Vice President Pence surveys Harvey's wreckage in Texas

Vice President Mike Pence, center right, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, center in wheel chair, help move debris during a visit to an area hit by Hurricane Harvey, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Rockport, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press

ROCKPORT, Texas (AP) — Walking door to door in the hurricane zone, Vice President Mike Pence surveyed Harvey’s path of destruction Thursday and pledged that the Trump administration would help bring southeast Texas back “bigger and better than ever before.”

Pence visited Rockport, the small coastal town where Harvey first slammed ashore as a Category 4 hurricane, and saw a church whose wall was blown out. He prayed with residents before taking a walking tour of a street where repairs are underway.

The extent of the destruction could be measured in the piles of garbage heaped outside nearly every home.

“It’s a long way to go. It’s not months, but it’s years,” Pence said of the recovery effort as First Baptist Church. “The challenges will be great but we know that the generosity and the prayers and the faith of the people of Texas and the American people will be greater still.”

He added: “We are with you and we will stay with you until Rockport and all of southeast Texas come back.”

Pence’s wife, Karen, led community members in prayer outside the church. The couple shook hands with residents as the crowd sang “God Bless America.”

Pence wore work gloves and helped clear away tree limbs and debris. He had a ready hug for one elderly resident, offering a more personal touch than did President Donald Trump, who was in Texas earlier in the week to attend briefings with emergency management officials.

During a 45-minute drive to the church, Pence’s motorcade drove past a long row of utility poles that remained standing but at an angle. He saw scattered debris and some downed power lines. Residents of Rockport were among the first in the U.S. hit by Harvey.

The vice president, wearing jeans and cowboy boots, was joined by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, a former Texas governor, and other Cabinet members.

Trump had traveled Tuesday to Corpus Christi and Austin for briefings with officials. He plans to return to Texas on Saturday and possibly visit Louisiana, parts of which are being lashed by Harvey’s remnants.

The president drew criticism for not directly mentioning the loss of life and suffering of hurricane victims during his visit, and for tweeting Wednesday that after seeing “first hand the horror & devastation” wrought by Harvey “my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas!”

But Trump saw little damage during his visit to Corpus Christi — mostly boarded-up windows, a few downed tree limbs and fences askew from his SUV as it whisked him from the airport to a firehouse for his first briefing.

Perry, briefing reporters aboard Air Force Two, said Trump had wanted to visit Texas on Monday but was advised to visit Corpus Christi or Austin “where no search-and-rescue resources would be pulled away.”

“The president went to the right place. He literally and figuratively waved the flag,” Perry said, noting the president’s impromptu remarks to supporters gathered outside a Corpus Christi fire station that were capped with his waving of the Texas flag.