Har­vey’s wrath spreads to Louisiana

Dozens dead, tens of thou­sands in shel­ters as trop­i­cal storm be­gins weak­en­ing to de­pres­sion

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS -

OUSTON — The storm once known as hur­ri­cane Har­vey made its sec­ond land­fall Wed­nes­day, dump­ing record rains and spurring ad­di­tional flood­ing in small Texas cities that lie east of now-dev­as­tated Hous­ton.

Har­vey, which had swung out into the Gulf of Mex­ico again, came ashore at dawn near the Texas-Louisiana bor­der. Its rain bands pre­ceded it, pound­ing Texas towns in­clud­ing Or­ange, Port Arthur and Beau­mont with more than two feet of rain.

City of­fi­cials said much of Port Arthur — a city of 55,000 — was un­der­wa­ter. A shel­ter for flood vic­tims flooded. One of­fi­cial es­ti­mated wa­ter had en­tered one-third of the city’s build­ings.

“We need boats. We need large trucks, and we need gen­er­a­tors,” said Tif­fany Hamil­ton, a for­mer city coun­cil­woman in Port Arthur who was help­ing co-or­di­nate re­lief ef­forts in a city that is also with­out elec­tric­ity. “The en­tire city has been flooded.”

About 130 kilo­me­tres to the west, the Hous­ton area was just be­gin­ning to re­cover from the big­gest rain­storm in the recorded his­tory of the con­ti­nen­tal United States.

Nearly 35,000 peo­ple were in shel­ters. Thou­sands of homes were still sub­merged. At least 37 peo­ple were dead, and that num­ber was climb­ing as wa­ter re­ceded, re­veal­ing the storm’s aw­ful toll.

Har­ris County au­thor­i­ties fi­nally lo­cated a van, con­tain­ing six mem­bers of the same fam­ily, that had been washed off the road days ear­lier. All six were dead.

HA few miles away, au­thor­i­ties dis­cov­ered the bod­ies of two friends who had gone out in a boat Mon­day, try­ing to res­cue neigh­bours. They lost con­trol in the cur­rent, and drifted to­ward the sparks of a downed power line. They fell in.

Three other men, in­clud­ing two jour­nal­ists from a Bri­tish news­pa­per, suf­fered elec­tri­cal burns but sur­vived by cling­ing to a tree above the wa­ter.

By Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, the rem­nants of Har­vey had moved into Louisiana, trav­el­ling at about 13 kilo­me­tres an hour to the north­east. Its peak winds de­creased to around 60 km/h, and the storm was pre­dicted to weaken to a trop­i­cal de­pres­sion Wed­nes­day night.

Louisiana of­fi­cials, who had wor­ried that Har­vey might dev­as­tate their state as well, said the threat of flood­ing seemed to be less­en­ing.

“Some­where be­tween be­ing com­pla­cent and be­ing pan­icked is the right place” to be, said Gov. John Bel Ed­wards (D). “That’s where we’re go­ing to ask the peo­ple of Louisiana to set­tle.”

More than 50 inches of rain fell onto Hous­ton over four days, turn­ing the coun­try’s fourth-largest city into a sea of muddy brown wa­ter, boats skim­ming along what had been neigh­bour­hood streets in search of sur­vivors.

At the height of the flood­ing, be­tween 25 and 30 per cent of Har­ris County — home to 4.5 mil­lion peo­ple in Hous­ton and its near sub­urbs — was flooded as of Tues­day af­ter­noon, ac­cord­ing to Jeff Lind­ner, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist with the county flood con­trol district. That is an area as large as New York City and Chicago com­bined.

More than 195,000 peo­ple have reg­is­tered for fed­eral as­sis­tance, a num­ber that is ex­pected to go up, Wil­liam “Brock” Long, the FEMA ad­min­is­tra­tor, said dur­ing a news brief­ing. It will take “many, many years” be­fore the full scope of Har­vey’s im­pact is clear, Long said.

“We ex­pect a many-year re­cov­ery in Texas, and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is in this for the long haul,” Elaine Duke, the act­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity sec­re­tary, said at the same brief­ing Wed­nes­day.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has pledged swift fed­eral aid in re­sponse to Har­vey’s dev­as­ta­tion. On Wed­nes­day, Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott (R) said that given the sheer num­ber of peo­ple and geo­graphic area im­pacted, he ex­pects the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s aid pack­age “should be far in ex­cess” of the roughly US$120 bil­lion in funds al­lot­ted for Gulf Coast re­cov­ery after Ka­t­rina.

Trump could re­quest a pack­age of emer­gency fund­ing to deal with the dam­age caused by Har­vey as soon as next week, a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said, reshuf­fling the po­lit­i­cal agenda as the White House scram­bles to deal with dev­as­ta­tion left by the storm.

