City struggles to restore water service in Harvey aftermath
HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas city that lost its drinking water system to Harvey’s floodwaters struggled Saturday to restore service, and firefighters kept monitoring a crippled chemical plant that has twice been the scene of explosions and fires since the storm roared ashore and stalled over Texas more than a week ago.
Officials in Beaumont, population almost 120,000, worked to repair their water treatment plant, which failed after the swollen Neches River inundated the main intake system and backup pumps failed. The Army Corps of Engineers sent pumps, and an ExxonMobil team built and installed a temporary intake pipe in an effort to refill a city reservoir. Exxon has a refinery and chemical plants in Beaumont.
On Friday, people waited in a line that stretched for more than a mile to get bottled water.
In Crosby, outside of Houston, authorities continued to monitor the Arkema plant where three trailers of highly unstable compounds ignited in recent days, sending thick black smoke and tall flames into the air. A Harris County fire marshal spokeswoman said Saturday that there were no active fires at the facility, but six more trailers were being watched.
The soggy and battered city of Houston began burying its dead and taking steps toward the long recovery ahead. The school district said up to 12,000 students would be sent to different schools because of flood-damaged buildings.
The storm that is blamed for at least 43 deaths is believed to have damaged at least 156,000 dwellings in Harris County, which includes the nation’s fourth-largest city.
Kim Martinez, 28, waited Saturday for insurance adjusters to come to her Southbelt/Ellington neighborhood, a devastated middle-class area of southeast Houston.
The mother of two was hosting a watch party for the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight last Saturday when floodwaters forced about 15 people to the attic. They escaped the next day. Seven children were rescued by a neighbor’s boat. The women and a 115-pound German shepherd used inflatable swim toys, and the men swam or waded through shoulder-high water.
“You can be prepared for anything but not a monster storm like Harvey,” said her mother, Maria Martinez, 63.
Valerie Williams returned to her flood-damaged home to find mud covering the walls and everything but her dining room table destroyed.
“People, they say we’re praying for you and stuff. Well, we appreciate the prayers. We really do. But what we need is assistance,” Williams said.
Some were able to count their blessings even as they faced a daunting recovery.
“I’m still here so I’m thankful for being here,” said Georgia Calhoun, whose family is sleeping on air mattresses inside her damaged home after taking ruined furniture to the curb. “I’m just praying on some help right now so I can get this over, behind me and try not to think about it. … All this is replaceable.”
Not everyone was able to think about rebuilding yet.
On Saturday, about 200 people waved signs and shouted as they rallied Saturday outside a still-flooded subdivision in the west Houston suburb of Katy, demanding answers about when they will be able to return home. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has warned residents that their homes could remain flooded for up to 15 days because of ongoing releases of water from two reservoirs protecting downtown.
The city said the releases were necessary to preserve the reservoirs’ structural integrity, but many at the rally said their homes were being sacrificed to save others.
Homeowner Sheetal Parwal said her family now has less than what they had when they emigrated from India 10 years ago, and that their home is now a swamp.
The school district assessed its own losses. Twenty-two of its 245 schools had extensive damage that will keep them closed for months. Superintendent Richard Carranza said the goal is to start the school year on Sept. 11, but that could change.
President Donald Trump arrived in Houston for his second visit to the devastated region. He and first lady Melania Trump met with Harvey evacuees taking shelter at the NRG Center in Houston. They spent time in an area designated for children and helping to serve food. They also will visit Lake Charles, Louisiana, to survey damage.
Trump has asked lawmakers for a $7.9 billion down payment toward Harvey relief and recovery efforts — a request expected to be swiftly approved by Congress, which returns to work Tuesday after its summer break.
Turner has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide more workers to process applications from thousands of people seeking government help. He plans to request a preliminary aid package of $75 million for debris removal alone.
The remnants of the storm were fading fast as it moved into the Ohio Valley. National Weather Service meteorologists expect Harvey to break up and merge with other weather systems late Saturday or Sunday.
Harvey initially came ashore Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days. The storm brought five straight days of rain totaling close to 52 inches (1.3 meters) in one location, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental U.S.
Another storm was churning far out over the Atlantic. Hurricane Irma was on a course that could bring it near the eastern Caribbean Sea by early next week. The Category 2 storm was moving northwest at nearly 13 mph (20 kph). No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.