Bush declares federal disaster area in Texas
Houston flooding leaves 2 dead, thousands forced from homes
HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- Floodwaters dumped by days of heavy rain swamped houses, knocked out power and closed freeways around Houston on Saturday, prompting President Bush to declare 28 counties in southeast Texas a federal disaster area.
Earlier, Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared a state of emergency in eight counties, activating the National Guard to assist in rescue efforts.
Houston Mayor Lee Brown said one person has died as a result of the flooding. The victim was in a bank building downtown, he said. The Harris County Emergency Management office said there was another death reported in the White Oak Bayou area.
With light rain falling, rescuers in boats picked up people stranded on roofs and on the tops of cars. As many as 17,000 families were seeking shelter and "tens of thousands of homes" have been flooded, said Harris County Judge Robert Eckels.
"We have estimates now that will surely be in the tens of millions -- potentially in the hundreds of millions -- of dollars in property damage from flooding," Eckels said.
More than 85 patients in critical condition were evacuated from two hospitals, including the city's main trauma center, after backup generators were flooded. More than two dozen shelters were set up to assist people evacuated from flooded homes and roads.
Bush's declaration makes people and businesses in the 28-county area eligible for housing assistance, grants and low-cost loans to help them recover from flood damage. Additional counties may be added to the disaster area after further assessments are completed, according to a statement from the White House.
"We'll be bringing in whatever resources the state needs, said Billy Penn, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Up to 28 inches of rain have fallen in some parts of Houston since Tuesday, when Tropical Storm Allison came ashore. By early Saturday afternoon, the heaviest showers had moved east toward Louisiana and rain had slowed to a drizzle. But heavier rain was forecast for Saturday night.
One area hit hard by flooding was the Medical Center complex in southwest Houston, where many hospitals are located. Eight of the city's 30 hospitals were closed, most in the Medical Center.
Memorial Hermann Hospital, the city's main trauma center, has "no electricity, no emergency generator electricity, no telephone," said James Eastham, the facility's CEO. About 35 patients were being evacuated.
"We're not accepting any [new] patients, and we're trying to transfer critical patients," he said.
At St. Luke's Hospital, more than 50 patients who are "particularly dependent on power" were being transferred after floodwaters knocked out the hospital's backup power.
"The evacuation has been totally precautionary," said Dr. David Pate, a St. Luke's spokesman.
Flooding prevented bone marrow needed for a transplant from reaching the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. But a news helicopter from CNN affiliate KTRK ferried the marrow from Bush Intercontinental Airport to the hospital, allowing the transplant to proceed.
Brown called for state and federal assistance "to preserve and protect life and property."
"This incident is of such severity and such magnitude that an effective response is beyond the city of Houston's capacity to recover without supplementary state and federal assistance," he said.
Transportation, communication problems
Authorities pleaded with residents to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary.
"We are having some serious traffic problems out there," said Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford.
A portion of Interstate 10 in western Houston, known as the Katy Freeway, was under water, with semi-trucks floating in the floodwaters. Some people stranded overnight on I-610, the Loop Freeway, were taken to shelters.
Officer Robert Hurst of the Houston Police Department said units were being dispatched via two-way radio after water disrupted the computer dispatching system. Water also disrupted communications centers for the fire and public works departments, the mayor said.
Flood waters forced AT&T to close a switching station earlier Saturday, knocking out phone service to some parts of the city for a few hours until a pump truck was brought in to remove the water.
Lt. Mara Booth-Miller said the Coast Guard was getting "dozens and dozens" of calls for help, and had dispatched units from Houston and Galveston to answer the calls.
"We do have some folks that are trapped in their attic," Booth-Miller said. "Some of them cannot get to the roof."
The National Weather Service said more than 10 inches more rain was possible in some areas of east Texas later Saturday. The rain is expected to subside Sunday.
The counties included in the federal disaster declaration are Anderson, Angelina, Brazoria, Cherokee, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Hardin, Harris, Houston, Jasper, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Montgomery, Nacogodoches, Newton, Orange, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Smith, Trinity, Tyler and Walker.
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