Flood­wa­ters re­cede, but dan­gers not yet done

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Nomaan Mer­chant and Juan Lozano

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 hur­ri­cane came into sharper fo­cus, mean­while, and the murky green flood­wa­ters from the record-break­ing, 4-foot del­uge of rain be­gan yield­ing up bod­ies as pre­dicted.

The con­firmed death toll climbed to 23, 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 are 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 is far from over. The storm, in fact, took a turn for the worse east of the city, close to the Louisiana line.

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 pre­dicted that a wob­bling and weak­en­ing Har­vey will be down­graded to a trop­i­cal de­pres­sion late Wed­nes­day or early Thurs­day and com­pletely dis­si­pate within three to four days.

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.

For much of the Hous­ton area, fore­cast­ers said the rain is 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.”

Hous­ton Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city’s two ma­jor air­ports would be up and run­ning again in the af­ter­noon.

At Her­mann Park, south of down­town, chil­dren glided by in strollers and wag­ons, jog­gers took in mid­day runs and cou­ples walked be­side cas­cad­ing foun­tains and be­neath a sparkling sun. Peo­ple pulled into drive-thru restau­rants and emerged from a store with gro­ceries.

At the same time, many thou­sands of Hous­ton-area homes are un­der wa­ter and could stay that way for days or weeks. And 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.

In Hous­ton’s flooded Mey­er­land neigh­bor­hood, hun­dreds of fam­i­lies emp­tied their homes of sod­den pos­ses­sions un­der a bak­ing sun as the tem­per­a­ture climbed into the 90s. They piled up couches, soggy dry­wall and car­pets ripped out of foul-smelling homes where the flood­wa­ters had lin­gered for more than 24 hours.

The curbs were lined with the pickup trucks of cleanup con­trac­tors and friends.

For Harry Duf­fey, a 48-year-old com­puter se­cu­rity spe­cial­ist, this was flood No. 3 in as many years. Just be­fore the flood, he got a no­tice that his flood in­sur­ance pre­mium had nearly dou­bled to $5,300 a year.

“Every­where we look this wa­ter has cost me money after money after money. It just does not end,” he said. But he said he has no in­ten­tion of mov­ing: “This is in my blood. This is where I’m from.”

Al­to­gether, 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 among the dead in­clude a woman whose body was dis­cov­ered float­ing in Beau­mont, a man who tried to swim across a flooded road, and a woman who died after she and her young daugh­ter were swept into a drainage canal in Beau­mont. The child was res­cued cling­ing to her dead mother, au­thor­i­ties said.

When Har­vey paid its re­turn visit to land overnight, it hit near Cameron, Louisiana, about 45 miles from Port Arthur.

Port Arthur found it­self in­creas­ingly iso­lated as flood­wa­ters swamped most ma­jor roads out of the city and spilled into a storm shel­ter with about 100 peo­ple in­side. 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 and avoid get­ting trapped in at­tics.

DAVID J. PHILLIP — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In­ter­state 69 is cov­ered by flood­wa­ters from Trop­i­cal Storm Har­vey in Hum­ble, Texas.

LM OTERO — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Evac­uees es­cap­ing the flood­wa­ters from Trop­i­cal Storm Har­vey rest at the Ge­orge R. Brown Con­ven­tion Cen­ter that has been set up as a shel­ter in Hous­ton, Texas, Tues­day.

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