A submerged section of Interstate 45 in Houston, August 27, 2017

Richard Carson/Reuters

Houston Deals With Hurricane Harvey Devastation

The city begins coping with dozens of deaths and billions in damage to homes and businesses

As the sun finally emerged in Houston after six days of record-breaking rain, the floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey began to slowly recede in some neighborhoods as the storm moved through northeastern Louisiana and toward Mississippi.

More than 30,000 people remained in shelters in Texas. Houston fire officials said they would begin the painstaking search of homes in the city, which remained under more than 3 feet of water in some neighborhoods, to make sure no one was left behind. The process could take up to two weeks.

So far, 38 deaths in Texas are thought to be related to the storm, and officials say they expect that number to rise as floodwaters recede.

At the same time, new dangers are emerging. A flood-ravaged chemical plant 30 miles northeast of Houston suffered a series of explosions early Thursday morning, after flooding and a power outage caused cooling systems to fail and volatile chemical compounds to explode.  As the fires burned out of control, fumes sickened several Harris County sheriff's deputies, and residents within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant were evacuated.

Jim McMahon

Earlier in the week, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump traveled to Texas see the damage firsthand and offer support to victims of the storm. Meeting with state and local officials and emergency responders in Corpus Christi on Tuesday, the president praised everyone for their hard work and said he hoped the response to the disaster would be considered a model for the future.

“It’s a real team, and we want to do it better than ever before,” Trump said. “We want to be looked at in 5 years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it.”

Preliminary damage estimates put the price tag for the damage from Hurricane Harvey at $190 billion, which would make it the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. 

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

A boat on a flooded Houston street, August 27, 2017

On Thursday, tens of thousands of flood victims remained in overcrowded shelters in the Houston area, waiting for an indication that they could return to their homes. “The shelter mission is the biggest battle that we have right now,” said Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

At the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston’s main shelter, evacuees have been learning of deaths from social media and from watching news reports on an enormous projection screen.

“Part of me wants to just break down crying because it’s so much despair,” said Billy Cartwright, a construction worker who has been staying at the convention center since Monday. “I feel pretty grateful, but part of me’s pretty sad. It’s pretty bad.”

Cartwright, 44, said he believed he had lost all of his possessions to the flood.

“I try to think that when all of this passes,” he said, “just like any other tragedy, America always bounces back.”

With reporting by The New York Times.

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