Houston Water Release After Harvey May Keep 20K Homes Flooded Up To 15 Days

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, near Beaumont, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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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 Houston planned a water release that could keep as many as 20,000 homes flooded for up to 15 days.

In another Texas city with no drinking water, people waited in a line that stretched for more than a mile to get bottled water.

Residents of the still-flooded western part of Houston were told Friday to evacuate ahead of the planned release from two reservoirs protecting downtown. The move was expected to flood homes that were inundated earlier in the week. Homes that are not currently flooded probably will not be affected, officials said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner 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.

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.

The mayor said he will request a preliminary aid package of $75 million for debris removal alone.

The remnants of the storm were dying as they pushed deeper inland but remained 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 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 Texas city of Beaumont, home to almost 120,000 people near the Louisiana state line, was 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.

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.

Figures from the Texas Department of Public Safety indicated that nearly 50,000 homes sustained minor damage, and 37,000 sustained major damage. At least 6,800 homes were destroyed.

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.

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.

In Beaumont, people waited Friday in a line of cars that stretched more than a mile at a water-distribution center at a high school football field. Each vehicle received one case. Earlier, people stood in line at a Kroger grocery store that was giving away gallon jugs of water, which were gone in two hours.

In Galveston County, officials said the water supply for the Bolivar Peninsula is expected to run out within days, and could be out for weeks, after a pumping station 30 miles away was submerged by floodwater. About 2,000 people live year-round on the 27-mile (43.45-kilometer) long peninsula, a narrow strip of land in the Gulf of Mexico.

About 1,800 people were staying in shelters in Dallas, including about 1,000 who were flown late Thursday from Beaumont, officials said. Most were taken to the Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas, but others went to smaller shelters in the area.

Drivers had been urged to wait three or four days to fill up gas tanks after widespread reports of gas shortages caused panic-buying and empty fuel pumps. But on Friday, the governor said there was no danger of running out after a pipeline that had been supplying gasoline from Texas to Oklahoma was reversed. More fuel was being shipped in from surrounding states.

Harvey initially came ashore Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, 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.

Far out over the Atlantic, Category 2 Hurricane Irma was following a course that could bring it near the eastern Caribbean Sea by early next week. It had maximum sustained winds near 110 mph (175 kph) and was moving northwest near 13 mph (20 kph). No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.

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