Harvey Rescue and Recovery Efforts Continue in Texas

Rescuers continued their search for survivors Friday in Texas, one week after Hurricane Harvey began sweeping through the Gulf Coast region, dumping unprecedented amounts of rain, displacing more than one million people and claiming the lives of at least 39 others.

As floodwaters began to recede, some Texans returned to their homes to begin the sobering task of assessing the damage inflicted by Harvey.

Despite receding water levels, Texas officials warned that many rivers and basins continued to present the possibility of “life-threatening” flooding.

As of Thursday, more than 93,000 homes had been damaged and nearly 7,000 destroyed, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety report.

The report, however, does not include figures from Houston, the country’s fourth most populous city, and other storm-ravaged cities such as Port Arthur and Beaumont. State authorities said the numbers would likely rise significantly.

Nearly 100 centimeters of rain

The National Weather Service reported that Houston was inundated with more than 99 centimeters (39 inches) of rain in August, more than twice as much as the previous monthly record. 

Meteorologist Jeff Lindner said Clear Creek, Texas, nearly 50 kilometers southeast of Houston, received the most rainfall: 120 centimeters.

Amid the rescue efforts, federal officials are keeping a close watch on a chemical plant outside Houston, where a series of explosions occurred early Thursday. They created anxiety among residents in the area and prompted authorities to establish a 2.4 kilometer evacuation zone around the plant. Fifteen public safety officers were hospitalized after inhaling fumes from chemical fires. Officials said there is the possibility of more explosions at the evacuated facility, located in the town of Crosby.

The city of Beaumont, about 170 kilometers northeast of Houston, continues to struggle with its loss of drinking water. The city’s primary and secondary pump stations were disabled by flooding and it is unclear when the water would turn back on.

A hospital in Beaumont began transferring patients to other facilities Thursday due to the loss of water.

The Neches River, which flows into Beaumont and neighboring Port Arthur, was forecast for a record crest Friday.

Immigrant fears

In Harris County, which includes Houston, residents contemplated the daunting task of rebuilding their lives, with one group of people grappling with a special set of concerns. Immigrants who are in the country illegally are afraid that if they apply for help they will be arrested. Outreach workers have been deployed to reassure them that they will not be detained when they seek help.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has said earlier in the week he would personally represent anyone arrested on immigration violations after seeking help.

Cesar Espinosa, executive director of Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle said Turner’s statement was a “big deal” for immigrants. “When they hear it from an official, they say,’OK, now we believe it,'” he added.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said it is “not conducting immigration enforcement operations in the affected area.”

​Lost homes

Nearly 780,000 Texans had been ordered to evacuate their homes and another 980,000 fled voluntarily, according to federal estimates.

Tens of thousands of people are packed into evacuation centers throughout the region.

Thousands of Harris County residents who are in shelters have lost everything, including their homes. Harris Country (Texas) FEMA Director Tom Fargione said his agency’s priority now is to relocate people who have lost their homes into some form of temporary housing.

“This is a tremendous disaster in terms of size and scope,” Fargione said Thursday.

Harvey moves east

Harvey, which has lost its tropical cyclone characteristics, moved eastward Friday toward the Ohio Valley, the National Weather Service reported, paving the way for U.S. President Donald Trump’s second visit to Texas this week.

In a Twitter post Friday, Trump applauded the rescue and recovery efforts and said he would return to the storm-stricken state on Saturday.

Trump also said Friday he expects to soon submit a funding request to Congress to help Gulf Coast victims recover from the storm. The request is expected to total about $6 billion. 

Trump made the remark in an Oval Office during a meeting with religious leaders in which he thanked charitable groups for assisting the victims.

He also signed an executive order designating Sunday as a “day of prayer” for the victims of Harvey.

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