Feb. 26 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden vowed to help Texas recover from a rare winter storm that devastated the state last week during a visit to Houston with first lady Jill Biden on Friday.
The couple met with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other state leaders while touring the Harris County Emergency Operations Center and the Houston Food Bank. Joe Biden spoke at the Houston Texans' home, NRG Stadium, which is the site of a federal COVID-19 vaccination site.
"When a crisis hits our states, it's not a Republican or Democrat who's hurting. It's a fellow American who's hurting," the president said.
"Our prayers are with you in the aftermath of this winter storm," he added. "We will be true partners to help you recover and build from these storms and this pandemic and this economic crisis. We are in for the long haul.
The storm brought cold temperatures, ice and some snow to Texas and hindered the state's power grid, leaving residents and businesses without power for extended periods of time. The disruption left millions without heat and drinkable water when treatment plants lost electricity.
Dozens of deaths have been attributed to the winter storm.
The Bidens departed Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for Houston late Friday morning and were scheduled to arrive at about noon CST.
Both Bidens visited the Houston Food Bank and Jill Biden helped package food and water.
"Although we're encouraged by the progress that has been made and we're seeing the numbers come down dramatically right now in terms of who needs to still go and boil water in Texas, we will continue to look for ways to help through this next phase of recovery," deputy national security adviser Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall said aboard Air Force One Friday afternoon en route to Houston.
"Gov. Abbott, I don't want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to coming down [Friday], to Houston, to be with you," Biden told Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Thursday during the National Governors Association winter meeting.
"And I want you and the residents to know that we're here to provide the federal assistance you need to support your state, your local, and tribal response efforts."
Abbott said the state's Division of Emergency Management has re-requested that an additional 54 Texas counties be added to the federal major disaster declaration the White House partially approved last week.
"Our partnership with FEMA and the Biden administration has opened up crucial resources for several of our communities -- but there are still many counties who need this federal assistance as they recover from this winter storm," Abbott said in a statement. "I ask FEMA to quickly grant this request so that we can ensure access to the relief that Texans need in the wake of this disaster."
DEM chief Nim Kidd has said state agencies have spent $41 million on the storm so far and local governments almost $50 million. Ultimately, officials said it could be more costly than the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.