The Latest: Officials raise Harvey-related death toll to 39
The Latest: Officials raise Harvey-related death toll to 39
The Latest: Officials raise Harvey-related death toll to 39
Sep. 01, 2017
HOUSTON (AP) — The Latest on Tropical Depression Harvey (all times local):
Authorities are raising Harvey's death toll to 39 almost a week after the storm slammed into the Texas coast.
Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences spokeswoman Tricia Bentley said Thursday night that the office has confirmed seven more storm-related deaths.
Harris County is home to Houston and has so far accounted for 25 deaths from the storm. Bentley said earlier in the day that their morgue was close to capacity because bodies were piling up from the storm and from other deaths in the fourth-largest city in the U.S.
She said the backlog eased a little Thursday as some funeral homes were able to pick up remains.
Officials say flood waters are expected to be gone from most of Houston and Harris County by late Friday or early Saturday.
Jeff Lindner, meteorologist for the Harris County Flood Control District, said Harvey flooded an estimated 136,000 structures in Harris County, or 10 percent of all structures in the county database. He called that a conservative estimate.
Lindner said 70 percent of the county's land mass, or about 1300 square miles, was submerged by at least 1½ feet of water. The heaviest rainfall recorded in Harris County was 47.4 inches on Clear Creek at Interstate 45 in the southeastern part of the county, near the NASA Johnson Space Center.
He said there has been a very slight fall in the waters of Buffalo Bayou, which flows past downtown Houston into the Houston Ship Channel, but flood waters remain in the residential areas on the margins of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs that control flooding on Buffalo Bayou and the Houston Ship Channel. Col. Lars Zetterstrom, commander of the Galveston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says they remain full but that their water pools have lowered very slightly.
Lindner said the reservoirs will take three months to fully drain after 35 to 40 inches of rain fell on their watershed.
Zetterstrom says that the Addicks and Barker dams are withstanding their load well.
This item corrects the spelling of Lindner in the penultimate paragraph.
Houston firefighters are finishing the first of six areas where they went door-to-door checking for anyone left behind in the Harvey flooding.
Fire Chief Sam Pena says firefighters hope to complete the checks in all six areas on Friday. He did not say whether anyone was found dead or alive.
Deputy Police Chief Larry Satterwhite says police have received 30 reports of missing people since Harvey began and have found 11 of those. He says authorities believe most of the remaining 19 have lost the means to communicate and are either in shelters or otherwise safe. He cautioned not to assume they are dead: "It doesn't mean the worst." The death toll from Harvey so far is 32.
Mayor Sylvester Turner says areas on the east and west sides of the city are still dealing with flooding issues, but the rest of Houston is "drying out and drying out well" and traffic is returning to the streets.
Turner says Houston is "turning the corner," with the number of people decreasing in city emergency shelters. He expects to move people from the Toyota Center downtown to the nearby George R. Brown Convention Center on Friday. The convention center, which once housed 10,000 people at one point, sheltered about 8,000 late Thursday.
Officials say a 61-year-old Southeast Texas woman has become the 32nd person confirmed to have died in Texas because of Harvey.
Newton County Sheriff Billy Rowles says Clementine Thomas died Wednesday afternoon when the car she was driving was swept from Texas 87 south of Newton, about 60 miles northeast of Beaumont.
In a statement Thursday, Rowles said witnesses reported that several people risked their lives to rescue Thomas but were unsuccessful. Her body was recovered Thursday afternoon.
Law enforcement officials from the federal government and Texas and Louisiana have formed a working group to investigate and prosecute illegal activity related to Hurricane Harvey.
Houston-based Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez says storm victims already have suffered devastation and "the last thing that victims of the damage need is to be victimized again."
Authorities say bringing about a dozen agencies together into a single focused group is an optimal way to address calls they're already getting about scams in the wake of Harvey. Those calls are going to relevant agencies.
He says they're also employing lessons learned from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and will bring "a comprehensive law enforcement focus" against illegal activities.
Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton says there's no place for fraud or shady practices in rebuilding Texas and Louisiana.
Local officials in the southeast Texas city of Beaumont struggled to cope after flooding swamped the municipal water system.
The already swollen Neches River rose further as water from more northerly reaches made its way toward the Gulf of Mexico. It led to more rescues by helicopter and boat just like Houston had seen days before, but also to the water system failure. Beaumont's main water pumps are in the Neches, but by early Thursday morning they were underwater. The backups failed, too.
