HOUSTON, Texas — The rain mercifully has stopped in southeast Texas. But a week after Hurricane Harvey, rescue helicopters still buzz in the skies as millions of people struggle with what the storm has left — tens of thousands of destroyed homes and altered lives, and grim efforts to find those who may not have survived.
Seven days after Harvey hit, at least 47 people have died from the storm. Other statistics only begin to hint at the scope of the punishing deluge and what the months of recovery will entail:
- About 27 trillion gallons of rain fell on Texas and Louisiana over six days — enough to fill the Houston Astrodome 85,000 times.
- More than 72,000 people have been rescued.
- And about 136,000 structures were flooded in Harris County, home of Houston, alone — about 10% of the structures on record there, the county says.
Why we don’t yet know Harvey’s true toll?
Danger is far from over in places like Beaumont, Texas, a city of 118,000 dealing with a cruel juxtaposition: Inundated in spots with floodwater as its residents lack flowing tap water because two pumps there failed.
“The river … on the east line of our city should crest today, and it will start falling, (but) our biggest situation is the water supply is cut off,” Capt. Brad Pennison of Beaumont’s fire department said.
The tap-water outage has forced an evacuation of patients from Beaumont’s Baptist Hospital. Patients in intensive care already have been airlifted or taken by ambulance to other facilities, but officials still plan to evacuate 85 people who remained there early Friday morning.
For city residents, officials have ordered bottled water and plan to set up distribution points Friday.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Houston has been trying to strike an optimistic tone, declaring the city “is open for business.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner and other officials pointed to small signs of recovery, such as fewer people in shelters, more bus lines resuming and the city’s shipping channel reopening on a limited basis.
Parts of Houston still face flooding issues because of standing water, the mayor said, but the rest of the city is drying out. The Houston Independent School District, which postponed its school-year opening Monday because of the storm, plans to start classes on September 11 for its 200,000 students.
Traffic is returning to the roadways and power has been restored to much of the region. And the Houston Astros will play a doubleheader at home on Saturday, Turner said.
“We are turning the corner,” Turner said.
Given the disaster’s scope, the commanding officer who led the federal response to Hurricane Katrina a dozen years ago questioned the adequacy of current relief efforts.
“When you have a combination of hurricane winds, flooding now for five days and you start losing the water and the electric grid, this is a game changer,” retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré told CNN on Thursday.
“Losing electricity itself is a disaster for over a 24-hour period in America to any person because we lose access to water, we lose access to sewers, we lose our ability to communicate,” he said.
The dangers emerging from the historic storm seem to increase by the day.
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In Crosby, Texas, two blasts rocked a flooded chemical plant, and more could come.
And in Houston, authorities started going door to door looking for victims, hoping to find survivors but realizing that the death toll could rise.
96,000 approved for emergency assistance
“We will see additional losses of life, if history is any precedent here,” Tom Bossert, homeland security adviser to President Donald Trump, told reporters Thursday.
“You should continue to have confidence in what we’re doing as a government,” Bossert said. “But I would be remiss if I didn’t stop and say that none of that matters if you’re an affected individual.”
Trump personally plans to donate $1 million to help storm victims, according to the White House.
FEMA reported Thursday that more than 96,000 people in Texas have been approved for emergency assistance, including financial aid for rent and lost property. More than $57 million has already been distributed for housing, personal property and transportation assistance.
In the hard-hit city of Rockport, Texas, Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday addressed residents outside a church.
“President Trump sent us here to say, ‘We are with you. The American people are with you,'” said Pence, who later announced that Trump will visit Houston and other areas on Saturday.
‘People are freaking out’ in Beaumont
Extreme flooding caused both of Beaumont’s water pumps to fail, Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said.
“We will have to wait until the water levels from this historical flood recede before we can determine the extent of damage and make any needed repairs,” the city said. “There is no way to determine how long this will take at this time.”
Residents lined up Thursday at stores hours before they opened in hopes of getting whatever bottled water they could find.
“It’s crazy,” said Khayvin Williams, who started waiting in line at Market Basket at 6:50 a.m. “People are freaking out.”
At a local Walmart, Jeffrey Farley said the store was only allowing 20 people in at a time and was rationing water to three cases per customer. He got in line at 6:30 a.m. and waited until 8:30 to get his water.
“It’s an insult to injury for a lot of folks,” Farley said. “The water situation has made things dire for everyone here.”
Beaumont, along with Port Arthur, was devastated after Harvey made another landfall Wednesday.
About 20 miles southeast of Beaumont, in Port Arthur, those lucky enough to get to a shelter were deluged again, when murky brown floodwater filled an evacuation shelter.
Actress Amber Chardae Robinson, speaking by phone from Beaumont, said getting out of Port Arthur was virtually impossible.
“Every avenue we use to get out of the city is flooded — to get to Houston is flooded, to get to Louisiana is flooded,” she said. “So people are just trying to figure out ways to get their family out of there at this point.”
For most of Orange County, east of Beaumont, a mandatory evacuation order was issued Thursday afternoon by Judge Stephen Brint Carlton. The order primarily involved areas along the Neches and Sabine rivers.
Death toll expected to rise
Across the state, families are searching tirelessly for missing relatives six days after Harvey first pummeled the Texas coast
Among the storm-related deaths are a Houston man who was electrocuted while walking in floodwater and a mother whose body was floating about a half mile from her car. Rescuers found her daughter clinging to her body. The child is in stable condition after suffering from hypothermia.
And the city’s Addicks Reservoir, which was overwhelmed and caused widespread flooding this week, has also peaked. The water in that reservoir is also receding.
In Victoria, Texas, about 120 miles southwest of Houston, Mary Martinez returned to her heavily damaged home Wednesday.
“I did not think it was going to be this bad,” said Martinez, who got help from volunteers with the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse. “I was speechless.”