Home team, fans take stand for Houston storm victims

HOUSTON

One week after a deadly hurricane lashed Houston, the US metropolis presented a semblance of relative normalcy to residents Saturday, hosting its first professional baseball game since the historic flooding.

The Houston Astros, returning to their home field for the first time since mega-storm Harvey inundated much of the city, used the day as an opportunity to honour storm victims and raise relief and recovery funds.

“It’s good to be home,” team manager A.J. Hinch said in a short speech before the first game of a double-header, which was attended by a few thousand storm evacuees and first responders.

DONATIONS
Inside the stadium a moment of silence was held for those killed during the storm, while fans outside were paying respects by donating food, supplies and funds for victims.

Holly Nguyen, a local accountant, attended the game with her husband and two daughters, one of whom held a “Houston Strong” poster.

“We were just tired and stressed” about the flooding and needed a respite, Nguyen, 46, told AFP, noting that while her house was spared, her sister was coping with the aftermath of heavy flooding.

FOOD DRIVE
Nguyen was anticipating a “very emotional moment” when the national anthem was performed before the game.

Dedicated Astros fan Andrea Prothow, 58, guided donors to large bins where a food drive was collecting contributions for storm victims.

She said the game “gives people something else to think about” during a stressful, difficult period for the city.

“We need to hurry up and get back into what we’re used to doing,” she said. “This is helping.”

TRUMP VISIT
The city, apparently sensitive to images of heightened celebration, cancelled a scheduled pre-game barbeque in downtown.

But fans, many wearing orange and blue Astros jerseys, were eager to show their spirit for a city that has come under hard times.

“Whatever mother nature throws at us… we can come back Houston strong,” season ticket holder Julian Quintero Jr, who sported a long beard and an Astros shirt and bandana, said.

Quintero, 66, also said he appreciated Donald Trump’s visit to the Texas city Saturday, when the US president handed out boxed lunches, shook hands and posed for selfies at a shelter with evacuees.

“He hit a home run for the city of Houston,” Quintero said. “He acted like a commander in chief.”

FLOODING
Hurricane Harvey forced the Astros to move their three-game home series against the Texas Rangers to Florida earlier this week because of the devastating flooding.

In a bit of symbolic payback Saturday, the Astros hammered their opponents, the New York Mets — and their starting pitcher Matt Harvey– 12-8 in the opening game.

Emergency workers were staging dramatic rescues by air and water in Texas towns.

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