone ever going out on a boat to watch a hurricane.
“Absolutely not,” Read said. “It’s dangerous.” Read said it’d be “insane” to take a boat into the ocean to watch a hurricane because of tremendous storm-related currents and waves.
Inland in 2017, Read said, “the people I know who were out on boats were trying to rescue people” from Harvey-caused flooding.
Trump, while saluting Coast Guard rescues accomplished when hurricanes battered the U.S., also said, “People went out in their boats to watch” Hurricane Harvey.
The White House didn’t provide nor did we find confirmation of people venturing out on boats to watch the hurricane. The boats we saw people using in Houston and elsewhere were to evacuate flooded homes and neighborhoods.
We rate this statement Pants on Fire!
Statement: ‘People went out in their boats to watch’ Hurricane Harvey.