Kyle Hayes, manager of the city of about 120,000 people, said the flooding is making it hard to send in water and other needed resources. The city was still trying to amass enough water to open water distribution stations. Hayes said one truck had arrived Thursday morning.
Donald Marvels runs Beaumont's branch of the Salvation Army. He said he gave out at least 1,500 cases of water Thursday. Flooding was causing problems for his convoy of storm responders trying to get to Beaumont.
The head of the Texas agency that regulates the oil and gas industry is urging people to wait three or four days to fill their cars and trucks with gasoline if they can.
Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton said Thursday that people are panicking and that's causing a run on gas and empty fuel pumps.
He says there is plenty of gas in Houston and elsewhere, but there are logistical problems of making sure all of the stations are getting it.
He says he doesn't think it will be an issue a week from now as long as people stay calm and fill up their tanks as they normally would.
A health expert warns standing water from Harvey could create a boom in the mosquito population and the potential transmission of mosquito-borne diseases.
Joon Lee is a medical entomologist at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. He says Harvey's floodwaters will wash away immature mosquito populations from their breeding grounds, but they can be quickly re-established in stagnant water. Lee says mosquito populations will likely explode within the next two weeks and will stay for at least a month or two.
Lee says that could be mean increased transmission of potentially life-threatening, mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis. Lee says outbreaks of Zika, dengue fever and Chikungunya are also possible, but those diseases must originate from a person already infected.
The Trump administration is trying to assure victims of Harvey living in the country illegally that they will not be targeted as they try to access emergency services — as long as they haven't committed other crimes.
Trump's Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert says that: "in terms of immediate lifesaving, no individual human being should worry about their immigration status unless they've committed a crime on top of coming here illegally when it comes to getting food, water and shelter."
He also says that no routine sweeps will be conducted in emergency shelters.
Still, he said that people living in the country illegally should not expect long-term federal assistance reserved for citizens.
He says: "I don't think there's going to be a lot of benefits going out to illegal immigrants."
A Texas A&M University analysis of floodwater samples from the Houston area shows E. coli levels that are 125 times higher than is considered safe for swimming.
Terry Gentry, an associate professor in the university's Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, says even walking through floodwater could lead to infections and other problems.
Gentry says tests from a sample in Cypress, a suburb northwest of Houston, showed bacteria levels 15 times higher than acceptable for wading.
E. coli in water isn't what causes illnesses but is an "indicator bacteria" that signals the presence of fecal matter, which can make people sick.
Filling fuel tanks is becoming increasingly difficult in parts of Texas where some stations were out of gas and pump costs have risen steeply.
In Dallas, lines of cars a block long were common for the few gas stations that had gasoline to sell Thursday. The scene was reminiscent of the gas lines seen during the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s.
One Chevron station in downtown Dallas that sold regular gas for $2.29 a gallon just before the storm was charging $2.99 on Thursday. Others charged well over $3, and one downtown Shell station charged $3.97 for a regular gallon of gas. At three gas stations in north Dallas, yellow bags or caution tape was wrapped around pumps just after noon.
The Texas attorney general's office said anyone seeing gas prices of $4 or higher should take pictures and report the stations as price-gouging.
The U.S. Postal Service has posted a list of locations where Houston-area residents can pick up government benefit checks after Harvey forced the temporary closing of several post offices.
The list posted Thursday includes pickup site addresses by ZIP code. Government checks including Social Security payments, Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits and checks from the Office of Personnel Management and the Railroad Retirement Board can be picked up starting Friday. The locations will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
The Postal Service says to pick up a check, customers must show proper identification. Customers can also complete a change of address request if they expect to be out of their homes for an extended period.
Houston public schools will start classes two weeks late on Sept. 11 because of Harvey.
The nation's seventh-largest school district had been scheduled to start classes on Monday until Hurricane Harvey stormed ashore in Southeast Texas, leading to devastating flooding in Houston.
Houston also is the largest public school district in Texas, with about 216,000 students and 283 campuses.
Officials at Beaumont's other hospital say they've decided not to move their patients elsewhere but are operating under "extreme emergency conditions."
Christus St. Elizabeth issued a statement Thursday saying 256 patients will remain at the Texas hospital, which gets its water from wells and has a store of potable water.
