HOUSTON (AP) — Nearly a week after Harvey crashed into the Texas coastline, the storm chased more people out of their homes Friday after dumping heavy rain on Louisiana and knocking out the entire drinking water system in a Texas city of almost 120,000 people.
Meanwhile, the Houston mayor pleaded for more high-water vehicles and more search-and-rescue equipment as the nation’s fourth-largest city continued looking for any survivors or corpses that might have somehow escaped notice in flood-ravaged neighborhoods.
Mayor Sylvester Turner also asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide more workers to process applications from thousands of people seeking government help. Harvey victims expect FEMA to work “with the greatest degree of urgency,” he told CBS “This Morning” for a segment broadcast Friday.
Turner said he will request a preliminary financial aid package of $75 million for debris removal alone.
The remnants of the storm were dying as they pushed deeper inland but remained still powerful enough to raise the risk of flooding as far north as Kentucky.
More than 1,500 people were staying at shelters in Louisiana, and that number was climbing as more people evacuate from flood-ravaged communities in Texas. The state opened a seventh shelter Friday in Shreveport for up to 2,400 people, said Shauna Sanford, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The city of Beaumont, near the Texas-Louisiana line, was evacuating and trying to bring in enough bottled water for people who stayed behind after a water pumping station was overwhelmed by the swollen Neches River.
In Houston, officials turned their attention to immediate needs such as finding temporary housing for those in shelters, 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, while rescue workers conducted a block-by-block search of tens of thousands of Houston homes that rescuers began Thursday.
The latest statewide damage surveys revealed the staggering extent of the destruction.
An estimated 136,000 structures in Harris County, or 10 percent of all structures in the county database, were flooded, according to the flood control district for the county, which includes Houston.
Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist for the agency, called that a conservative estimate. It is 36,000 more homes than were flooded by Tropical Storm Allison in 1989, the area’s previous epic flood.
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.
Houston 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.
The search for more survivors and bodies began Thursday when more than 200 firefighters, police officers and members of an urban search-and-rescue team fanned out across the Meyerland neighborhood. 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.
Gov. Greg Abbott warned Friday in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” that it could take years for Texas to “dig out from this catastrophe.” President Donald Trump tweeted that there’s still “so much to do” in Texas’ recovery.
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, but the George R. Brown Convention Center, where 10,000 people took shelter, still housed 8,000 evacuees late Thursday.
The priority is to get those who are not 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.”
Authorities were also monitoring a flood-crippled chemical plant near Houston, where the loss of power set off explosions and a fire Thursday.
The blasts at the Arkema Inc. plant northeast of Houston sent up a plume of acrid black smoke that stung the eyes and lungs. The plant’s owners warned more explosions could follow because a loss of refrigeration was causing chemicals stored there to degrade and burn.
Officials in Beaumont reported difficulty bringing in enough bottled water to set up distribution stations because of flooded roads.
On Friday morning, people stood in a mile-long line for water at a location set up by the city, which said it would remain active until sundown or until it ran out of water. Others lined up at a separate giveaway hosted by a Kroer grocery story.
About 1,000 people who had sought shelter at the Beaumont Civic Center were flown to Dallas late Thursday, said Brad Peterson, a spokesman for emergency operations in Beaumont. Most were taken to the Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas but others were taken to smaller shelters in the area.
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.
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 U.S.