Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been at the head of the Lone Star State’s response to the catastrophic Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey. Multiple deaths have been reported and areas near Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country, has seen as much as 50 inches of rain. As of August 30, at least 37 deaths have been linked to the storm.
As The Weather Channel reports, at least five people are died during the storm, which made landfall in Texas in the early morning hours of August 26. It’s the first hurricane to make landfall in the state since Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The 59-year-old Abbott was first elected Governor in 2014, following now-Energy Secretary Rick Perry. He was previously the Texas Attorney General and was an associate on the Texas Supreme Court. He is married to Cecilia Phalen Abbott and has an adopted daughter, Audrey. Abbott has used a wheelchair since he was paralyzed by a freak accident in 1984.
Here’s what you need to know about Abbott and his response to Hurricane Harvey.
1. Abbott Mobilized Members of the National Guard & the Entire Texas National Guard to Help Victims of the Floods
In response to the unprecedented flooding in Southeast Texas, Abbott announced at a Sunday press conference that he mobilized 3,000 members of the National Guard and the Texas National Guard to help victims in Houston, Victoria, Corpus Christi and elsewhere. Five-hundred vehicles, 14 aircraft and six shelters are also in use to help, NBC DFW reports.
Abbott said there are now 18 counties on the Presidential Disaster Declaration list and 50 are on the list of declared state disaster zone.
“Many parts of Eastern Texas, especially in and around Houston, are experiencing historic flooding causing the need to grow for additional resources that will allow us to answer the call for help from our fellow Texans,” Abbott said. “I thank those at FEMA for their attention to the severity of the situation in Texas and the people of this great state for coming together in this time of need.”
On Monday, Abbott announced that he has mobilized the rest of the Texas National Guard, so around 12,000 members have been deployed to help.
The Washington Post notes that at least 22 people have died as a result of the flooding and storm. Abbott said on Wednesday he was “immediately deploying far more” National Guard members to Southeast Texas. There will be 24,000 National Guard troops in Texas.
“The worst is not yet over for southeast Texas as far as the rain is concerned,” Abbott said Wednesday.
Abbott also said Wednesday that he will accept the Mexican government’s offer to help, The Dallas Morning News reports. “We had a list of aid and assistance that they have offered to provide that we are accepting,” he told reporters.
2. Abbott & Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner Split Over Evacuation Orders & Haven’t Spoken Since Harvey Hit
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, has strongly defended his decision not to order a mandatory evacuation of the city. He didn’t want a repeat of what happened after an evacuation was ordered before Hurricane Rita hit Texas in 2005. Turner thought that an evacuation would cause gridlock on the highways and leave more people in danger.
“You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road. If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare,” Turner said, notes Click2Houston. He urged people to stay in their homes and said anyone stuck will be rescued.
Abbott, a Republican, had a different point of view. As The Associated Press reports, Abbott thought Houston should have been evacuated. Abbott said Sunday he still hadn’t spoken with Turner, despite calling four times.
“We’ve moved beyond whether or not there should have been an evacuation,” Abbott said. Abbott did speak with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who has also been criticized for not calling for an evacuation.
“I have spoken with County Judge Emmett on a daily basis…to offer help the state of Texas can provide. We have moved beyond whether or not there should have been an evacuation and we are at the stage where we need to respond to the emergencies and necessities the people of Houston have,” Abbott said Sunday.
3. Abbott Predicts It Will ‘Take Years’ to Repair Texas After Harvey
When the storm finally subsides and Texas can assess the damage caused by the storm, Abbott predicts the damage will be “horrific,” he told ABC News Monday. IT will “take years” to rebuild.
“First we had the hurricane-style damage, the horrific winds that mowed down so many buildings and local facilities where the hurricane crossed inland all the way up to the Victoria area,” Abbott told ABC News. “Second then, of course, there’s the horrific flooding in the Houston area.”
Abbott said recovery will not be quick. He called the flooding “the worst we’ve ever seen in the state of Texas,” adding that it was an “unprecedented” weather event.
In another interview with CBS News, Abbott said the flooding was his greatest concern.
“Well, obviously there’s great devastation where the hurricane hit the area, but also our greatest concern right now is the ongoing flooding that will take place,” Abbott told CBS News. “That will continue perhaps for days, and that poses ongoing danger.”
Abbott stressed that officials are trying to save people as quickly as possible, despite the continuing rain.
“The other thing that we are focused on right now, we are trying to get in as fast as we can to begin the rescue process,” Abbott told CBS News. “Even though the storms are still raging, we have teams already working to get in to try to rescue as many people as we can.”
4. Abbott Has Praised President Trump’s Reaction to the Storm & Says Trump Won’t Visit Houston
Abbott, who endorsed President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, has had nothing but praise for the president’s response to the hurricane. Trump tweeted that he spoke with Abbott and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards on August 25 and wrote that he was keeping up-to-date on the situation while at Camp David over the weekend.
In an interview with CBS News, Abbott said Trump and other state governors have been providing much-needed help.
“I’m proud to say that we’ve been receiving so many offers of help from all of our neighboring states: New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, even as far as away as Governor Cuomo in New York is providing resources for us,” Abbott said. “And so we’re very appreciative of our fellow states as well as what the federal government has done. I gotta tell you the Trump administration has provided us everything that we need.”
Trump is set to visit Texas on Tuesday, but the president will not go to Houston to avoid getting in the way of rescue efforts.
“The place he will be going to will not be Houston, so [he] will not be getting into harm’s way or interrupting the evacuations or emergency response in the Houston area,” Abbott told CBS News. “He most likely will be going closer to where the hurricane hit land.”
5. Abbott Himself Was Injured by a Tree Weakened by a Storm, Leaving Him Paralyzed From the Waist-Down
Abbott’s life was also personally changed by a storm. In 1984, an oak tree fell on him while he was jogging. The tree was weakened by a recent storm, The Dallas Morning News noted in a 2010 profile. When his friend rushed off to get help, he realized that he could no longer feel his legs.
Abbott was first taken to a hospital that couldn’t treat him. So, he was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. There, surgeons discovered that he had bone fragments lodged in his spine, broke his ribs and damaged his kidneys. Days later, his condition stabalized and he spent a month lying on his back.
The New York Times notes that Abbott had two steel rods inserted in his back.
“You often hear politicians talk about having a spine of steel. I actually have a steel spine, and I will put that to work for you,” Abbott said in 2013.
Abbott’s accident proved to be the catalyst for his professional and political career. Already a lawyer at the time, Abbott sued the owner of the property and won.
In 2013, Abbott released the details of his settlement to the Texas Tribune. He is guaranteed a monthly income and periodic lump sum payments, which rise based on the cost of living. For example, for most of 2013, he earned $14,400 a month. That went up by $500 in November 2013. By the end of 2013, he received $5.8 million in the settlement and the total won’t be known until his death.
“Money doesn’t heal anything. Money doesn’t allow me to walk. It doesn’t allow me to dance with my wife. It doesn’t allow me to pick up my daughter. It doesn’t allow me to walk my daughter down the aisle when she gets married,” Abbott told the Tribune in 2013. “If you could name the person I could write the check to, I’d send all this money right back if I could walk again.”
His career in private practice ended in 1995 when then-Governor George W. Bush nominated him for the Texas Supreme Court. After being re-elected, he served on the court until 2001. In 2002, he ran for Texas Attorney General, a position he held until he was elected Governor. Abbott has a J.D. from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.