A day before he planned to visit the flood-devastated Houston area, President Donald Trump sent a letter to Congress, seeking nearly $8 billion in aid for relief and recovery efforts in Texas and Louisiana.
The request, considered just an initial Harvey relief package, includes $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) rapidly dwindling disaster aid fund and $450 million for disaster loans to small-business owners.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump will visit Houston on Saturday as well as Lake Charles, Louisiana, which has also been battered by the storm, to meet with storm survivors and to see firsthand the damage caused by flooding. It will be their second visit to the region this week.
“The president and his Homeland Security team and the entire administration continue to focus on the lives and safety of those affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
Trump also signed an executive order designating Sunday as a “Day of Prayer” for the victims of Harvey.
Search and rescue
On Friday, rescuers continued their search for survivors in Texas one week after Hurricane Harvey began sweeping through the Gulf Coast region dumping unprecedented amounts of rain. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned some residents that their homes may not dry out for weeks.
The storm has displaced more than 1 million people and claimed the lives of at least 39 others.
As floodwaters began to recede Friday, some of the luckier Texans began returning to their homes to begin the sobering task of assessing the damage inflicted by Harvey.
However, Turner called for more evacuations in western neighborhoods of the city that are near two overflowing reservoirs. The Army Corps of Engineers continues to intentionally flood those areas to prevent dam and levee failures, and Sylvester said up to 20,000 homes will remain flooded for another two weeks.
Houston-area officials said Friday that 156,000 homes have been damaged in Harris County, which includes Houston, the country’s fourth most populous city.
Nearly 100 centimeters of rain
The National Weather Service reported that Houston was inundated with more than 99 centimeters (about 39 inches) of rain in August, more than twice as much as the previous monthly record.
Meteorologist Jeff Lindner said Clear Creek, Texas, nearly 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of Houston, received the most rainfall: 120 centimeters (47 inches).
Meanwhile, a new fire broke out Friday evening at a chemical plant in Crosby, northeast of Houston, sending a giant plume of thick black smoke into the air. It was the second fire in two days.
The Environmental Protection Agency said late Friday that it flew a plane through the chemical plant fire to monitor for any airborne toxic chemicals. The EPA said in a statement that a preliminary analysis of the data showed that “although the fire has extreme intensity generating smoke, no high levels of toxic chemical have been detected.”
On Thursday, after the first explosion, 15 public safety officers were hospitalized after inhaling fumes from chemical fires. Officials established a 2.4 kilometer (1.5 miles) evacuation zone around the plant and have warned of the possibility of more blazes.
Officials in the city of Beaumont, about 170 kilometers (105 miles) northeast of Houston, said Friday the city has gotten back some of its water service after floodwaters knocked out municipal pumps. Officials are advising residents who have gotten water pressure back to boil their water before drinking it. Officials say they are also trying to bring in bottled water for residents.
In Harris County, which includes Houston, residents contemplated the daunting task of rebuilding their lives, with one group of people grappling with a special set of concerns. Immigrants who are in the country illegally are afraid that if they apply for help they will be arrested. Outreach workers have been deployed to reassure them that they will not be detained when they seek help.
Houston Mayor Turner had said earlier in the week he would personally represent anyone arrested on immigration violations after seeking help.
Cesar Espinosa, executive director of Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle, said Turner’s statement was a “big deal” for immigrants. “When they hear it from an official, they say, ‘OK, now we believe it,’” he added.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said it is “not conducting immigration enforcement operations in the affected area.”
Nearly 780,000 Texans had been ordered to evacuate their homes and 980,000 more fled voluntarily, according to federal estimates.
Tens of thousands of people are packed into evacuation centers throughout the region.
Thousands of Harris County residents who are in shelters have lost everything, including their homes. Harris Country (Texas) FEMA Director Tom Fargione said his agency’s priority now is to relocate people who have lost their homes into some form of temporary housing.
“This is a tremendous disaster in terms of size and scope,” Fargione said Thursday.
The storm shut down about a fourth of U.S. refinery capacity, much of which is located along the Gulf Coast, and caused gasoline prices to spike ahead of the Labor Day holiday weekend.
Several refineries on the East Coast have run out of gasoline, raising fears that travelers will face fuel shortages during the three-day holiday weekend.
Concerns over supplies have led the U.S. Energy Department to authorize the release of up to 4.5 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Harvey, which has lost its tropical cyclone characteristics, moved eastward Friday toward the Ohio Valley, the National Weather Service reported, paving the way for President Trump’s second visit to Texas this week.
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