The remnants of Tropical Storm Harvey yesterday drenched northern Louisiana as it moved inland, leaving behind record flooding that paralyzed the US energy hub of Houston, killed at least 35 people and drove tens of thousands from their homes.
Two explosions were reported at a flood-hit chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, 48km northeast of Houston, with one sheriff’s deputy sent to the hospital after inhaling toxic chemicals.
The Arkema SA plant had lost power as a result of the storm, causing the organic peroxides stored on site to warm to combustible levels. The company urged people to stay away from the area, warning that further blasts were likely.
Photo: AP / Chris Granger / NOLA.com The Times-Picayune
The death toll was rising as bodies were found in receding waters. About 32,000 people were forced into shelters around the region since the storm came ashore on Friday last week near Rockport, Texas, as the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in a half-century.
By yesterday, the storm was downgraded to a tropical depression. Maximum sustained winds were 48kph at 4am, when Harvey was about 24km south of Monroe, Louisiana.
The storm’s rains wrought the most damage along the Gulf Coast and the US National Weather Service said that as much as 25.4cm could fall in parts of Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.
The Houston Fire Department yesterday was to begin a block-by-block effort to rescue stranded survivors and recover bodies, Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann told reporters.
Nearly 76.2cm of rain hit the area around Port Arthur, Texas, the US National Weather Service said.
“Our whole city is underwater,” said Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Foreman in a social media post where he also broadcast live video of floodwaters filling his home in the city of 55,000 people.
Beaumont, near Port Arthur, said it had lost its water supply due to flood damage to its main pumping station. Residents in the city of about 120,000 were to lose water pressure from yesterday morning.
Fort Bend County yesterday ordered a mandatory evacuation for areas near the Barker Reservoir, which was threatening to flood.
Clear skies in Houston on Wednesday brought relief after five days of catastrophic downpours. The first flight out of Houston since the storm hit boarded on Wednesday evening.
Police in Houston’s Harris County said 17 people remained missing.
Nearly 200,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana and Texas were without power yesterday, utilities said.
Flooding shut the nation’s largest oil refinery in Port Arthur in the latest hit to US energy infrastructure that has sent gasoline prices climbing and disrupted global fuel supplies.
Moody’s Analytics estimates that the economic cost from Harvey for southeast Texas is US$51 billion to US$75 billion, ranking it among the costliest storms in US history.
At least US$23 billion-worth of property has been affected by flooding from Harvey just in parts of Texas’ Harris and Galveston counties, a Reuters analysis showed.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that floodwaters would linger for up to a week, adding that the area affected is larger than that hit by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday pledged to stand by the people of Texas and Louisiana.
US Vice President Mike Pence and several Cabinet secretaries were to travel to Texas yesterday to meet residents affected by the storm as well as local and state officials, his press secretary said.
An army of volunteers has turned out to help the thousands of police, National Guard personnel, Coast Guard flood teams and emergency crews to ferry thousands of people stranded in floodwaters to safety.
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