The statement came hours after Baptist Beaumont Hospital said it was airlifting its nearly 200 patients to other facilities because it no longer had potable water and access was limited by flooding.
The city of about 120,000 people has been hit hard by flooding from Harvey, which came ashore last Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and hovered for days in the region.
The National Weather Service is forecasting flooding in Kentucky and Tennessee as Tropical Depression Harvey travels inland.
Forecasters say the storm is expected to drop 2 inches to 6 inches (50 to 152.4 millimeters) of rain in Kentucky, with the highest totals expected in western Kentucky near the Tennessee border. The heaviest rainfall for a wide swath of the state is expected to start late Thursday and last through Friday afternoon. Forecasters say high winds from the storm could also produce tornadoes.
Some locations in Tennessee could get more than 10 inches (254 millimeters), though most will get 4 inches to 8 inches (101 to 203 millimeters). The say high winds from the storm could also produce tornadoes. The weather service issued a flood warning for areas along several rivers in West Tennessee while a flood watch included the whole region and stretched into Middle Tennessee.
Harvey dumped nearly 52 inches (1321 millimeters)of rain on at least one spot in Texas.. It has caused more than 30 deaths.
The county in Texas that has had the most deaths from Harvey says its morgue is close to capacity because of storm-related bodies and deaths that are not related to the flooding.
Tricia Bentley, spokeswoman for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences said Thursday that funeral homes have been unable to retrieve the bodies in the aftermath of the storm and it has asked for a large refrigerated 18-wheeler to store more of them.
The county has confirmed 18 storm-related deaths and is investigating 10 more as potentially Harvey-related.
Bentley says the morgue has about 175 bodies total — most of them not related to the storm — and it has a capacity of 200. The agency has requested approval from the state for the tractor-trailer and expects to receive it Friday.
So far, the death toll from Harvey is at least 30.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has declared Sunday a day of prayer for his waterlogged state.
The Republican governor and Vice President Mike Pence visited a church in the city of Rockport on Thursday that was damaged when Harvey came ashore last Friday as a Category 4 hurricane.
Abbott says Texans will pray on Sunday for those affected by the storm and for everyone who has helped them, including first-responders.
Harvey has caused record flooding in parts of the state and has been blamed for the deaths of more than 30 people.
The Harris County Director for FEMA says the federal disaster agency is looking for unique ways to house the tens of thousands of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Harvey.
Tom Fargione said Thursday that FEMA hasn't discounted any ideas because the housing problem is so big.
He says the first priority is getting people out of shelters and into some other form of temporary housing.
FEMA's use of mobile homes following Hurricane Katrina became an issue after unhealthy formaldehyde emissions were detected in the trailers.
Fargione says the agency has trailers in stock and has ordered more, but that they aren't necessarily the best solution.
He says people need to register with the agency to start the process of getting federal help.
Beaumont officials say it's unclear when their Texas city will be able to provide residents with potable water.
City manager Kyle Hayes said during a news conference Thursday that continually rising flood waters on the Neches River are covering pumps that are the primary source for drinking water.
Hayes says city workers won't be able to check the pumps for any needed repairs until the water recedes.
Beaumont's backup water source in nearby Hardin County also has failed.
Earlier Thursday, Baptist Beaumont Hospital evacuated nearly 200 patients by air because of the lack of water.
The city plans to get bottled water as soon as possible and make it available to residents.
The U.S. Border Patrol says it has rescued about 450 people since dispatching vessels to the Houston area on Monday.
John Morris, chief of staff in South Texas, says agents are not enforcing immigration laws and are "absolutely 100 percent here for rescue and safety."
Morris says the agency had 35 boats navigating flooded streets on Thursday. They were brought from stations that patrol areas along the Rio Grande, which is the busiest corridor for illegal crossings.
The Border Patrol did not suspend highway checkpoints in Texas when the storm moved into parts of the state, drawing criticism from advocates who said lives were being put at risk. The arrival of Border Patrol boats in Houston has put some immigrants on edge, but agency leaders have been emphatic that they are only being used for search and rescue.
A company that operates a pipeline that moves nearly 40 percent of the South's gasoline estimates that it will resume carrying fuel through Texas by Sunday.
