As waters recede, death toll rises
Houston copes with debris; second punch soaks areas to the east
HOUSTON — Harvey’s floodwaters 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 pounded communities farther east, near the Texas-Louisiana line.
The scope of the devastation caused by the storm came into sharper focus, meanwhile, and the murky green floodwaters from the recordbreaking, 4-foot 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 were investigating at least 17 more deaths to determine whether they were stormrelated.
“Unfortunately, it seems that our worst thoughts are being realized,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said after the van that disappeared over the weekend was found in 10 feet of muddy water.
While conditions in the nation’s fourth-largest city appeared to improve, authorities warned that the crisis in Houston and across the region was far from over.
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.
The storm, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, late Wednesday was downgraded to a tropical depression. But it still had 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.
For much of the Houston area, forecasters said the rain was 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.”
Still, thousands of Houston-area homes remained underwater and could stay that way for days or weeks. Lindner cautioned that homes near at least one swollen bayou could still get flooded.
Officials said 911 centers in the Houston area are getting more than 1,000 calls an hour from people seeking help.
More than 1,000 homes in Texas were destroyed and close to 50,000 damaged, and over 32,000 people were in shelters across the state, emergency officials reported. About 10,000 more National Guard troops are being deployed to Texas, bringing the total to 24,000, Gov. Greg Abbot said.
“This is going to be an incredibly large disaster,” Brock Long, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in Washington. “We’re not going to know the true cost for years to come. But it’s going to be huge.”
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 include a woman whose body was discovered floating in Beaumont, a man who tried to swim across a flooded road.
When Harvey paid its return visit to land overnight, it hit near Cameron, La., about 45 miles from Port Arthur.
Port Arthur found itself increasingly isolated as floodwaters swamped most major roads out of the city. Motiva Enterprises closed its Port Arthur refinery, the largest in the nation, because of flooding.
Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman posted on his Facebook page: “city is underwater right now but we are coming!” He urged residents to move to higher ground.
More than 500 people — along with dozens of dogs, cats, a lizard and a monkey — took shelter at the Max Bowl bowling alley in Port Arthur after firefighters popped the lock in the night, said the establishment’s general manager, Jeff Tolliver.
“The monkey was a little surprising, but we’re trying to help,” he said.
Friends reunite at a flooded Houston intersection Wednesday. Almost 52 inches of rain have hit the area.
A van in which six family members died as they tried to flee Harvey is towed out of a Houston bayou.