The fund­ing pack­age is ex­pected to only be a par­tial down pay­ment and serve in part to back­stop de­pleted re­serves that the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency had on hand to re­spond to dis­as­ters.

No fi­nal de­ci­sion on the fund­ing re­quest has been made, and it could fluc­tu­ate based on con­ver­sa­tions with law­mak­ers.

Tens of thou­sands of Hous­ton-area res­i­dents were liv­ing in shel­ters as they waited out the flood­wa­ters. After the Ge­orge R. Brown Con­ven­tion Cen­ter took on nearly 10,000 evac­uees, a county of­fi­cial asked to use the NRG Cen­ter south of down­town.

“They called up our CEO yes­ter­day and said: ‘Hey, we need you to do the shel­ter,’” said Fred­er­ick Goodall, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing for the non-profit Baker-Ri­p­ley, which is over­see­ing the new cen­tre.

That call was Tues­day morn­ing. By the same time Wed­nes­day, the NRG Cen­ter was lined with cots and thou­sands of vol­un­teers. By the af­ter­noon, 900 peo­ple had been bused in from other shel­ters, and nearly twice that many were ex­pected to ar­rive by the end of day. Six days after the storm made land­fall, res­i­dents were still un­sure how long they would be out of their homes or what they would find when the wa­ters re­cede.

Some of Hous­ton’s bay­ous be­gan to re­treat in­side their banks — al­though Buf­falo Bayou, Hous­ton’s main river, was still ris­ing in some sec­tions be­cause of the re­lease of wa­ter from up­stream reser­voirs.

“The wa­ter­sheds are fall­ing, and while most of them re­main well over their lev­els, and some re­main at record lev­els, the wa­ter lev­els are go­ing down,” Lind­ner said. But he cau­tioned that some homes al­ready un­der­wa­ter may “de­grade.”

Across Texas, the storm shut down 11 oil re­finer­ies and cur­tailed pro­duc­tion at nine oth­ers, while caus­ing dam­age lead­ing to at least 45 re­leases of harm­ful chem­i­cals. In Crosby, Texas, a chem­i­cal plant was in crit­i­cal con­di­tion after flood­ing dis­abled its re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tem and two backup power gen­er­a­tors, rais­ing the like­li­hood that the volatile chem­i­cals usu­ally kept at cool tem­per­a­tures on the site would warm up and catch fire or ex­plode.

Arkema, a French-based maker of or­ganic per­ox­ides used in plas­tics, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als, evac­u­ated all the per­son­nel from the plant. Har­ris County po­lice were scram­bling to keep peo­ple at a dis­tance; lo­cal me­dia said the evac­u­a­tion zone had a 2.5-kilo­me­tre ra­dius.

“We have lost crit­i­cal re­frig­er­a­tion of the ma­te­ri­als on-site that could now ex­plode and cause a sub­se­quent in­tense fire,” said Richard Rowe, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the com­pany’s North Amer­i­can unit. “The high wa­ter and lack of power leave us with no way to pre­vent it.”

Else­where, it was the first day of the rest of Hous­ton’s his­tory, where mil­lions of lives had been re­shaped and bur­dened by the flood’s de­struc­tion.

Cleanup doesn’t be­gin to de­scribe what’s next.

Power was out. De­bris lit­tered the city. When a house caught fire in west Hous­ton, fire­fight­ers couldn’t get wa­ter pres­sure to fill their hoses. In­stead, they turned to the wa­ter around them and used a jet boat en­gine: they pointed the back of the boat to­ward the house, fired up the en­gine and sprayed a mas­sive wa­ter stream to­ward the blaze.

On high­ways that al­lowed for some traf­fic, large pickup trucks — some out­fit­ted with mon­ster truck-style tires — haul­ing boats made up the ma­jor­ity of those who dared to travel. Gro­cery stores, dough­nut shops and Mex­i­can restau­rants re­opened.

For those lucky enough not to be in a shel­ter, it was a day to take stock of what Har­vey left be­hind.

“I feel like I’m dream­ing,” said Julie Step­toe, who ven­tured Wed­nes­day to an in­ter­sec­tion in King­wood, north of Hous­ton. Never tak­ing her eyes off the wa­ter that en­gulfed the area, she con­tin­ued: “I don’t know what to think. I’m hop­ing it turns out OK for every­one.”

LM OTERO / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A man leads a boat through a neigh­bour­hood in­un­dated by flood­wa­ters from trop­i­cal storm Har­vey in Hous­ton. The storm made its sec­ond land­fall Wed­nes­day, dump­ing more than 60 cen­time­tres of rain on nearby cities.

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