Tropical Storm Harvey, the worst storm to hit the Houston region in 50 years, made landfall again on Wednesday in southwestern Louisiana, threatening more catastrophic flooding and forcing tens of thousands of people to seek shelter.
The storm made landfall near the Texas border, just west of Cameron, Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center said. Meteorologists have said the storm’s impact won’t be nearly as strong, but the relentless rain is still cause for concern. The National Hurricane Center forecasted Tuesday evening that another 6 to 12 inches of rain would pummel areas from the north and east of Houston to southwestern Louisiana.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said that the storm appeared to be less severe than expected.
“The worst case scenario has not happened,” he said. “We’re very grateful for that.”
By Wednesday morning, conditions in Houston finally began to improve and the National Weather Service canceled its flash flood, tropical storm, and storm surge warnings for the area.
Across the Houston metro area, rescue efforts continued even as the rain began to let up. As of Tuesday evening, federal and local agencies had rescued approximately 13,100 people across southeastern Texas, according to The Associated Press.
Officials warned of a long and difficult recovery for residents of the country’s fourth-largest city. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Tuesday evening that he was imposing a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew to ensure public safety. (The mayor initially scheduled the curfew to begin at 10 p.m., but amended it to give rescue efforts more time.)
“We’ve got to recognize a new normal, a new and different normal for this entire region,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Monday.
But not all of Texas is out of the storm. In Port Arthur, located 91 miles east of Houston, water continued to rise to alarming levels and even the city’s main shelter began to fill with water. And for those who had not yet evacuated, the chances of rescue grew slimmer, according to authorities.
“We’re getting 911 and rescue calls but there’s nothing we can do,” Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens told KFDM. “We can’t take the boats out right now. The water is rising and it’s coming there and it’s no way to get to them.”
Here’s what you should know about the ongoing impact of the storm.
It’s one of the worst flooding disasters in recent U.S. history.
Harvey has broken the continental U.S. rainfall record in one Harris County town, the National Weather Service said Tuesday evening, according to preliminary findings. A rain gauge in Cedar Bayou indicated that 51.88 inches of rain have fallen since Harvey made landfall as a hurricane on Friday evening.
That beats out the previous 1978 continental record of 48 inches set during tropical cyclone Amelia in Medina, Texas. And it comes dangerously close to the all-time U.S. record set during tropical cyclone Hiki in Kauai, Hawaii, in 1950.
So much rain has drenched the state that the NWS added a new color to its maps to illustrate the intensity.
The storm has flooded highways and streets, destroyed buildings, and displaced thousands of people from their homes. More than 100,000 people in the Houston area were without power Tuesday, officials said.
Brock Long, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, predicted Sunday that it would take years for Texas to recover from the damage. The agency expects more than 450,000 people will seek federal assistance for storm recovery, and anticipates at least 30,000 people will be displaced.
“This disaster is going to be a landmark event,” Long told CNN.
Property damage alone is expected be in the tens of billions of dollars, according to an Associated Press report. Other major economic effects will include oil refinery shutdowns, and the closure of shipping ports and airports, including Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
The state also was threatened by toxic pollution from damaged refineries and chemical plants. Some residents of nearby communities have reported powerful odors. Authorities on Monday issued a chemical leak warning in La Porte and Shoreacres.
At least 18 people have died in the storm.
The exact death toll remains unclear as aid workers struggle to reach all areas in peril. According to the AP, at least 18 people have died so far. Local authorities told The New York Times that there have been 30 confirmed and suspected flood-related deaths.
Over the weekend, at least two people were killed in storm conditions. On Monday, police confirmed the deaths of six people in Harris County. A woman in Montgomery County was also killed when a tree fell on her home.
On Monday night, Precinct 3 of the Montgomery County Constable’s Office said a man in his 60s was presumed dead after he attempted to swim across “exceptionally fast moving” flood waters.
A Houston police officer died Sunday while driving to work, the Houston Chronicle reported. Sgt. Steve Perez, 60, drowned in his patrol car after he “took a wrong” turn into high waters, an unnamed official told the Chronicle. Perez was a 34-year veteran of the department.
More deaths are likely to be reported in coming days as responders have thus far focused efforts on rescuing people in life-threatening situations.
More rain is on the way, and dams and levees are at risk.
Heavy rainfall is predicted to continue throughout the week, and additional areas may surpass the 50-inch rainfall mark. (For some perspective, Houston on average receives roughly 49 inches of rain annually.) Torrential rains were also expected to reach parts of Louisiana, increasing fears of flooding there.
“I want to stress that we are not out of the woods yet,” Elaine Duke, acting Department of Homeland Security secretary, said Monday. “Harvey is still a dangerous and historic storm.”
Officials urged residents against traveling to affected areas and told them to stay off the roads as the storm continues.
As a preventative measure, the Army Corps of Engineers began a controlled release of water from two giant flood-control dams in Houston early Monday morning, sending even more water into the city and potentially impacting thousands of residents. The Addicks and Barker dams, which have been described as “extremely high risk” during times of flooding, hold a combined 410,000 acre-feet of water. If the dams should fail, half of Houston could find itself underwater.
Despite the controlled releases, the water levels from both dams reached record highs on Monday. Officials warned Tuesday that uncontrolled releases from the dams are expected as water levels continue to increase. (Here is a list of neighborhoods that could be impacted by releases from the dams.)
“We are deeply concerned about those dams,” Abbott said on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday. “This is going to be a minute-by-minute process.”
Water began spilling over the levee at Columbia Lake in Brazoria County on Tuesday morning, authorities said. The county’s official Twitter account tweeted that residents should “get out now” in response to the breached levee.
Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta had issued a mandatory evacuation for parts of the Brazoria County on Sunday.
Thousands have been rescued amid a major relief effort.
Mandatory evacuations were issued in parts of several Houston-area counties, while other areas were under voluntary evacuation advisories. You can see a full list of evacuations here.
Houston police have rescued well over 3,500 people from flooded buildings and cars, the city’s police chief Art Acevedo said Tuesday. Francisco Sanchez, of Harris County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, told HuffPost that most people in life-threatening situations have been rescued.
When Harris County became swamped by calls from residents in distress over the weekend, County Judge Ed Emmett asked people with boats to aid in rescuing residents who were trapped in their homes.
“We are asking the public to help,” Emmett said. “We need you to help.”
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said Monday night that it was no longer looking for volunteers with boats and high water vehicles. However, help from the public was still needed.
Medical centers were forced to take major precautions as water levels rose. Several hospitals deployed emergency flood doors intended to seal lower levels and protect patients and equipment. Ben Taub Hospital in Houston evacuated some patients, as did a Houston-area location of St. Luke’s Hospital.
Aid organizations, such as the American Red Cross, opened shelters in the Houston area to house those displaced by the storm.
Over 17,000 people sought refuge in shelters across Texas on Monday night, the American Red Cross said Tuesday morning.
One of those shelters — set up inside the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston — saw an influx of about 9,000 people since Saturday. That’s nearly double the building’s 5,000-person capacity, but the Red Cross says no one will be turned away.
Among those seeking shelter was Nina Robinson, 34, who brought six children to the convention center after her house was inundated by flooding.
“You have people from all different walks of life here, you have to sleep on the floor and eat [military food] packs,” she said. “If it’s what you have to do, you have to. But it’s no condition for kids.”
A Red Cross spokesperson told the AP that aid workers were trying to make more space inside the building, but a lack of cots meant many evacuees would have to sleep on the floor or on chairs.
Dallas’ main convention center was also preparing to become a “mega-shelter” that could host 5,000 evacuees. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said on Monday that the city had been told to prepare for tens of thousands of evacuees.
Federal and state governments activated emergency resources.
President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in both Texas and Louisiana, allowing state officials access federal disaster resources. The president also said he believes Congress will pass a multi-billion dollar aid package “very quickly.”
Abbott, meanwhile, activated the state’s entire National Guard, dispatching roughly 12,000 soldiers to help with relief efforts. The governor said Tuesday that roughly 3,000 soldiers from other states had also been activated to help.
“It is imperative that we do everything possible to protect the lives and safety of people across the state of Texas as we continue to face the aftermath of this storm,” he said earlier. “The Texas National Guard is working closely with FEMA and federal troops to respond urgently to the growing needs of Texans who have fallen victim to Hurricane Harvey, and the activation of the entire Guard will assist in the efforts already underway.”
The state is also setting up food and water distribution centers in affected areas.
Officials warn residents of looters impersonating police.
At least 11 people have been arrested for looting in Houston since the flooding began this past weekend, according to authorities.
Acevedo said Monday that officers had arrested four people for hijacking vehicles in flooded areas. Others were taken into custody for attempting to loot a video game store.
“We’re not going to stop, we’re not going to give up,” Acevedo said. “To the fools out there ... don’t come to Houston and victimize our people.”
Authorities in neighboring Ford Bend County said some looters were impersonating law enforcement officials and telling residents to evacuate their homes. The looters would then steal from the houses.
Alan Spears, the county’s deputy emergency management coordinator, said residents should stay vigilant and ask questions.
“If they’re not in a uniform and they cannot identify themselves, do not pay any attention to them,” Spears told local CBS affiliate KHOU. “During these types of events, you see the best in people, but you also see the worst in people.”
Trump visited Texas on Tuesday.
The president arrived in Corpus Christi on Tuesday with first lady Melania Trump to visit areas affected by the storm. He is also scheduled to visit Austin.
“I look very much forward to it,” Trump had said Monday about the visit. “Things are being handled really well. The spirit is incredible of the people.”
Abbott met Trump on the tarmac after Air Force One touched down in Texas.
“We want him to see and understand the enormous challenges that Texans have faced and the need for the aid that he’s providing,” Abbott told CNN. “He’s a champion of Texas and a champion of helping us rebuild and I think we will hear that commitment.”
Outside the Annaville Fire House in Corpus Christi on Tuesday, Trump marveled at the crowd who gathered to see him.
“What a crowd, what a turnout,” he said, according to White House pool reporters. He also promised Texans that “we’re going to get you back and operating immediately.” But the statement contradicted other authorities who said Sunday that FEMA’s recovery efforts could take years.
Trump also said that he “may visit” Louisiana on Saturday, where the storm system is expected to make landfall on Wednesday.
A chemical plant is at risk of explosion.
Authorities on Tuesday evening evacuated the area around a chemical plant in Crosby, a town about 25 miles northeast from Houston, as the possibility emerged of an explosion at the facility.
The Arkema organic peroxides chemical plant, which has been shut down since Friday in anticipation of the storm, said its facilities were flooded and that both its main power source and backup generators were compromised. Without refrigeration, the chemicals housed at the plant pose an explosion risk.
The at-risk products have been transferred to refrigerated containers, but some of those have been compromised too.
“Arkema is limited in what it can do to address the site conditions until the storm abates,” the company said. “We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely. At this time, while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.”
This article has been updated with new details, including the latest on the relief efforts and weather forecasts.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Perez’s age as 30. He was 60. This article also initially misstated Ed Emmett’s last name as “Emme.”