CROSBY (Texas) • The remnants of Hurricane Harvey were continuing to carry the storm's wrath up the Mississippi Delta, leaving in its wake record flooding that has driven tens of thousands from their homes in Texas, and a rising death toll as receding waters reveal more and more bodies.
Hammering the Gulf Coast with more punishing cloudbursts, Harvey's threats included explosions at a crippled chemical plant that released "incredibly dangerous" fumes and a collapse of the drinking water system in a Texas city.
The storm that paralysed Houston is predicted to be one of the most expensive natural disasters in United States history and presents the Trump administration with massive humanitarian and rebuilding challenges. It has killed at least 35 people and forced 32,000 people into shelters since coming ashore a week ago near Rockport, Texas, as the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in half a century.
Clearing skies in Houston brought relief to the energy hub and fourth-largest US city after five days of catastrophic downpours.
The first flight out of the city since the storm hit took off on Wednesday, and Mayor Sylvester Turner said he hoped its busy port would reopen soon.
Yesterday, the Houston Fire Department began a block-by-block effort to rescue stranded survivors - there have been about 25,000 rescues - and recover bodies. The authorities finally located a van containing the bodies of Manuel and Belia Saldivar and four of their great-grandchildren ranging from six to 16 years, that had been washed off the road days earlier.
Mr Rick Saldivar said his brother, Sammy, was driving it and climbed out of the driver's seat, but could not extricate his relatives. All died. "The bad thing is he said he kept hearing the kids screaming," Mr Rick Saldivar said. "That's what he's hearing in his head over and over."
Singapore lends a hand in Harvey disaster relief operations
Four Chinooks from the RSAF are contributing to the disaster relief effort in Texas by transporting evacuees, as well as delivering equipment and supplies. Some 34 RSAF personnel are involved. PHOTO: MINDEF
Four Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) CH-47 Chinooks have arrived on the scene to assist in the Texas Army National Guard's Hurricane Harvey disaster relief operations.
The services of the four helicopters, which were based at RSAF's Peace Prairie detachment in Texas, were offered to US President Donald Trump by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during their phone call on Tuesday.
Mindef said the Chinooks will contribute to the relief effort by transporting evacuees, as well as deliver equipment and supplies. Some 34 RSAF personnel, comprising pilots, aircrew and engineers, have been deployed for the mission.
The RSAF's Peace Prairie detachment had previously worked with the National Guard during relief efforts after 2005's Hurricane Katrina, fire-fighting and flood relief operations in Texas in 2000, as well as Hurricane Floyd relief operations in North Carolina in 1999.
A few kilometres away, the authorities found the bodies of two friends who had gone out in a boat on Monday, trying to rescue neighbours. They lost control in the current, and drifted towards the sparks of a downed power line. Although they jumped in to avoid the current, the electricity was in the water too.
Among the creepiest images to emerge were those of rust- coloured mounds of venomous fire ants, with armour-like bodies that repel water, lurking in the waters along with alligators, snakes, bacteria and human bodies. The Houston Chronicle described the city as a "river full of nightmares".
Meanwhile, Harvey was forecast to move north-east through Louisiana to Mississippi, dumping about 10-20cm of rain, the National Hurricane Centre said. Flood watches extended from the Texas-Louisiana coast into Kentucky.
"Our whole city is underwater," said Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Foreman in a social media post where he also broadcast live video of floodwaters filling his home in the city of 55,000 people. Nearly 76.2cm of rain hit that area, the National Weather Service said.
In Crosby, on the outskirts of Houston, two blasts rocked a chemical plant left without power, and the plant's operator warned of more explosions as rising temperatures make the compounds inside volatile. One policeman was hospitalised after inhaling fumes, and nine others sought medical care. Officials ordered residents within 3km of the facility to evacuate.
An even greater potential dilemma faced the city of Beaumont near the Louisiana border - its water system pumps failed after being swamped by spillover from the swollen Neches river. A statement from city officials said a secondary water source from nearby wells was also lost.
Moody's Analytics is estimating the economic cost from Harvey for south-east Texas at US$51 billion to US$75 billion (S$69 billion to S$102 billion), ranking it among the costliest storms in US history.
At least US$23 billion worth of property has been affected by flooding just in parts of Texas' Harris and Galveston counties, a Reuters analysis showed.
Mr William Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said it will take "many, many years" before the full scope of Harvey's effect is clear.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, NY TIMES