Hurricane Harvey: Thousands face environmental risks in Texas, toll climbs to 60

This Catholic priest has been inundated with requests for spiritual guidance in the aftermath of the storm, but has also been tending to people’s material needs, organizing a huge relief effort. (Source: AP Photo) Related News

Thousands of people continue to face the lingering risk of environmental hazards in storm-hit US state of Texas where Hurricane Harvey wrecked havoc, killing at least 60 people and costing up to $180 billion. Local authorities advised residents returning homes within the evacuation zone to drink bottled water and wear surgical masks, closed-toe shoes and gloves as a precautionary measure.

In a statement, the Harris County Public Health Department said the same recommendation is given to those returning to flooded homes. The sheriff’s office in Fort Bend County, located in the Houston metropolitan area, has asked residents to leave reptiles, like alligators, found on their properties alone until the water recedes.

“We have everything from snakes to alligators to fire ants,” said Lach Mullen, spokesperson for the Office of Emergency Management in Fort Bend County. “Even though evacuation orders have been lifted, people have to be wary of new occupants in their homes. They don’t want to occupy the same space as you; they will leave on their own when they can,” said Mullen.

Umair Shah, Harris County Public Health director, is making the rounds in the flooded areas of Houston and warning residents about the risks they face while cleaning up their homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Kirtikumar Shah, a leadng gastroenterologist in Houston told PTI that, “One of the health hazard is people walking in the water and children trying to play in the water. They can get hurt with some sharp objects which they cannot see because these objects are submerged in the water. Another health hazard in flood water could be snakes and if person is walking in the water you can be hurt”.

“The greater danger comes when the flood water interfere with the clean water supply as it happened in Beaumont. There can be scarcity in drinking water because the supply trucks cannot reach the target area because of the floods at all, he added.

According to Nik Nikam, a leading cardiologist said, “People who are displaced can miss their medicines that can make their chronic conditions like heart disease or kidney disease worse and put them in the hospital. Meanwhile, officials confirmed that Harvey has killed at least 60 people, many from drowning and indirect effects of the storm.

In a conference call, an officer with the Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA) said efforts had shifted from life-saving to recovery. John Long, the Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer, said 550,000 families had registered for a FEMA assistance programme and that more than 16,000 were staying in hotels as part of a transitional shelter program.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott increased his damage estimate to between $150 billion and $180 billion. “The quick and focused work of our federal partners in response to Hurricane Harvey has been essential to the recovery in Texas,” Abbott said in a statement. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice re-populated two Richmond prisons, after the facilities were evacuated last week amid flooding from the storm. About 1,400 inmates were returned to the all-male Jester 3 and Vance Units.

Three other prisons, housing some 4,500 male inmates among them, remain evacuated. US House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy paid a visit yesterday to Houston, where he announced the House will vote Wednesday morning on an initial relief package for Harvey victims. McCarthy, a California Republican, made the announcement at a news conference at the NRG Center, which is being used as a shelter.

“It won’t be the only relief package we vote on,” McCarthy said, flanked by members of the Texas congressional delegation. “What we want to do is make sure FEMA has the money going forward as the cities and the counties assess the damage.

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For Houston’s homeowners, tough decisions on whether to rebuild

Edward Woods takes a break from cleaning up his mother’s home, which was destroyed by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey inTexas.(Source: AP) Related News

It took just hours for Tropical Storm Harvey’s floodwaters to destroy hand-hewn cabinets and wood floors that Chad Wilson spent more than 18 months to build and install in his Houston home. Wilson’s first thought after the waters receded and he girded himself for a Herculean cleanup is one echoing across the storm-weary Texas coast: should he rebuild? With most of the home, which had never before flooded, now gutted, Wilson says he will only remain if he can raise its level above the ground by up to six feet (two meters).

“We will not live in this house at this elevation again,” said Wilson, who teaches at the University of Houston. “It was too traumatizing.” More than 203,000 Texas homes were damaged or destroyed by Harvey, which dumped as much as 52 inches (132 cm) of rain across the region and killed as many as 60, according to authorities.

Debris lies on the ground after a building was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in Aransas Pass, Texas. (Source: AP)

Some of those homes are still flooded. Two area reservoirs will for at least another 10 days release water into an overflowing drainage system to relieve pressure. That has some advising homeowners to demolish their homes, rather than repair them. “If flooding in some homes persists for weeks, the likelihood of saving them diminishes rapidly,” said Ron Witte, a professor of architecture at Houston’s Rice University.

For those homes that will be restored, owners face what are expected to be shortages of materials and equipment, a scenario that plagued Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “I guarantee you there’s going to be a shortage of Sheetrock in Houston during the next three months,” said Roger Cooner, a Houston-based architect. “There are tens of thousands of homes that need Sheetrock torn out and replaced.”

