Floodwater starts dropping as Houston counts cost
Storm Harvey’s floodwaters have started dropping across much of the Houston area and the sun peeked through thinning clouds in the first glimmer of hope in days for the besieged US city.
But the crisis is far from over, and the storm has begun to give up more of its dead.
The number of confirmed deaths rose to at least 22 after authorities found the submerged van in which six members of a Houston family, including four children, were believed to have died when their vehicle was swept off a bridge.
The bodies of at least two adults were spotted inside in the murky water, said authorities.
“Unfortunately, it seems that our worst thoughts are being realised,” said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.
While conditions in Houston appeared to improve, the disaster took a turn for the worse along the Texas-Louisiana state line.
The Texas communities of Beaumont and Port Arthur struggled with rising floodwaters and worked to evacuate residents after Harvey rolled ashore early yesterday for the second time in six days, hitting south-western Louisiana as a tropical storm with winds of 72km/h and heavy rain.
For much of the rest of the Houston area, forecasters said the rain is pretty much over and the water is already back within its channels in some places.
“We have good news,” said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District. “The water levels are going down. And that’s for the first time in several days.”
Also, the water in two reservoirs that protect downtown Houston from flooding was likely to crest last evening at levels slightly below those that were forecast, said officials.
Nevertheless, many thousands of homes in and around the nation’s fourthlargest city were still
swamped and could stay that way for days or longer.
Some Houston-area neighbourhoods were still in danger of more flooding from a levee breach. And officials said emergency call centres in the Houston area were still getting more than 1,000 calls an hour from people seeking help.
Authorities expect the death toll to rise as the waters recede and they are able to take full stock of the destruction wrought by the hurricane.
The dead include a man who tried to swim across a flooded roadway, a former football and track coach in suburban Houston, and a woman who died after she and her young daughter were swept into a rainswollen drainage canal in Beaumont.
The child was rescued clinging to her dead mother, said authorities.
Harvey itself was “spinning down” and expected to weaken into a tropical depression sometime last night, said National Hurricane Centre meteorologist Dennis Feltgen. A tropical depression has winds of 61km/h or less.
From there, the remnants of the hurricane are expected to move from Louisiana into Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky in the next few days, with flooding possible in those states.
“Once we get this thing inland during the day, it’s the end of the beginning,” said Mr Feltgen. “Texas is going to get a chance to finally dry out as this system pulls out.”
The reprieve from the rain was welcome.
Eugene Rideaux, a 42year-old mechanic who showed up at evangelist Joel Osteen’s huge Lakewood Church to sort donations for evacuees, said he had not been able to work or do much since the storm hit, so he was eager to get out of his dark house and help.
“It’s been so dark for days now, I’m just ready to see some light. Some sunshine. I’m tired of the darkness,” said Mr Rideaux.
“But it’s a tough city, and we’re going to make this into a positive and come together.”
When Harvey paid its return visit to land overnight Tuesday, it hit near Cameron, Louisiana, about 72km from Port Arthur.
Port Arthur found itself increasingly isolated as floodwaters swamped major roads out of the city and spilled into a storm shelter with about 100 people inside. Motiva Enterprises closed its refinery, the largest in the nation, because of flooding.
Some 13,000 people have been rescued in the Houston area, and more than 17,000 have sought refuge in Texas shelters. With the water still high in places and many hard-hit areas still inaccessible, those numbers seemed certain to increase.
Harvey initially came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas on Friday, then executed a U-turn and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days, inundating Houston.