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Some Texans head home, others still in peril

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A worker carries water damaged wood as he passes salvaged personal items from a once flooded home as residents begin the recovery process from Hurricane Harvey, September 1, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski

US President Donald Trump heads to Texas Saturday to assess conditions in the storm-ravaged state as residents of Houston and other cities were returning home to face the grim, possibly years-long task of rebuilding.

One week after Harvey blasted into southeast Texas as a Category Four hurricane, rescuers were still searching by air and by boat for people trapped in flooded homes.

A fresh blaze broke out Friday evening at a chemical plant in Crosby, northeast of Houston, sending a giant plume of thick black smoke billowing into the sky.

And as floodwaters receded in Houston, Texas’s biggest city, nearby towns such as Beaumont — which had lost its water supply — and Port Arthur were struggling to get back on their feet.

“I ain’t never seen nothing like it in my 37 years,” said 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 rising floodwaters by a rescue helicopter, along with his wife and children.

Harvey has been blamed for at least 42 deaths thus far and tens of billions of dollars of damage.

Emergency aid
The White House will ask Congress for $7.9 billion in emergency aid, calling it a “down payment” on the long-term cost of recovering from the catastrophic flooding.

Trump, who has declared Sunday to be a “National Day of Prayer” for victims of Hurricane Harvey, put an upbeat gloss on the situation.

“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 Friday: “Great progress being made!”

The president is returning to Texas Saturday for his second visit since the megastorm hit, and will also go to neighboring Louisiana, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump.

Across Port Arthur, meanwhile, rescue workers were still evacuating residents who rode out the storm in their homes.

Jonathan Caldwell, a former police officer, said he and some friends rescued about a dozen people in one flooded neighborhood Friday.

“We had little ones on our shoulders, wading through chest deep water this morning,” he said.

Drying Houston
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said most of the city was “now dry” but urged residents living near two overflowing reservoirs to leave their homes — some 15,000 to 20,000 of them.

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.

Turner said the most pressing needs were housing for people who have lost their homes and debris removal.

He estimated that around 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,” Turner told CNN. “In fact let me back that up. We need the resources yesterday.”

Shelter from the storm
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said more than 42,000 people spent Thursday night in 258 shelters across Texas and another 3,000 Texans did so in neighboring Louisiana.

While the situation was getting better in much of the state some areas remain dangerous, such as Beaumont, a city of some 120,000 which neighbors Port Arthur in southeast Texas.

Abbott said the Neches River, which runs along the eastern edge of Beaumont, was currently about seven feet (2.1 meters) above the record and was continuing to rise.

“This poses an ongoing threat to Beaumont and the surrounding area,” he said.

A major hospital in Beaumont began evacuating its 200-odd patients on Thursday after the water cut out and a dozen premature babies were airlifted out on Friday.

Baseball is back
One bright spot: the Houston Astros, the city’s major league baseball team, announced they will be home for games this weekend.

The Astros 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,” Astros president Reid Ryan said. “We hope that we can put smiles on some faces.”

Schools in the Houston area were assessing when they could reopen with most looking at Tuesday of next week, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Schools were supposed to resume classes last Monday but Richard Carranza, superintendent of Houston’s largest school district, told the Chronicle at least 35 had sustained damage or lost power during the storm.

So with school still out, many families with children headed instead to the partially-reopened Houston Zoo.



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