REAL ESTATE

Finding a place to stay also will be tougher. Houston’s real estate market is expected to tighten because of Harvey’s onslaught, exacerbating the plight of storm victims seeking shelter. Before the storm, the city had 70,000 vacant apartment units. Some of those were damaged, but many likely will be rented quickly, said Jeff Hall of the Houston Apartment Association, which represents landlords. “It’s going to be really tight now,” Hall said.

For the city’s home sales, which were already soft because of a two-year oil price downturn, Harvey adds yet another kink. Some “For Sale” signs on properties around the city are already bedazzled with notices to entice prospective buyers: “Did Not Flood.” “Home sales are probably going to have a stigma for a while until we have things cleaned up,” said Jennifer Fuller, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Memorial.

“I would advise anyone with water in their home to keep all documents related to remediation and take pictures so they can put the future buyer at ease about what was done.” It’s not clear, though, if there’ll be much of a demand for homes that were waterlogged. “I don’t know that I would want to own a house that has been sitting in water for more than a day or two,” said David Stone, owner of Texas Fine Homes, a residential home builder in Houston.

After Melinda Loshak’s one-story home in the city’s Meyerland neighborhood flooded two years ago, she and her husband renovated it and put it on the market. With no prospective buyers, they leased it, only to see it flood again last week. “It doesn’t make any sense to repair this house if it’s just going to flood again,” she said.

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Houston ‘open for business’: Mayor Sylvester Turner

Turner said he had asked Donald Trump for rapid repair assistance during the US President’s visit to the city this weekend. (AP/File) Related News

America’s fourth largest city Houston is “open for business”, the city’s mayor has said even as some parts of the metropolis remain flooded and the cost of damage caused by the devastating hurricane Harvey could exceed a whopping USD 180 billion. Mayor Sylvester Turner said much of the city was hoping to get back on track after Labour Day. Parts of the city are reeling under floodwaters which contain a toxic brew of chemicals.

Turner said he had asked Donald Trump for rapid repair assistance during the US President’s visit to the city this weekend. “Houston’s immediate priorities are housing, housing, housing,” Turner told CBS yesterday. Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, brought 52 inches of rain to some parts of the Houston and resulted in at least 50 deaths. The ferocious storm, which knocked out 30 per cent of US oil refining capacity, has led to price spikes and sporadic gasoline shortages in some parts of the city.

Flood models released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency show more than 90,000 residential structures in Harris, Galveston and Fort Bend Counties could have been damaged by flood water from the storm. Only 15 per cent of Harris County’s 1.5 million properties, which includes Houston, are insured for floods. Despite all that, Turner said much of the city was hoping to get back on track after Labour Day. “Anyone who was planning on a conference or a convention or a sporting event or a concert coming to this city, you can still come. We can do multiple things at the same time,” ,” Turner, a Democrat, said.

The 1.5-mile evacuation zone around the Arkema facility was lifted today and officials said it was safe for residents to return to their homes. Authorities said they would continue to monitor air quality around the site. Floodwaters have also inundated at least five Superfund toxic waste near Houston and some may have been damaged even though the environmental officials have yet to assess the full extent of what occurred. Turner said Houston’s drinking water hadn’t been affected by the storm.

“We would hope that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be on the ground now to take a look at those Superfund sites, to make sure that contamination is contained and limited,” Turner said. Utility crews went door-to-door yesterday shutting off power and warning those still in some waterlogged homes in western parts of the city that more flooding was possible, not from rain, but from releases of water from overtaxed reservoirs.

Thousands of Houston dwellings were under mandatory evacuation orders, though about 300 people were thought to be refusing to leave. According to data compiled by Solera Holdings, up to half a million cars have been damaged in Texas. Even rental vehicles have likely been damaged in Houston, a city where 94 per cent of the population owns a car. People briefly returned yesterday to some homes in the area.

In Austin, Governor Greg Abbott seemed to pump the brakes on the rush to rebuild, calling for new development restrictions in order to prevent future flooding disasters. In the past, local plans to limit and control storm runoff have been sidetracked by high costs and opposition from business and development interests in a city without zoning controls. “As we go through the build-out phase, and rebuilding Texas, part of our focus must be on rebuilding in a way that will prevent a disaster like this from happening again,” Abbott told reporters before speaking during Sunday services at the Hyde Park Baptist Church, on the official Day of Prayer he proclaimed last week in Harvey’s aftermath.

As part of his continuing message of collaboration with local officials, Abbott said he has pledged to work to guard against another Harvey-like flood disaster — which some officials speculate could top USD 200 billion in damage, more than hurricanes Rita and Sandy combined. Meanwhile, repairs continued on the water treatment plant in Beaumont, about 85 miles from Houston, which failed after the swollen Neches River inundated the main intake system and backup pumps halted.