Steve Baker, a spokesman for Colonial Pipeline, said Thursday that the pipeline is underwater in parts of Texas dealing with flooding from Harvey and that those sections would have to be inspected before it could resume operating. But he says the pipeline is still operating from Louisiana to the eastern states, though deliveries will be "intermittent."
Reopening the shuttered Texas sections of pipeline could help avoid major gas shortages, but huge challenges remain, as several giant Texas refineries were shut down due to the storm.
All of these problems have sent gasoline prices surging. The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has risen from about $2.35 a week ago to $2.45 now.
Gasoline prices in Texas and across the country have increased by at least 10 cents since Harvey came ashore and caused record flooding in places.
AAA Texas on Thursday reported the average price at the pump statewide was $2.26 per gallon. That's 12 cents higher than a week ago, before Harvey made landfall, and 4 cents higher than on Wednesday.
The association survey says U.S. gasoline prices Thursday averaged $2.45 per gallon, which is 10 cents higher than a week ago and 5 cents more than on Wednesday.
Harvey made landfall along the Texas coast last Friday and lingered in the region for days, causing catastrophic flooding, killing at least 31 people and causing major disruption to the region's energy sector.
The House will act as early as next week to provide money for relief from tropical storm Harvey.
That's according to a House leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private deliberations.
Members of the Texas and Louisiana delegation are pressing for fast action when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill from their summer recess next week.
The initial money would be a down payment for immediate recovery efforts — to be followed by a larger aid package later on. It will take weeks or months to assess the full extent of the damage and the needs.
It's not yet known how much money the administration will ask for but a request from the White House is expected within days.
By AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner in Washington.
Troy Callihan says he asked his younger brother, Travis, to ride out Harvey with him and his family in the Houston suburbs, but he declined, saying he'd "just kind of hunker down."
Travis Callihan, who lived in Houston, died Monday when he left his pickup truck and fell into floodwaters during the storm.
Troy Callihan told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he's still trying to get more details on exactly what happened.
He says he'll really miss his 45-year-old brother, whom he described as a conservative talk radio fan with a dry sense of humor and a good uncle to his nieces and nephews.
Harvey came ashore last Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and hovered over the region for days, causing record flooding. The confirmed death toll from the storm stood Thursday at 31.
One of the nation's largest convenience store chains plans to stop selling gasoline at about half of its 135 stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, as it anticipates shortages due to refinery and pipeline shut-downs.
QuickTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh told The Associated Press on Thursday that the company will direct gasoline deliveries to half of its stores, and intends to have stores with gas in all parts of the metro area. All stores will remain open, though only half will have gasoline.
The company is enacting its plan after several major refineries and a key gasoline pipeline shut down after Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast.
Oklahoma-based QuickTrip enacted a similar plan last year in metro Atlanta, where it has about 133 stores, when the Colonial Pipeline closed due to a leak in Alabama.
The Texas Department of Public Safety reports that more than 37,000 homes have sustained major damage and nearly 7,000 have been destroyed by Harvey and its flooding.
Those figures come from a daily damage estimate compiled from reports by local officials and the figures have been rising.
Harris County, which includes Houston, reports that nearly 30,000 homes suffered minor damage and nearly 12,000 have major damage. Jefferson County, which includes Port Arthur and Beaumont, reports that 5,500 homes were destroyed and 16,000 others sustained major damage in areas where officials have warned that flooding could continue for days.
The report says there has been $180 million in damage to public property across the affected Gulf Coast counties so far.
A Southeast Texas hospital is evacuating nearly 200 patients by air after the local water supply failed because of flooding from Harvey.
Baptist Beaumont Hospital spokeswoman Mary Poole said Thursday that Beaumont's main pumping station lost service so the hospital no longer has potable water.
Poole says access to the hospital is limited, so patients will be airlifted to other facilities.
She says the acute care hospital is working with HCA Healthcare to move patients to facilities that system has in the Houston suburb of Pasadena and elsewhere.
It's not known if Beaumont's other hospital, Christus St. Elizabeth, is being evacuated. A message left for an administrator was not immediately returned.
The U.S. Navy is sending two ships to provide humanitarian aid to areas affected by Harvey.
News outlets report that the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill are set to depart Virginia for the Gulf Coast on Thursday.
The ships can provide medical support and maritime security, among other things.
