Texas officials say at least eight dead as Harvey flooding continues – Washington Post
HOUSTON — Rain pelted this battered city anew Monday as emergency teams — aided by a growing contingent of citizen-rescuers — plunged into waist-deep water seeking people stranded by devastating, historic flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Officials in Texas said Monday afternoon that at least eight people appear to have died as a result of the storm battering the state. That toll includes six people in Harris County, home to Houston; one person in Rockport, near where Harvey made landfall; and another person in La Marque, near Galveston.
Authorities expect the toll to rise as rescue efforts continue and more rain, rising rivers and surging floodwaters pummel the Gulf Coast. Forecasters say up to 20 inches of additional rain could fall on parts of Texas and Louisiana by Thursday.
About 2,000 people had been brought to safety with more still in need of help. Yet even with several deaths attributed to the storm, the full toll of Harvey’s destruction remained unclear in Houston and across Texas and Louisiana, with officials warning that the flooding would linger and saying more than 30,000 people would be forced from their homes.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” Elaine Duke, the acting Homeland Security secretary, said during a Monday morning briefing in Washington. “Harvey is still a dangerous and historic storm.”
Fears also grew beyond Texas, where the floodwater pounding this city and others was measured in feet, not inches. President Trump on Monday declared “emergency conditions” in Louisiana, where forecasts have called for as much as two feet of rainfall in some areas.
During a news conference Monday, Trump said he expects Congress to take “very rapid action” to help the storm-ravaged areas. Trump, who is visiting Texas on Tuesday, also told reporters he may return to Texas on Saturday and, depending on the storm’s movements, could also visit Louisiana the same day.
“I look very much forward to it,” Trump said of his planned Tuesday trip to Texas. “Things are being handled really well. The spirit is incredible, of the people.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) had asked Trump for an emergency disaster declaration, similar to one signed for Texas last week, saying that Harvey posed a “serious danger to life and property” in the state, which is just a year removed from a massive flood disaster. A flash flood watch was issued Monday morning for part of Louisiana as well as part of Mississippi.
The immediate focus for many remained Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city and a sprawling metropolitan area, which faced dire circumstances and National Weather Service forecasts warning of more heavy rainfall.
Two reservoirs were opened to release water to relieve the stress the downpour has caused in the region, which has seen as much rain in a few days as it averages in an entire year.
“We are seeing catastrophic flooding, and this will likely expand and it will likely persist as it’s slow to recede,” Louis W. Uccellini, the NWS director, said at the Monday morning briefing.
Parts of Harris County, which encompasses Houston, were pelted with 30 inches of rain in the past 72 hours, the Weather Service reported early Monday.
The Weather Service said Harvey’s rain is causing “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding over large portions of southeastern Texas,” and it warned of more agony to come. In an alert Monday, the service said Harvey could produce between 10 and 20 inches of additional rain along the upper Texas coast and part of Louisiana, along with as much as 50 inches of overall rainfall in some parts of Texas.
“We have not seen an event like this,” William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Monday morning at a news briefing. “You could not draw this forecast up. You could not dream this forecast up.”
Updated look at rainfall thus far with many 72-h rainfall totals greater than 30″ and a widespread area with radar estimated totals over 25″ pic.twitter.com/YhQhqWV1xW
— NWS Houston (@NWSHouston) August 28, 2017
The National Hurricane Center said Monday that Harvey is expected to gradually shift on Tuesday before its center moves “just offshore of the middle and upper coasts of Texas through Tuesday night.” Harvey could make a second landfall northeast of Houston in Texas on Wednesday, but forecasters say that will not necessarily lead to a repeat of the damaging rain that pummeled the city.
Authorities in Texas fielded scores of calls for help throughout the night from people stranded by water, although many areas had imposed curfew overnight Sunday in hopes of cutting down on the number in need of being rescued from vehicles. Help was pouring in from swift-water rescue teams from around the country.
The Houston police dispatched officers on boats that were sent through streets where the floodwater reached the pumps at gas stations. While urging residents to stay off the roads, police have asked people with high-water vehicles and boats to assist in rescue efforts.
In Houston, the fire department responded to more 4,000 water-related calls for service. Police rescued 2,000 people in the city, and another 185 critical rescue requests were still pending, Art Acevedo, the Houston police chief, said at a news briefing Monday.
“The goal is rescue,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at the briefing. “That’s the major focus for the day.”
Acevedo also disputed social media claims suggesting that looting had erupted in the city, saying that police had arrested four people for attempting to loot.
Across Houston and suburbs many miles away, families scrambled to get out of fast-flooding homes. Rescuers, in many cases neighbors rescuing one another, used fishing boats, huge dump trucks and front-end loaders to battled driving rains.
In downtown Houston, some of the floodwater had receded. The swollen Brays Bayou had gone down several feet overnight, while some streets that had been flooded were dry as the sun rose over Houston.
Abandoned cars were left in intersections and alongside roads, and in one case, a school bus had been parked on a high grassy area and left behind. A brief respite overnight had given way to people wandering the streets in the morning, looking at the scattered debris. A woman wearing hospital scrubs, knee-high rubber boots and a backpack, carrying an umbrella, trekked through the water toward a hospital.
But by midmorning Monday, a hard rain had begun to fall again.
Austin city officials said they had been asked to shelter thousands of evacuees and were figuring out how many people they could take. A shelter at the M.O. Campbell Center in North Houston had begun turning people away Sunday evening, leaving hundreds stranded, according to local emergency officials.
All day, local fire departments, the Army Reserves and good Samaritans had brought people from their flooded homes to a fire station before transporting them to the M.O. Campbell shelter. But when it reached capacity, the shelter’s doors were shut, and at least 300 people were stranded at the fire station.
The firefighters put a call out for help, asking if anyone could take the evacuees in. One local youth pastor answered the call. The rescue teams picked up Pastor David McDougle, 26, and his wife from their flooded home so they could open the First Baptist Church North Houston as a makeshift shelter for those stranded.
McDougle said he got a call Sunday evening asking if he would let evacuees sleep at the church, so he and his wife took all the food and water they had gotten and brought it to the church.
Though they now have a roof over their heads, the church is not a designated shelter and has no food or water for the evacuees. The church reached capacity with nearly 300 people laying on the floor of the gym, and the food supply ran out around 5 a.m. People are nervous to drink tap water. The restrooms at the church will not flush, creating a mess of the place.
“It’s frustrating, but I’m just relying on God to fulfill his promises to us,” McDougle said. “We’re all praying.”
The Brazos River, which runs southwest of Houston, is expected to reach record heights in the coming days. National Weather Service models showed the river rising to 59 feet by Tuesday, topping the previous record of 54.7 feet.
Early Monday morning, the Fort Bend Office of Emergency Management issued voluntary and mandatory evacuation orders for wide areas along dozens of miles of Brazos River banks. River banks are expected to overflow across that part of the state as trillions of gallons of rainfall runoff consolidates over coming days.