Rescuers scour storm-hit Texas for victims

Orange: One week after monster storm Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast, rescue workers on Friday were scouring storm-ravaged southeast Texas for victims trapped in their flooded homes, even as some towns finally found slight relief as waters receded.
Emergency workers were staging dramatic rescues by air and water in Texas towns that were until now cut off by raging floodwaters unleashed by Harvey, which finally began moving inland after crashing into the region as a Category Four hurricane last Friday.
Thousands of rescuers and civilians eager to help battled difficult conditions to reach victims of the unprecedented flooding.
“We felt we’d be alright. We were wrong,” said Lonnie Givens, who refused to evacuate his one-story home in the town of Orange. Now, he and wife Missy have about four inches of water in the house and no power. “We really got nowhere to go,” Givens said.
His situation echoed those of many in Texas towns inundated by days of torrential rains, with highways still submerged and homes destroyed.
A hospital in the hard-hit town of Beaumont was forced to evacuate its patients — nearly 200 people — when the town’s water supply went down.
Harvey has been blamed thus far for at least 38 deaths and tens of billions of dollars of damage. A lack of power also triggered twin blasts at a Texas chemical plant, but authorities said the danger was limited.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma had intensified into a Category 3 system, churning in open waters but heading straight towards the southern Caribbean, where it was forecast to reach early next week.
It was still too early to tell if the storm currently packing 185 kilometres per hour winds would impact Florida or the Gulf of Mexico, but anxiety was running high in the aftermath of Harvey’s pummelling.
Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert estimated 100,000 homes had been affected by flooding — some with eight feet of water or more — and said the White House would ask Congress for emergency funds.
In Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, some of the 2.3 million residents got relief as the raging waters receded.
Speaking from the coastal city of Corpus Christi US Vice-President Mike Pence hailed rescuers and volunteers for their “compassion and concern.”
“Every American should know that even in this difficult time and this disastrous storm, the very best are the people of Texas, and the very best are the people of America shining forth,” he said.
President Donald Trump, who visited Texas earlier this week and vowed to donate $1 million for relief efforts on Thursday, will return to the state on Saturday — and may visit Louisiana, which has also seen serious flooding.
“He’ll pledge, proudly, $1 million of his own personal money to help the people of Texas and Louisiana,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters. In Beaumont, northwest of the coastal city of Port Arthur, the water system was down.
Brock Long, the head of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said his agency was working with the state and the military to open water distribution points for those affected. Indeed, military trucks fanned out, loaded up with bottled water, military backpacks and personnel ready to help.
The breakdown of the water system forced the evacuation of nearly 200 patients from a Beaumont hospital, some by military helicopters.
“We’ve practiced this many times before,” hospital spokeswoman Mary Poole said. “We’re trying to keep them as close as possible,” she said of the evacuated patients. “Part of the healing process is to be with your family.”
Early on Thursday, a pair of explosions rocked a flooded chemical plant in Crosby, a town of around 3,000 people some 40 kilometres northeast of Houston, sending a plume of smoke into the air. Officials ordered residents living within 1.5 miles of the facility to evacuate amid concerns about the fumes emanating from the plant, which produces organic peroxides — compounds that can combust if not cooled to the right temperature.
— AFP