HARVEY DELIVERS MORE DEVASTATION
Confirmed death toll now at 31
HOUSTON — Harvey’s floodwaters started dropping across much of the Houston area and the storm weakened slightly Wednesday, but major dangers remained for the U.S. Gulf Coast area, including the threat of an explosion at a stricken Texas chemical plant and major flooding near the Texas-Louisiana line.
The scope of the devastation caused by the hurricane came into sharper focus, meanwhile, and the murky floodwaters from the record-breaking, 4-foot deluge of rain began yielding up more bodies, as predicted. The confirmed death toll climbed to at least 31.
As the water receded, Houston’s fire department said it would begin a blockby-block search of thousands of flooded homes. Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann said the searches were to ensure “no people were left behind.”
While conditions in the nation’s fourth-largest city appeared to improve, another crisis related to Harvey emerged at a chemical plant about 25 miles northeast of Houston. A spokeswoman for the Arkema Inc. plant in Crosby, Texas, said late Wednesday that the flooded facility had lost power and backup generators, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises.
“The fire will happen. ... It will be explosive and intense in nature,” said Janet Hill, spokeswoman for the company.
The last of the plant’s employees evacuated on Tuesday and residents within 1.5 miles were told to leave, Hill said.
Another threat was east of Houston where conditions deteriorated close to the Louisiana line as Harvey again reached land.
Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, struggled with rising floodwaters and worked to evacuate residents after Harvey completed a U-turn 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 45 mph.
Forecasters downgraded Harvey to a tropical depression late Wednesday, but it still has lots of rain and potential damage to spread, with 4 to 8 inches forecast from the Louisiana-Texas line into Tennessee and Kentucky through Friday. Some spots may get as much as a foot, raising the risk of more flooding.
Tracy Thibodeaux stands on West Port Arthur Road in Beaumont, Texas, and looks for her mother and father, who were stranded in their flooded home on Wednesday.