HOUSTON – As part of his last stop during a three-week tour across the United States, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia spent the day in the Bayou City.
Mohammed bin Salman, 32, spent the day meeting with former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Jim Baker.
In a quick visit, bin Salman, along with his entourage, went to the Habitat for Humanity neighborhood of Harold Park in Northeast Houston. About 176 homes, some of which KPRC Channel 2 News helped build, were destroyed when flood waters ravished the area.
Aramco, which is a Saudi owned gas company and has its U.S. headquarters in Houston, donated $3.7 million to Habitat for Humanity right after Hurricane Harvey.
“We’re finally able to express our gratitude to Aramco and to Saudi Arabia, to the volunteers that came and to the many people that we know in Houston that work for Aramco,” said Allison Hay, executive director for Houston Habitat for Humanity.
“Labor Day weekend, Aramco was here with volunteers; they had amazing student volunteers from Saudi Arabia that jumped in and were able to help us help with the really dirty part of it and they had volunteers from Aramco that did not go to work and came here and helped us. And from that moment on there was a bond between Aramco and Houston Habitat and the homeowners that had lost everything.”
The floodwaters reached several feet and caused a lot of damage for families who already didn’t have much.
"It's a blessing, first of all, to be in my home and to have them help volunteering with everything, we're just so thankful,” said Rosalinda Gomez, a mother of two who lives in the neighborhood.
She and her children met the Saudi crown prince as well.
“It’s very surreal, for him to take the time to come out here and meet us,” said Rosalinda Gomez, whose home flooded during Harvey.
“Since I came to the United States, I’ve felt loved and welcomed from the community, so I think now it’s our responsibility to give back to the community and help to rebuild,” explained Waad Alsagri, a Saudi student. She didn't help with this specific project, but is part of the larger group that did.
Bin Salman’s visit to the neighborhood was very brief and he only made it to the driveway of the home, but was greeted by Saudi Minister of Energy, Khalid Al-Falih, Habitat for Humanity, volunteers who were made up of Saudi Arabian students, along with Mayor Sylvester Turner.
“We’re an international city. He came to the United States, he’s visiting cities like D.C., Boston, Silicon Valley. To include Houston in that list, I think this speaks volumes about the city of Houston,” Turner said. “At the same time, Aramco has a strong presence, thousands of employees here in the city of Houston and between Aramco and the Kingdom, they’ve been very supportive in helping us to rebuild since Hurricane Harvey.”
The mayor said along with several charities, Aramco gave a very generous amount of money to the local relief fund, but didn’t state how much.
The heir to the throne spent the almost a month visiting everyone from top politicians like President Donald Trump and the Clintons, as well as a-list celebrities Dwayne Johnson and Oprah, and tech giants including Bill Gates.
The crown prince is on a mission to change the image of Saudi Arabia, and also has been conducting business.
There have been rumors Aramco is looking to build a petrochemical plant somewhere along the southeast coast of Texas, but it hasn’t been confirmed. When asked, Turner didn’t have answers, but said the company could be expanding.
"I think you're going to see additional expansion taking place not only in Houston but taking place in this whole region, I was just talking to the minister of energy and talking about ways to partner with us to study drainage and flooding,” Turner explained.
The mayor said Al-Faliah, the minister of energy, will be back in May. The two talked Saturday about leading a mayor’s delegation to Saudi Arabia to continue the conversation.
In 2012, former Mayor Annise Parker headed a delegation to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.