Hurricane Harvey

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While residents scrambled to flee floods in Texas, Gary Saurage had no choice but to stay behind and care for the 350 alligators and crocodiles that depended on him.

“I couldn’t just get on a rescue helicopter and leave, or put them on there with me. I had to stay and fight the fight for these guys,” said Mr Saurage, owner of Gator Country rescue centre in Beaumont. “My home, my things: underwater. Everything we have: gone. But I have a responsibility to keep my animals contained. I couldn’t give up.” The 15-acre visitor attraction, which provides a home to “nuisance” reptiles that would otherwise have been destroyed after being discovered in residential and public areas, is in a low-lying area and was quickly flooded when Hurricane Harvey swept through last week. The storm devastated the fishing town of Rockport, where it made landfall as a hurricane, and inundated communities such as Beaumont, home to 118,000 people, by swelling streams, rivers and bayous with record amounts of rain.

The death toll stands at 50, including a six-month-old baby swept from its parents’ arms by floodwaters in New Waverly, north of Houston. President Trump and his wife Melania visited victims in Houston and in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on Saturday. More than 400,000 people have registered for federal aid.

Forecasters are keeping a close eye on another hurricane, Irma, that is heading westwards across the Atlantic, though it is too early to determine whether it will make landfall, or where.

“It’s been a war zone here. I’ve never seen devastation like this,” said Mr Saurage, 48, who watched in despair as the water rose to less than a foot from the top of his alligators’ pens last week. “A few more inches, they could be swimming out.”

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He and his crew gathered up non- native Nile crocodiles and the smaller creatures that could be secured such as venomous snakes and moved them to higher ground.

His two celebrity alligators — Big Al, measuring 13ft 4in, and Big Tex, at 13ft 11in the largest nuisance alligator captured alive in the US — were also at risk. Using ropes and a lot of muscle, Mr Saurage’s team wrangled them into trucks.

“We have a 35ft travel trailer that we use to take animals to shows and it has a lock-in section, so I put Big Tex in that part. I put him in through a big door at the back and locked it,” said Mr Saurage. “But there’s another door in front that leads into the living compartment. I guess he got tired of being in there so he bust off all the bolts, broke the door off its hinges, and went right on through.”

The 900lb alligator was found on a bed, in a nook 6ft above the floor of the motorhome. “He threw everything off the bed and made himself at home,” said Mr Saurage. “I didn’t argue.”

Surrounded by water, Mr Saurage and his team have been keeping an eye on the rest of the alligators around the clock. “It’s so tiring. Every night we patrol — two boats going round the entire park looking for anything that’s got out. Alligator eyes are reflective at night, so we see them real easy,” he said.

He estimates that up to six million alligator eggs may have been destroyed across Texas and Louisiana; a loss that will affect the population for years to come.

His property was cut off to all but boat access, but local residents have pushed through the floodwaters to bring spoilt meat from their waterlogged refrigerators to feed the reptiles. Mr Saurage said: “Pork chops, rib-eye steaks, lamb cutlets — those alligators are sure eating good.”

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Hurricane Harvey

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Mounds of soaking debris lined streets across Houston yesterday as flood victims returned to clear their devastated homes. They face the imminent threat of infectious disease as they begin a recovery expected to take years.

The heat has returned to Houston and with it the mosquitoes. Health officials worry about the contaminants to which people have been exposed in the water, from household cleaners and petrochemicals to lead and arsenic from waste disposal sites. Flooded sewers have given rise to fears of cholera and typhoid.

A murky tide mark runs around the homes a week after Storm Harvey made landfall then swept across Texas and Louisiana to drop more than 20 trillion gallons of rain.

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“Our hearts are heavy for the people who didn’t make it,” Michael Farrias, 51, said. “For all of us who did, we’ve got to show we’re bigger than that storm.”

He had gutted his home in Dickinson, southeast Houston. A skip was full of dripping plasterboard — he had ripped out all the internal walls. Wet plaster had run across the drive and in it were the footprints of the 30 or so friends who had helped. “We have our lives, we have our loved ones. The rest — it’s just stuff,” he said. Mr Farrias, a builder, will move in with his girlfriend, postponing restoration of his house to help others.

President Trump is due in Texas for his second visit today and has declared a national day of prayer tomorrow for the victims. He has asked Congress for an initial $7.85 billion of federal aid for recovery efforts. The White House also warned Congress that failure to raise the debt ceiling, which is expected to be reached by the end of September, may prevent further requests for disaster relief funds.

