Houston gets break, Harvey moves on
Confirmed death toll climbs to 25, including six family members
HOUSTON — Harvey’s flood waters started dropping across much of the Houston area and the sun came out Wednesday in a glimmer of hope for the stricken city, even as the storm doubled back toward land and battered communities farther east, near the Texas-Louisiana line.
The scope of the devastation wrought by the hurricane came into sharper focus, meanwhile, and the murky green flood waters from the record-breaking, 120-centimetre deluge of rain began yielding up bodies as predicted.
The confirmed death toll climbed to 25, including six family members — four of them children — whose bodies were pulled Wednesday from a van that had been swept off a Houston bridge into a bayou.
Authorities are investigating at least 17 more deaths to determine whether they were storm-related.
“Unfortunately, it seems that our worst thoughts are being realized,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said after the van was found in three metres of muddy water.
While conditions in the nation’s fourth-largest city appeared to improve, authorities warned that the crisis across the region is far from over. The storm, in fact, took a turn for the worse east of Houston, close to the Louisiana line.
Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, struggled with rising flood waters and worked to evacuate residents after Harvey completed a Uturn in the Gulf of Mexico and rolled ashore early Wednesday for the second time in six days. It hit southwestern Louisiana as a tropical storm with heavy rain and winds of 72 km/h.
Forecasters predicted that a wobbling and weakening Harvey will be downgraded to a tropical depression late Wednesday or early Thursday and completely dissipate within three to four days.
But it still has lots of rain and potential damage to spread, with 10 to 20 centimetres forecast from the Louisiana-Texas line into Tennessee and Kentucky through Friday. Some spots may get as much as 30 centimetres, raising the risk of more flooding.
For much of the rest of the Houston area, forecasters said the rain is pretty much over.
“We have good news,” said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District. “The water levels are going down.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city’s two major airports would be up and running again in the afternoon.
At Hermann Park, south of downtown, children glided by in strollers and wagons, joggers took in midday runs and couples walked beside cascading fountains and beneath a sparkling sun. People pulled into drive-thru restaurants and emerged from a store with groceries.
Xyrius Langston, 26, went fishing along with several family members at a pond in the Houston suburb of Missouri City.
“I’ve been waiting to go fishing for a while now,” he said. “Once the water went down this morning, we were out.”
At the same time, many thousands of Houston-area homes are under water and could stay that way for days or weeks. And Lindner cautioned that homes near at least one swollen bayou could still get flooded.
Officials said 911 centres in the Houston area are getting more than 1,000 calls an hour from people seeking help. About 10,000 more National Guard troops are being deployed to Texas, bringing the total to 24,000, Gov. Greg Abbot said.
Altogether, more than 1,000 homes in Texas were destroyed and close to 50,000 damaged, and more than 32,000 people were in shelters across the state, emergency officials reported.
Maricedalia Osorio, who is living the U.S. without permission, was staying with her seven children at a shelter set up at Houston’s NRG Center. She went there only after Houston authorities assured her she would not be asked about her immigration status.
“They know that we have no house,” she said of her children, who were waiting in line to eat. “I said, ‘We are OK, we are together. We are going to get back everything.’”
Confirmed deaths from the storm include a married couple who drowned after their pickup truck was swept away while they were on the phone with a 911 dispatcher asking for help, officials said.
Others among the dead include a woman whose body was discovered floating in Beaumont, a man who tried to swim across a flooded road, and a woman who died after she and her young daughter were swept into a drainage canal in Beaumont. The child was rescued clinging to her dead mother, authorities said.
Glenda Montelongeo, Richard Martinez and his two sons are helped out of a boat after being rescued.