Sunday 25 February 2018

Floodwaters drop across Houston as death toll rises from Storm Harvey

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston (AP/David J Phillip)
Homes are surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston (AP/David J Phillip)
Volunteers and first responders work together to rescue residents from rising flood waters in Houston (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Storm Harvey's floodwaters have started dropping across much of the Houston area and the sun peeked through thinning clouds in the first glimmer of hope in days for the besieged US city.

But the crisis is far from over, and the storm has begun to give up more of its dead.

The number of confirmed deaths rose to at least 22 after authorities found the submerged van in which six members of a Houston family, including four children, were believed to have died when their vehicle was swept off a bridge.

The bodies of at least two adults were spotted inside in the murky water, authorities said.

"Unfortunately, it seems that our worst thoughts are being realised," said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

While conditions in Houston appeared to improve, the disaster took a turn for the worse along the Texas-Louisiana state line.

The Texas communities of Beaumont and Port Arthur struggled with rising floodwaters and worked to evacuate residents after Harvey rolled ashore early Wednesday for the second time in six days, hitting south-western Louisiana as a tropical storm with winds of 45mph and heavy rain.

For much of the rest of the Houston area, forecasters said the rain is pretty much over and the water is already back within its channels in some places.

"We have good news," said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District. "The water levels are going down. And that's for the first time in several days."

Also, the water in two reservoirs that protect downtown Houston from flooding was likely to crest on Wednesday at levels slightly below those that were forecast, officials said.

Nevertheless, many thousands of homes in and around the nation's fourth-largest city were still swamped and could stay that way for days or longer.

Some Houston-area neighbourhoods were still in danger of more flooding from a levee breach. And officials said emergency call centres in the Houston area were still getting more than 1,000 calls an hour from people seeking help.

Authorities expect the death toll to rise as the waters recede and they are able to take full stock of the destruction wrought by the hurricane.

The dead include a man who tried to swim across a flooded roadway, a former football and track coach in suburban Houston and a woman who died after she and her young daughter were swept into a rain-swollen drainage canal in Beaumont.

The child was rescued clinging to her dead mother, authorities said.

Harvey itself was "spinning down" and expected to weaken into a tropical depression sometime on Wednesday, National Hurricane Centre meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said. A tropical depression has winds of 38mph or less.

From there, the remnants of the hurricane are expected to move from Louisiana into Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky in the next few days, with flooding possible in those states.

"Once we get this thing inland during the day, it's the end of the beginning," Mr Feltgen said. "Texas is going to get a chance to finally dry out as this system pulls out."

The reprieve from the rain was welcome.

Eugene Rideaux, a 42-year-old mechanic who showed up at evangelist Joel Osteen's huge Lakewood Church to sort donations for evacuees, said he had not been able to work or do much since the storm hit, so he was eager to get out of his dark house and help.

"It's been so dark for days now, I'm just ready to see some light. Some sunshine. I'm tired of the darkness," Mr Rideaux said. "But it's a tough city, and we're going to make this into a positive and come together."

When Harvey paid its return visit to land overnight, it hit near Cameron, Louisiana, about 45 miles from Port Arthur.

Port Arthur found itself increasingly isolated as floodwaters swamped most major roads out of the city and spilled into a storm shelter with about 100 people inside. Motiva Enterprises closed its Port Arthur refinery, the largest in the nation, because of flooding.

Some 13,000 people have been rescued in the Houston area, and more than 17,000 have sought refuge in Texas shelters. With the water still high in places and many hard-hit areas still inaccessible, those numbers seemed certain to increase.

Harvey initially came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas on Friday, then executed a U-turn and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days, inundating flood-prone Houston.

AP

Press Association

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