More than 1,000 people continued to shelter at the George R Brown Convention Center, down significantly from the 10,000 person peak a week earlier. Another 2,600 remained at NRG Center. Officials said those still there were likely be the hardest to relocate, either because their homes were damaged beyond repair, or because floodwaters still haven’t subsided.

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As floodwaters recede, Houston officials look to recovery

Evacuees affected by Tropical Storm Harvey take shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY Related News

As floodwaters receded and rescuers searched waterlogged neighborhoods for more potential victims, Houston officials began turning their attention to finding temporary housing for those in shelters and getting enough gasoline for people to fill up cars-but also to the city’s long-term recovery, which will take years and billions of dollars. Authorities raised the death toll from the storm to 39 late Thursday. And the latest statewide damage surveys revealed the staggering extent of the destruction.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said more than 37,000 homes were heavily damaged and nearly 7,000 were destroyed, figures that did not include the tens of thousands of homes with minor damage. About 325,000 people have already sought federal emergency aid in the wake of Harvey. More than $57 million in individual assistance has already been paid out, FEMA officials said.

Harris County FEMA director Tom Fargione said the agency was looking for ways to house people who lost their homes to Harvey, with 32,000 people reported in shelters across Texas. Some evacuees had begun returning to their homes-the George R Brown Convention Center, where 10,000 people took shelter, housed 8,000 evacuees late Thursday.

The priority is to get those who weren’t able to return to their homes into some form of temporary housing, Fargione said. “Right now, nothing is off the table. This is a tremendous disaster in terms of size and scope.” The block-by-block search of tens of thousands of Houston homes that rescuers began Thursday is expected to be completed by Friday. Fire Chief Sam Pena said his department had responded to nearly 16,000 calls since the storm hit Saturday, over 7,600 of them for water rescues.

Elsewhere, the loss of power at a flood-crippled chemical plant set off explosions and a fire, and the city of Beaumont, near the Texas-Louisiana line, lost its public water supply. The remnants of the storm pushed deeper inland, raising the risk of flooding as far north as Kentucky.

More than 200 firefighters, police officers and members of an urban search-and-rescue team fanned out across the Meyerland neighborhood looking for survivors or bodies. They yelled “Fire department!” as they pounded with closed fists on doors, peered through windows and checked with neighbors. “We don’t think we’re going to find any humans, but we’re prepared if we do,” said District Chief James Pennington of the Houston Fire Department.

Unlike during Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath in New Orleans, crews used GPS devices to log the homes they checked rather than painting neon X’s on the outside. That avoided alerting potential thieves to vacant homes. The blasts at the Arkema Inc. plant northeast of Houston also ignited a 30- to 40-foot (9- to 12-meter) flame and sent up a plume of acrid black smoke that stung the eyes and lungs. The blaze burned out around midday, but emergency crews held back because of the danger that eight other trailers containing the same compound could blow, too. No serious injuries were reported.

Although it has been downgraded to a tropical depression, Harvey is still expected to dump heavy rain on parts of Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky through Friday. Forecast totals ranged from 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters), with some places possibly getting up to a foot (30 centimeters).

As the water receded in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, where officials expected the floodwaters to be almost entirely gone by late Friday or early Saturday, the greatest threat of damage shifted to a region near the Texas-Louisiana state line. Some residents in Beaumont, Texas, began to get anxious after the city of nearly 120,000 lost water service when its main pump station was overwhelmed by the swollen Neches River. Officials said they were having difficulty bringing in enough bottled water to set up distribution stations because of flooded roads.

A procession of about 10 vehicles tailed a pickup towing a trailer packed with bottled water meant for emergency workers. The truck circled a downtown Beaumont block before Letorisha Hollier hopped out of the closest car. “Give us a case!” Hollier shouted. Her persistence paid off. A firefighter handed her the water. She was the only tailgater to score a case.

In nearby Port Arthur, the Coast Guard used baskets and harnesses to pull people out of a neighborhood with chest-deep water. Many residents of second-floor apartments decided to stay. Economists said the storm shut down everything from plastics plants to oil refineries to the Houston port-the second-busiest in the nation-which could affect the nation’s economy.

With widespread reports of gas shortages, the head of the Texas agency that regulates the oil and gas industry urged drivers to wait three or four days to fill up their tanks. Panic buying is causing a run on gas and empty fuel pumps, Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton said. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said he would release 500,000 barrels of crude oil from an emergency stockpile in a bid to prevent gasoline prices from spiking.

Also Thursday, Houston public schools pushed back the start of classes by two weeks. The nation’s seventh-largest district had been scheduled to reopen Monday but will now begin school on September 11. Health experts warned that sewage in the floodwater could make people sick and that mosquito populations could explode in the coming weeks because stagnant water offers abundant breeding grounds.