The high school in Dickinson has turned into an emergency resource centre, stacked with bedding, toiletries, cleaning supplies, food and water. The gymnasium is a medical centre and in the assembly hall rows of tables were heaped with donated clothing. “All day long they’ve been coming through — they want mops, buckets, bleach to clean their houses,” said Tresa Mark, who works as a programme co-ordinator at the school. Outside, other volunteers were handing out bottled water and MREs — “meals ready to eat”, usually used by the military — to a queue that stretched down the road.

timsat3Megan Turner teaches children with special needs. “Almost half the kids in my class lost everything,” she said. “It’s powerful to see so many people helping people. I’m just so proud.”

Neighbourhoods were submerged, in places up to the rooftops, but with the water receding large areas now look normal. But inside homes and businesses black mould has started to creep in. “With all the moisture in the air, this is only going to grow,” said Eve Beasley, 59, of Katy, west Houston. Her grand-daughter, who lives with her, has cystic fibrosis and cannot risk being in a contaminated environment. “I’ve been here since 1979 in Houston and I’m looking for the door out. I’m done.”

timsat4Thousands of homes are still under water. In Beaumont, 90 miles east of Houston, firefighters were smashing their way into attics to check for survivors. Last night a large fire broke out at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby after floodwater damaged its generators, disabling the refrigeration needed to keep the chemicals cool.

So far 40 people are known to have died. The mortuary for Harris County, which includes metropolitan Houston, was full yesterday and awaiting delivery of a refrigerated lorry.

Seven and eight-figure donations poured in from corporations. JJ Watt, a player for the Houston Texans American football team, launched an appeal on Sunday to raise $200,000; by last night, it had reached $14 million.

Hurricane Harvey

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Two US navy warships were on their way to Texas last night to bolster relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which may prove to be America’s most expensive natural disaster.

Estimates of the cost range from $75 billion to $190 billion. Hurricane Katrina, by comparison, cost the country $100 billion in 2005.

timfri2Joel Myers, president of Accuweather, was in no doubt Harvey would top that figure. “This is the costliest and worst natural disaster in American history,” he said. “The disaster is just beginning in certain areas. Parts of Houston, the United States’s fourth-largest city, will be uninhabitable for weeks and possibly months due to water damage, mould, disease-ridden water and all that will follow this thousand-year flood.”

The death toll had reached 38 last night, with officers still paying door-to-door visits in areas where floods had receded to check for more victims.

USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, and USS Oak Hill, a dock landing ship, left Virginia yesterday loaded with humanitarian aid and carrying members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Rockport, Texas, last Friday and has veered on and offshore, making two further landfalls along the Texas coast and dropping record amounts of rain — devastating Houston and the surrounding area with floods.

Even as some residents in the city returned to their saturated homes to begin the clean-up yesterday, others were being evacuated and rescued.

In Beaumont, 90 miles to the east, US coast guard helicopters were ferrying trapped residents to safety and hospitals that had been inundated were evacuating their patients. The population of 118,000 was left with no access to running water after pumps designed to protect the freshwater system failed.

“Every historical weather record has been broken. Harvey has brought more than anyone could have anticipated at local, state and national level,” said Becky Ames, the mayor of Beaumont.

Tornado warnings were issued in Mississippi and Tennessee as the storm headed northeast — but not before leaving 400 roads across Texas inundated and unfit to be driven on, 205 of them in Houston.

With 12 oil refineries offline, the US Energy Department authorised the first emergency release of crude oil reserves since 2012 to try to maintain petrol supplies. Queues formed at filling stations as far away as Dallas, 200 miles north of Houston, as consumers panicked over potential shortages and prices at the pumps rose.

timfri3In a further blow the 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline, which channels 100 million gallons of fuel a day to the nation’s east coast, was shut off. Half of the 26 refineries that supply the pipeline have suspended production and others are working at reduced capacity.

In Crosby, Texas, containers of volatile peroxides exploded at the Arkema chemical compound, forcing the evacuation of some local residents. Fifteen sheriff’s deputies were treated in hospital after inhaling fumes, but later released. Arkema said that the chemicals were a noxious irritant that could affect eyes, skin and lungs. “The plume is incredibly dangerous,” said Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema). More than 30,000 people left homeless by the storm have been housed in emergency shelters. Fema said it planned to start moving them into hotels.

The agency has already received 325,000 applications for financial aid and had by yesterday paid out $57 million to 45,000 people to cover immediate home repairs, accommodation and uninsured expenses. As many as one in four homes in Harris county, which found itself at the heart of the disaster, was uninsured.

Weather forecasters have predicted up to 40cm (15in) more rain for the region over the weekend. There is also concern over a rapidly intensifying hurricane, Irma, currently about 2,000 miles away across the Atlantic but moving east. It could have a huge impact on the Caribbean next week. Computer models predict that it will then turn northwest, possibly striking the southeastern US the following weekend.

• Mr Trump will personally give $1 million towards disaster relief, the White House said. It did not specify whether the money would come from Mr Trump or his foundation. The president and his wife, Melania, plan to visit Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana, tomorrow.