North Carolina, meanwhile, is sending five swift water rescue teams to help out. The state's Department of Public Safety says the teams can conduct a variety of rescues, including using small boats and other equipment to rescue people from flooded homes.
Harvey initially came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas on Friday, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days, inundating flood-prone Houston.
House Republican leaders have committed support for Harvey relief.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told lawmakers from Texas and Louisiana on a conference call that "we are with you."
The call Wednesday night included federal officials from the Department of Homeland Security. They say the full scope of damages might not be known for weeks or more.
No specific dollar figures or timing was discussed, according to a House GOP aide who requested anonymity to disclose details of the private conversation.
But there will likely be the need for immediate support — and McCarthy and other leaders made clear the House is prepared to act.
Congress returns next week from its August recess and a response to Harvey will be at the top of the agenda.
By AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner in Washington.
Colonial Pipeline says it plans to shut down a key line that supplies gasoline to the South due to storm-related refinery shutdowns and Harvey's effect on its facilities west of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
The Georgia-based company said in a statement that it expects to shut off the line Thursday. The company had already closed down another line that transports primarily diesel and aviation fuels.
The pipeline provides nearly 40 percent of the South's gasoline.
In September 2016, a leak and gas spill in Alabama that closed the Colonial Pipeline led to days of empty gas station pumps and higher prices in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.
The company didn't say how long it expects the closure to last, saying it will know more when workers can evaluate its facilities.
Local officials say explosions at a flooded Houston-area chemical plant produced no toxins, although federal authorities are describing the resulting plumes as "incredibly dangerous."
Assistant Harris County Fire Chief Bob Royall told a news conference Thursday that the explosions emitted 30- to 40-foot (9- to 12-meter) flames and black smoke.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said no toxins were released and that there's no danger to the community. He says sheriff's deputies who were hospitalized suffering from irritated eyes after the blasts have all been released.
But at a news conference in Washington, D.C. Thursday, FEMA administrator Brock Long said he considers plumes from the explosion "incredibly dangerous."
Gonzalez says he expects the fire to burn itself out.
This item has been altered to correct the spelling of Bob Royall's name. It had been misspelled as Rayall.
A Houston mother is warning people in the area to stay out of Harvey's floodwaters after her son was electrocuted while wading through the water to check on his sister's home.
Jodell Pasek says her 25-year-old son Andrew was unaware that a landscape light had electrified the water when he stepped into it Tuesday afternoon. She said he fell and grabbed a lamppost and told a friend who was with him to stay away because he was dying.
She says she's speaking out despite her grief to ensure her son didn't lose his life in vain.
Pasek lost her older son in a car accident in 1993. She tells KPRC-TV that she's pulling her strength from that experience.
Two explosions have been reported at a Houston-area chemical plant that lost power amid flooding from Harvey.
The Houston Chronicle says a statement from the company says the Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the Arkema Inc. plant early Thursday.
In a tweet, the Harris County Sheriff's Office said a deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes. Nine other deputies drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution, the paper reported.
A spokeswoman for the plant in Crosby, Texas, said late Wednesday that the flooded facility had lost power and backup generators amid Harvey flooding, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises.
Beaumont, Texas, has lost its water supply because of Harvey.
Officials there say the city has lost service from its main pump station due to rising waters of the Neches River caused by Harvey.
The pump station is along the river and draws water from it as a main source for the city's water system.
The officials added in their statement early Thursday that the city has also lost its secondary water source at the Loeb wells in Hardin County. They say there's no water supply for Beaumont's water system at this time.
They say they must wait until the water levels from Harvey recede before determining the extent of damage.
Major dangers for the U.S. Gulf Coast area loomed Wednesday with the threat of major flooding further east near the Texas-Louisiana line and an explosion at a Texas chemical plant as Harvey's floodwaters began receding in the Houston area after five days of torrential rain.
As the water receded, Houston's fire department said it would begin a block-by-block search Thursday of thousands of flooded homes. The confirmed death toll climbed to at least 31 on Wednesday, including six family members — four of them children — whose bodies were pulled Wednesday from a van that had been swept off a Houston bridge into a bayou.
Another crisis related to Harvey emerged at a chemical plant about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Houston. A spokeswoman for the Arkema Inc. plant in Crosby, Texas, said late Wednesday that the flooded facility had lost power and backup generators, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises.
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