PORT ARTHUR (Texas) • Residents of Houston and other cities in the state of Texas have begun returning home to face the grim, possibly years-long task of rebuilding - a week after a catastrophic storm slammed into the south-east of the state, precipitating one of the worst natural disasters in US history.
As the flood waters receded in Houston, Texas' biggest city, nearby towns such as Beaumont and Port Arthur were struggling to get back on their feet.
"I ain't never seen nothing like it in my 37 years," said Mr Tobias James, surveying the damage to his home in Port Arthur, including the two ruined cars in his flooded garage. Just two days earlier, the oil and gas refinery worker was hoisted out of flood waters by a helicopter, along with his wife and children.
More than one million people have been displaced by Hurricane Harvey, and up to 50 are feared dead in flooding that paralysed Houston and swelled river levels to record highs.
The Category 4 storm came ashore as the strongest to hit Texas in more than 50 years. Much of the damage, which has been estimated in the tens of billions, took place in the Houston metropolitan area.
The White House has said it will ask Congress for US$7.9 billion (S$10.7 billion) in emergency aid, calling it a "down payment" on the long-term cost of recovering from the massive flooding.
United States President Donald Trump, who declared today a "National Day of Prayer" for victims, put an upbeat gloss on the situation on Friday. "Texas is healing fast thanks to all of the great men & women who have been working so hard," he tweeted. "But still so much to do. Will be back tomorrow!" He added later: "Great progress being made!"
He returned to Texas yesterday for a second visit since the megastorm hit, and will also go to neighbouring Louisiana, accompanied by First Lady Melania.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said most of the city was "now dry", but urged residents living near two overflowing reservoirs - some 15,000 to 20,000 of them- to leave their homes. Officials said most people have left, but some were holding out, straining emergency workers who have to maintain services to them, including providing them with water.
Mr Turner said the most pressing needs were housing for people who have lost their homes, and debris removal. He estimated 40,000 to 50,000 homes in the Houston area had suffered damage, and said federal assistance was needed urgently. "We need the resources now," he told CNN. "In fact, let me back that up. We need the resources yesterday."
One bright spot: the Houston Astros, the city's major league baseball team, said they will be home for games this weekend. They abandoned their home stadium this week for three games in Florida against the Texas Rangers.
"We hope that these games can serve as a welcome distraction for our city that is going through a very difficult time," said Astros president Reid Ryan.
Sports have helped other cities rebound from catastrophe, such as when the New York Mets played the first baseball game in their damaged city 10 days after the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, or when the New Orleans Saints returned in 2006 for football a year after Hurricane Katrina.
Meanwhile, a new storm, Irma, had strengthened on Friday into a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It remained hundreds of kilometres from land but was forecast to possibly hit Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti by next week.
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, REUTERS