As wa­ters re­cede, death toll rises

Hous­ton copes with de­bris; sec­ond punch soaks ar­eas to the east

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Nomaan Mer­chant and Juan Lozano

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.

SCOTT OL­SON/GETTY

Friends re­unite at a flooded Hous­ton in­ter­sec­tion Wed­nes­day. Al­most 52 inches of rain have hit the area.

MARK RAL­STON/GETTY-AFP

A van in which six fam­ily mem­bers died as they tried to flee Har­vey is towed out of a Hous­ton bayou.

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