Authorities went door-to-door Sunday in parts of storm-battered Houston, warning that more flooding was coming, while a nearby city that lost its drinking water system struggled to restore service and officials kept watch on a crippled chemical plant that’s already triggered explosions. Nine days after Harvey ripped its way across Texas, areas of west Houston braced for more water — not from the storm but from controlled releases to relieve swollen reservoirs. Crews were urging residents whose homes had already taken on water to flee, and that they were shutting off power in some areas.
“If you have water in your homes, I have issued a mandatory evacuation for them because it’s dangerous for those who are choosing to live there,” Mayor Sylvester Turner told NBC’s “Mett the Press.” “But also, it’s very, very dangerous for our public responders, first responders, who are needing to be out there, trying to provide protection to them,” he added.
Meanwhile, officials in Beaumont, population almost 120,000, worked to repair their water treatment plant, which failed after the swollen Neches River inundated the main intake system and backup pumps halted. The Army Corps of Engineers sent pumps, and an ExxonMobil team built and installed a temporary intake pipe to try to refill a city reservoir. Exxon has a refinery and chemical plants in Beaumont.
In Crosby, outside of Houston, authorities continued to monitor the Arkema plant where three trailers of highly unstable compounds ignited in recent days, sending thick black smoke and tall flames into the air. A Harris County fire marshal spokeswoman said there were no active fires at the facility, but six more trailers were being watched. Elsewhere, people began burying the dead and taking steps toward recovery. Friends and family gathered Saturday in Tyler to remember a former high school football and track coach whose body was found Aug. 28.
The storm is blamed for at least 44 deaths. Fire officials in the community of New Waverly, about 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) north of Houston, said a 6-month-old was missing and presumed dead after being ripped out of its parents’ arms and swept away by floodwaters, the Houston Chronicle reported. Houston’s school district said up to 12,000 students would be sent to different schools because of flood-damaged buildings. Harvey flooding is believed to have damaged at least 156,000 dwellings in Harris County, which includes the nation’s fourth-largest city.
Kim Martinez, 28, waited for insurance adjusters to come to her Southbelt/Ellington neighborhood, a devastated middle-class area of southeast Houston. “You can be prepared for anything but not a monster storm like Harvey,” said her mother, Maria Martinez, 63. Not everyone was able to think about rebuilding yet.
About 200 people waved signs and shouted as they rallied Saturday outside a still-flooded subdivision in the western suburb of Katy, demanding to know when they can return home. Turner has warned residents that their homes could remain flooded for up to 15 days because of ongoing releases of water from two reservoirs protecting downtown. About 4,700 dwellings are in the area affected by Turner’s evacuation order, but hundreds have refused to leave.
The school district assessed its own losses. Twenty-two of its 245 schools had extensive damage that will keep them closed for months. Though school is set to start Sept. 11, more delays could come. President Donald Trump made his second visit to the devastated region Saturday. He and first lady Melania Trump met with evacuees sheltering at the NRG Center in Houston, where they spent time with children and helped to serve food. Later, they helped load trucks with relief supplies at a suburban church. They also visited Lake Charles, Louisiana, to survey damage.
About 1,000 evacuees remained at the George R. Brown Convention Center, down from a peak of about 10,000. Trump has asked lawmakers for a $7.9 billion down payment toward Harvey relief and recovery efforts — a request expected to be swiftly approved by Congress, which returns to work Tuesday after its summer break. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called that a simple “down payment” on recovery funding he expects to soar past $120 billion.
Harvey came ashore Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, then went back out to sea and lingered for days off the coast as a tropical storm. The storm brought five straight days of rain totaling close to 52 inches (1.3 meters) in one location, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental U.S. Another storm churned far out over the Atlantic. Hurricane Irma was on a course that could bring it near the eastern Caribbean Sea by early this week. The Category 2 storm was moving northwest at nearly 13 mph (20 kph). No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.