With temperatures likely to climb in to the low 90s over the weekend, residents were warned about the dangers of heat exhaustion, especially for people who lost power or must toil outdoors. Harvey initially came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas Aug. 25, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days, inundating flood-prone Houston. The storm brought five straight days of rain totaling close to 52 inches (1.3 meters), the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental US.

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Hurricane Harvey: City loses water, thousands of survivors rescued, 38 dead

Crews work to remove fallen trees and power lines from the roadway and homes along Highway 18 in Fayette, Ala., after a tornado went through Fayette County on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. (Erin Nelson /The Tuscaloosa News via AP) Top News

A Texas city lost its drinking water supply and soldiers and police rescued thousands still stranded on Thursday as storm Harvey inflicted more suffering on the Gulf coast after killing 38 people and displacing over a million. Some 779,000 Texans have been told to leave their homes and another 980,000 fled voluntarily amid dangers of new flooding from swollen rivers and reservoirs, according to Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Elaine Duke.

The city of Beaumont, 80 miles (129 km) east of Houston, had its water supplies cut off and was threatened by a rising river that forced the evacuation of its hospital and residents in neighboring Orange County.

There were explosions at a chemical plant about 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Houston after it was engulfed by floodwater.

The loss of water and health risks from flooding were among hazards emerging in the aftermath of Harvey, which roared ashore late Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in a half-century. It has since been downgraded to a tropical depression as it heads inland, leaving devastation across the southeast corner of the state.

Jessica Richard, 24, said she waited out the storm in her home in Port Arthur, about 85 miles (137 km) east of Houston, until Thursday morning when water on her street rose to waist-depth. She was picked up by a passing truck.

Richard said her nephew had been trapped overnight in a flooded apartment with several family members. “He said there were snakes in the water and spiders crawling up the walls. But they got out.”

At least 38 people were dead or feared dead in six counties including and around Houston, local officials said. Another 19 remained missing.

An evacuee affected by Tropical Storm Harvey takes shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

HOUSE-BY-HOUSE SEARCH

In the US energy hub of Houston, firefighters conducted a house-by-house search to rescue stranded survivors and recover bodies as some residents began to return to homes to assess damage.

In Beaumont, doctors and nurses evacuated some 190 people from a hospital that halted operations after the storm knocked out water service in the city of almost 120,000 people.

Orange County ordered remaining residents to evacuate low-lying areas after a forecast that the Neches River would crest on Friday, threatening homes.

US Vice President Mike Pence visited Texas on Thursday, touring the coastal city of Rockport, where Harvey slammed ashore six days ago.

“The American people are with you. We are here today, we will be here tomorrow and we will be here every day until this city and this state and this region rebuild bigger and better than ever before,” Pence said outside a damaged church.

Gasoline futures soared more than 13 percent on Thursday, as almost a quarter of US capacity had been knocked offline, raising fears of fuel shortages.

About 189,000 homes and businesses remained without power.

A family that wanted to remain anonymous moves belongings from their home flooded by Harvey in Houston, Texas August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

HOUSTONIANS RETURN TO DAMAGED HOMES

Moody’s Analytics estimated the economic cost from Harvey for southeastern Texas at $51 billion to $75 billion, ranking it among the costliest storms in American history.

The event has drawn comparisons Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people in New Orleans in 2005. Then-President ’s administration was criticized for the haphazard initial response to that storm, and the Trump administration was taking care to be seen as responding quickly to its first major natural disaster.

President Donald Trump was to return to the region on Saturday.

Early Thursday, explosions could be heard at a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, owned by Arkema SA. Refrigeration systems failed in a truck storing volatile chemicals, which ignited as they warmed, sending smoke plumes 40-feet (12-meters) into the air, according to company and public safety officials.

Public safety officials insisted there was no risk to the public outside a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) safety perimeter, but more fires were expected at the facility, underscoring worries of possible damage at other petrochemical plants and oil refineries that dot the region.

As signs of normal life returned to Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, there were also concerns about health risks from bacteria and pollutants in floodwater.

Residents began a massive cleanup, dragging water-logged furniture to the curb, hunting for supplies and repair estimates. The city began limited trash pickup and bus services. Hospitals that had struggled to stay open earlier in the week were phasing in clinical operations.

“We are blessed that the rain has stopped,” said Brenda Stardig of the Houston City Council.

Many in Houston were shocked at what they found when they returned home.

Anita Williams, 52, was lined up at a shelter at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center to register for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Williams went back to her home on Wednesday to survey the damage to her one-story house.

“It’s not my house anymore,” Williams said. “My deep freezer was in my living room.”

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