NEW: Death toll from hurricane and aftermath climbs to 47
A Beaumont hospital system shuts down because the city has no clean water
Days after Harvey struck, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner struck an optimistic tone on Thursday, declaring the city “is open for business.” The mayor and other officials pointed to small signs of recovery, such as fewer people in shelters, more bus lines resuming and the city’s shipping channel reopening on a limited basis.
The mayor said parts of Houston still face flooding issues because of standing water but the rest of the city is drying out. Traffic is returning to the roadways and power has been restored to much of the region. And the Houston Astros will play a doubleheader at home on Saturday, Turner said.
“We are turning the corner,” he said.
Turner added: “The city of Houston is open for business. And quite frankly, we’re open for business right now.”
But flood-stricken southeast Texas was still struggling with a new series of blows that left one city without running water, the operators of a flood-damaged chemical plant warning of additional fires and at least one hospital unable to care for patients.
Nearly a week after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast, desperate residents remain stranded without food and water in the wake of unprecedented flooding. Meanwhile, authorities continue searching for survivors and made helicopter rescues from rooftops as the death toll from Harvey climbed to at least 47.
Given the disaster’s scope, the commanding officer who led the federal response to Hurricane Katrina a dozen years ago questioned the adequacy of current relief efforts.
“When you have a combination of hurricane winds, flooding now for five days and you start losing the water and the electric grid, this is a game changer,” retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré told CNN on Thursday.
“Losing electricity itself is a disaster for over a 24-hour period in America to any person because we lose access to water, we lose access to sewers, we lose our ability to communicate.”
The dangers emerging from the historic storm seem to increase by the day.
Beaumont, east of Houston, has no running water after both its water pumps failed, forcing a hospital to shut down. City officials could not say when service would be restored.
In Crosby, two blasts rocked a flooded chemical plant, and more could come.
And in Houston, authorities started going door to door looking for victims, hoping to find survivors but realizing that the death toll could rise.
Rainfall totals would fill Houston Astrodome 85,000 times
The storm dumped an estimated 27 trillion gallons of rain over Texas and Louisiana over six days, said Ryan Maue, of the weather analytics company WeatherBell. That’s enough to fill the Houston Astrodome 85,000 times or San Francisco Bay 10.6 times at high tide.
“We will see additional losses of life, if history is any precedent here,” Tom Bossert, homeland security adviser to President Donald Trump, told reporters Thursday.
The storm has damaged or destroyed about 100,000 homes, Bossert said.
Trump plans to donate $1 million of his money to help storm victims, according to the White House.
“You should continue to have confidence in what we’re doing as a government,” Bossert said. “But I would be remiss if I didn’t stop and say that none of that matters if you’re an affected individual.”
FEMA reported Thursday that more than 96,000 people in Texas have been approved for emergency assistance, including financial aid for rent and lost property. More than $57 million has already been distributed for housing, personal property and transportation assistance.
In the hard-hit city of Rockport, Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday addressed residents outside a church.
“President Trump sent us here to say, ‘We are with you. The American people are with you,’” said Pence, who later announced that Trump will visit Houston and other areas on Saturday.
Company warns of more blasts
A pair of blasts at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby sent plumes of smoke into the sky Thursday morning, and the company warned more blasts could follow.
“We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains,” Arkema said. “Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so.”
The twin blasts Thursday morning happened after organic peroxide overheated. The chemicals need to be kept cool, but the temperature rose after the plant lost power, officials said.
Containers popped. One caught fire and sent black smoke 30 to 40 feet into the air.
The thick smoke “might be irritating to the eyes, skin and lungs,” Arkema officials said.
Fifteen Harris County sheriff’s deputies were hospitalized, but the smoke they inhaled was not believed to be toxic, the department said. The deputies have all been released.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said nothing toxic was emitted and there was no imminent danger to the community.
Three other containers storing the same chemical are at risk of “overpressurization,” said Jeff Carr of Griffin Communications Group, which is representing Arkema.
Arkema shut down the facility as Harvey approached last week. The company evacuated everyone within 1.5 miles of the plant as a precaution after it was flooded under more than 5 feet of water.
The company has said there’s a small possibility the organic peroxide, which is used in the production of plastic resins, could seep into floodwaters, without igniting or burning.
Harvey forced the shutdown of many chemical or oil plants, including the Colonial Pipeline, which carries huge amounts of gasoline and other fuel between Houston and the East Coast. Valero and Motiva, the largest refinery in the country, have also closed some facilities.
’People are freaking out’ in Beaumont
Extreme flooding caused both of Beaumont’s water pumps to fail, leaving about 135,000 people without water on Thursday, said Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick.