HOUSTON – A Texas city that lost its drinking water system to Harvey’s floodwaters struggled Saturday to restore service, and fire officials 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 Thursday 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 were continuing 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 storm is believed to have damaged at least 156,000 dwellings in Harris County, which includes the city.
Kim Martinez, 28, waited Saturday for insurance adjusters to come to her Southbelt/Ellington neighborhood, a devastated middle-class area of southeast Houston where fast-food restaurants, strip malls and churches line major streets.
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.
President Donald Trump arrived in Houston for his second visit to the devastated region. He also will visit Lake Charles, Louisiana, to survey damage. The White House said he would to talk to people affected by the disaster and meet with volunteers. Those elements were missing from his first visit on Tuesday.
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.
Friends and family gathered Friday evening to remember 42-year-old Benito Juarez Cavazos, one of 43 people whose deaths are attributed to Harvey. Cavazos came to Texas illegally from Mexico 28 years ago and was in the process of getting his green card.
“It’s very unfortunate that right when he finally had hopes of being able to maybe go to Mexico soon to go see his family, it all went downhill,” his cousin, Maria Cavazos, said. “Sadly, he’s going back to Mexico, but in an unfortunate way.”
Also Friday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that ongoing releases of water from two reservoirs could keep thousands of homes flooded for up to 15 days.
Residents of the still-flooded western part of Houston were asked to evacuate due to the releases from two reservoirs protecting downtown. The releases were expected to keep some homes flooded that had been filled with water earlier in the week. Homes that are not currently flooded probably will not be affected, officials said.
Turner pleaded for more high-water vehicles and more search-and-rescue equipment as the nation’s fourth-largest city continued looking for any survivors or corpses that might have somehow escaped notice in flood-ravaged neighborhoods.
Search teams quickly worked their way down streets, sometimes not even knocking on doors if there were obvious signs that all was well – organized debris piles or full cans of trash on the curb, for instance, or neighbors confirming that the residents had evacuated.
Turner also asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide more workers to process applications from thousands of people seeking government help. The mayor said he will request a preliminary aid package of $75 million for debris removal alone.
The storm had lost most of its tropical characteristics but remained a source of heavy rain. National Weather Service meteorologists expect Harvey to break up and merge with other weather systems over the Ohio Valley 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 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 following 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. No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.
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