Harvey Leaves Challenges In Texas, From Drinking Water To Rent Payments

Sep 1, 2017
Originally published on September 1, 2017 1:45 pm

Harvey is finally out of the picture — but the storm's devastating effects on Houston and other parts of Texas and Louisiana are still coming into focus. As waters recede, some areas remain flooded, and there is no drinking water in Beaumont.

At least 36 people are confirmed to have died because of the storm. Property damage could be as high as $100 billion, Moody's Analytics says.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it has received more registrations for assistance — 364,000 — than for any previous single event.

Here is a roundup of the latest stories we're following:

Paying the rent

In Houston, several people have spoken to NPR reporters about the difficulty of deciding whether to pay the rent — after all, it is the start of the month.

"Hell no. Excuse my language, but hell no," Whitlee Hurd told NPR's Rebecca Hersher. A mother of five, Hurd's apartment suffered in the floodwaters Harvey brought — first as a hurricane and then as a tropical storm. The floor is wet, and windows are broken.

Hurd added, "For what? Nah, why should I have to pay for them?"

That question was also being asked at an evacuation center in downtown Houston, where NPR's Nathan Rott reported on volunteer legal aides, like Amir Befroui, who said: "There are very, very limited circumstances in where you can choose not to pay your rent."

As Nathan said on Friday's Morning Edition, "I think that post-adrenaline reality is starting to sink in. Some people are able to return home, assess the damage, and they're realizing how long the recovery is going to take."

Struggles in Beaumont and Port Arthur

The failure of Beaumont's water system forced more evacuations and the shutdown of a hospital Thursday.

NPR's Debbie Elliott, who has been in Beaumont since Sunday, reports:

"People who were in the shelters here are being bused to San Antonio. FEMA is trying to get bottled water in here, but that's really been hampered because for the last few days, Beaumont is basically an island — there's flooding on all major roads in and out. The Natchez River ... is rushing over Interstate 10.

"In the meantime, people have been lining up at stores that have water, trying to get what they can."

Some residents, Debbie says, are collecting water outside their homes — to use it to run their toilets.

The flooding was so bad in Port Arthur that waters invaded an evacuation center where cots had been set up. Mayor Derrick Freeman live-streamed video from inside his flooded home. Residents slept in a bowling alley that became a relief center. Since then, receding water has helped the city receive and distribute supplies.

"We were cut off," Freeman said Friday morning,"but slowly but surely as the water went down, people started making it in. So, we found a way."

He added, "We were an island for a while."

Houston starts to dry out

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says the city is starting to turn the corner from search and rescue to recovery operations, as neighborhood checks are being completed and water recedes.

On Thursday, Turner said two parts of the city are still facing "major flooding challenges" — in the Kingwood area in northeastern Houston and in western Houston. NPR's Kirk Siegler reported Thursday night: "Since yesterday, authorities have rescued 18 people, down dramatically from recent counts earlier in the week."

Schools in Houston are delaying their opening day past Labor Day, to Monday Sept. 11.

Harris County — where officials estimate 70 percent of the county's 1,777 square miles were covered with 1.5 feet of water — is starting to clear debris, telling residents to push unwanted items out to the curb.

President Trump to return

President Trump says he'll visit Texas again on Saturday, writing in a tweet (which has since been corrected to fix a spelling error), "Texas is heeling fast thanks to all of the great men & women who have been working so hard. But still, so much to do. Will be back tomorrow!"

Trump surveyed the damage and reviewed relief efforts in Texas on Tuesday, when he said Harvey "was of epic proportions. Nobody's ever seen anything like this."

The Trump administration says it's seeking nearly $6 billion from Congress to create "down payment" on Harvey relief efforts through the end of 2017, NPR's Scott Horsley reports. The request is being made Friday, in a letter from the White House.

Most of the money — $5.5 billion — is for FEMA, with $495 million to go to the Small Business Administration.

During his visit to Texas, the president also stated, "What a crowd, what a turnout" — and versions of the white "USA" hat he wore are for sale on his re-election campaign's website.

Beware of scams

Tragedies that have played out in Texas have transfixed many in the U.S. But con artists see the catastrophe as an opportunity.

Citing the spread of illegal activity that followed Harvey, the Justice Department says federal agencies have formed a working group to fight a variety of crimes, from insurance fraud and sham charities to identity theft, price gouging and other scams.

FEMA says that a record number of people have registered for help and that it has approved $66.4 million in assistance to go to more than 103,000 residents of affected areas.

"Scam charities raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the aftermath of 2012's Hurricane Sandy, and they are likely to try it again now," as Emily Sullivan has reported for The Two-Way.

The relief effort

"More than 21,000 federal staff are deployed in support of Tropical Storm Harvey response," the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday morning.

In Texas, FEMA says, it has provided more than 1.9 million meals to be distributed by local authorities, along with more than 1.96 million liters (about 500,000 gallons) of water. It reports sending more than 416,000 meals to Louisiana, and more than 414,000 liters (about 110,000 gallons) of water.

"More than 33,800 people sought refuge in more than 240 Red Cross and partner shelters in Texas," FEMA says. "Approximately 53,000 pounds of medical equipment and supplies have been deployed to affected areas."

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