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Epic Scale Disaster

Thousands seek shelter as water keeps rising in Texas

8/29/2017, 5:51 p.m.
As the human toll and the strain on flood defenses mounted, the city of Houston moved Tuesday to open two ...
Thousands jam the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston seeking shelter from the massive flooding and destruction in southeast Texas from Hurricane Harvey which became the heaviest tropical downpour in U.S. history Tuesday. (AP photo)

As the human toll and the strain on flood defenses mounted, the city of Houston moved Tuesday to open two and possibly three more mega-shelters, and the rain from Harvey officially became the heaviest tropical downpour in U.S. history.

Louisiana’s governor offered to take in Harvey victims from Texas, and televangelist Joel Osteen opened his Houston megachurch, a 16,000-seat former arena, after critics blasted him on social media for not acting to help families displaced by the storm.

The city’s largest shelter, the George R. Brown Convention Center, held more than 9,000 people, almost twice the number officials originally planned to house there, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

In all, more than 17,000 people have sought refuge in Texas shelters and that number seemed certain to increase, the American Red Cross said.

Rescue boats fill a flooded Houston street to reach Hurricane Harvey survivors.  (AP photo)

Rescue boats fill a flooded Houston street to reach Hurricane Harvey survivors. (AP photo)

After the mayor’s announcement, volunteers and donors lined up outside the Toyota Center, the downtown arena that is home to the Houston Rockets, in anticipation that it will be one of the new shelters.

The mayor said the city has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for more supplies, including cots and food, for additional 10,000 people, which he hopes to get no later than Wednesday.

Almost four days after the storm ravaged the Texas coastline as a Category 4 hurricane, authorities had confirmed only four deaths — including a woman killed Monday when heavy rains dislodged a large oak tree onto her trailer home in the small town of Porter. But unconfirmed reports of others missing or presumed dead were growing.

Six members of a family were feared dead after their van sank into Greens Bayou in East Houston. A Houston hotel said one of its employees disappeared while helping about 100 guests and workers evacuate the building.

Houston police confirmed that a 60-year-old officer drowned in his patrol car after he became trapped in high water while driving to work. Sgt. Steve Perez had been with the force for 34 years.

Authorities acknowledge that fatalities from Harvey could soar once the floodwaters start to recede from one of America’s most sprawling metropolitan centers.

The storm continued to take a toll even as the weather outlook improved slightly.

A pair of 70-year-old reservoir dams that protect downtown Houston and a levee in a suburban subdivision began overflowing Tuesday, adding to the rising floodwaters from Harvey that have crippled the area after five consecutive days of rain that set a new continental U.S. record for rainfall for a tropical system.

Engineers began releasing water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs Monday to ease the strain on the dams. But the releases were not enough to relieve the pressure after the relentless downpours, Army Corps of Engineers officials said. Both reservoirs are at record highs.

The release of the water means that more homes and streets will flood, and some homes will be inundated for up to a month, said Jeff Lindner of the Harris County Flood Control District.

Officials in Houston were also keeping an eye on infrastructure such as bridges, roads and pipelines that are in the path of the floodwaters.

Although forecasters had feared that another 2 feet could fall in some places, it appeared that the outlook had improved somewhat on Tuesday. The weather service said 2 to 3 more inches was expected to fall, perhaps a little less in Houston proper, as the storm moved east.

But southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana are still likely to see “relentless torrential rains,” with another 6 to 12 inches of rain across the upper Texas coast through Friday as Harvey moves slowly east over the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said.

The disaster is unfolding on an epic scale, with the nation’s fourth-largest city mostly paralyzed by the storm that arrived as a Category 4 hurricane and then parked over the Gulf Coast. The Houston metro area covers about 10,000 square miles, an area slightly bigger than New Jersey.

--The Associated Press