Hurricane Harvey

times

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Jose Jimenez worked for 43 years to achieve his American dream, leaving Mexico as a young man with nothing to come to Texas, build a career and fund a home, a family and a future.

In a matter of minutes, so much of what he had worked for was lost yesterday as the San Jacinto River, formerly an idyllic backdrop for his home in the woods in Conroe, burst its banks and poured through the community.

“You work so hard, for a lifetime. You come so far. Then, in minutes, you lose everything,” Mr Jimenez, 63, lamented yesterday, soaked and shivering. Fire department boats and divers scoured the floodwater around his neighbourhood, unsure if there were more survivors. Volunteers in boats stood by, frustrated not to be allowed to help. All along what used to be the street leading into the area, the San Jacinto’s waters churned and bubbled, swallowing up homes, trees, road signs and cars.

harwed2On the 12th anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, the aftermath of Harvey had left Texas and parts of western Louisiana in a crisis of chillingly similar nature and proportions. “This is Katrina all over again, maybe just without as many deaths,” said Ryan Croft, standing beside a raging creek in Conroe that was so strong that the concrete road had been cut away.

However, a family of six trying to escape the floodwaters has been counted among the victims of the storm, authorities said. The four children and their great-grandparents died on Sunday afternoon when Samuel Saldivar, the driver of the van, tried to pick them up amid the flooding.

As the official death toll rose to 18, firefighters said they found an 18-month-old child clinging to her drowned mother in a canal as she tried to carry her to safety. Others confirmed dead included Steve Perez, a veteran police officer.

Harvey slammed into the Texas coast last Friday night but it has refused to dissipate, moving out into the Gulf of Mexico and back over land three times and delivering record rainfall that has left the city of Houston underwater along with surrounding communities.

The mayor of Houston imposed a curfew between midnight and 5am to prevent the looting of homes. Those seeking shelter were exempted as the curfew began last night.

Kevin Rieathbaum drove from Arkansas to link up with the Cajun Navy, a volunteer force trying to reach those still stranded. Many had heeded advice to shelter when the storm first hit, only to be forced from their homes by torrents of water or lack of food.

“It’s desperate in there, man,” said Mr Rieathbaum. “The fate of so many of these people is in our hands. The authorities are doing what they can but they can’t do it alone.”

Art Acevedo, the Houston police chief, said that his rescue crews had taken 3,400 people to safety. Volunteers have taken hundreds, possibly thousands, more. “They will not stop until this threat ends. Stay strong Houston!” Mr Acevedo urged.

For Mr Jimenez, crunch time came after army engineers made a controlled release of water from the Conroe dam north of Houston, which was in danger of collapse. The water gushed south into creeks and rivers, which flowed into areas that were previously dry.

“We’ve sacrificed a lot for them to release the dam. If they hadn’t, it would have been a major disaster even worse then the one we have,” said Mr Jimenez’s daughter-in-law, Norma.

“It was quick. Inches, then feet. It was rising so fast,” said her husband, Hugo, 43. They gathered up some papers — insurance documents, social security cards — and the children, and left, steering their vehicles through and around water that they said would have come over their heads had they waded. Now they are living in their cars.

“It’s coming up seven inches an hour,” said Steve Brooks, deputy chief of the local Needham fire department, waiting at the water’s edge for his rescue vessels to return from a foray along the street and into the trees. “We’re bringing people out but still some want to stay. If they do, we tell them ‘from this point, you’re on your own’,” he said.

President Trump and his wife, Melania, visited Texas yesterday to thank rescuers but were not visiting the hardest-hit areas. “We are going to get you back and operating immediately,” he told a crowd in Corpus Christi. He is due to return on Saturday.

The Red Cross reported that 17,000 people were in shelters. The authorities in Brazoria county, south of Houston, issued an urgent “get out” alert to residents after the Columbia Lake’s banks south of the city were breached. Rescues also took place in Louisiana.

The deluge has been so unprecedented that the National Weather Service has had to add two colours to the charts that it uses to illustrate rain levels. It previously used a 13-colour scale to indicate the intensity of rainfall recorded in a 24-hour period. Dark purple represented the top level — 15 inches — a record never broken before.

Now, it has added two paler hues of purple to highlight areas that exceeded 30 inches. Yesterday the town of Cedar Bayou set a new continental US record of 51.88 inches of continuous rain since the hurricane struck.

In Cleveland, cowboys rode out to flooded rural properties to rescue livestock for others. In Baytown, fleets of boats shuttled workers from the Chevron oil refinery to dry land. About two million barrels a day of oil have been lost because of refinery closures since the storm hit.

In Houston, the mayor, Sylvester Turner, tried to address concerns that some residents might be refusing to leave their homes because they were undocumented immigrants who feared arrest under Mr Trump’s crackdown on “sanctuary cities” that harbour them.

“If you are in a stressful situation I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what your status is. I don’t want you to run the risk of putting yourself and your family in danger . . . It’s as simple as that. Non-negotiable,” he said.

Houston was expected to avoid the worst of the storm as it made landfall again today, with western Louisiana bearing the brunt.

The recovery from Hurricane Harvey would be long and challenging, Mr Turner said. “We’re not talking about a few days. We’re frankly not talking about a few weeks. We’re talking months.”

Moody’s, the credit rating agency, estimated that the storm could cause up to $65 billion in damage to property and lost economic output.

Butch Wetz left his home in Wharton for a wedding on Friday but never went home because it has been cut off by floods. The same goes for 29 other family members. They now take up the fifth floor of a hotel in Conroe.“There’s that anxiety, that ‘what am I going to find when I get back’ feeling,” he said.

Daniel Uribe’s family group is even bigger, totalling about 50, including two foster children. The 55-year-old father of five, who works for a gas company, lived in a mobile home in Freeport, but does not know if it exists any more.

“We’ll just go back, pick up the pieces, and start again. I wasn’t leaving anything to chance when that storm came — I needed to get out for those kids, keep them safe. Even if I’ve got nothing else left, I’ve got them,” he said.

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Hurricane Harvey

times

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The fate of thousand of trapped Texans lay in the hands of an increasingly desperate rescue operation today as Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath refused to let up.

On the 12th anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest natural disasters to strike the United States, southern Texas and parts of Louisiana faced a chillingly similar crisis, with the city of Houston under water and hundreds of communities around the region inundated by floods.

“This is Katrina all over again, maybe just without as many deaths,” said Ryan Croft, standing beside a raging flooded creek on Houston’s northern edge, where nearby trees and road signs were submerged.

Water was pouring from swollen creeks beside the I-45 highway and deluging the traffic lanes. From all directions, volunteers towing boats converged on the area, trying to find a way in to lend help.

Hurricane Harvey slammed the Texas coast last Friday night but its soaking aftermath has refused to dissipate, alternately moving out into the Gulf of Mexico and back over land three times and delivering record rainfall that has left much of Houston under water along with increasing numbers of surrounding neighbourhoods.

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Kevin Rieathbaum drove from Arkansas to link up with the Cajun Navy, a rapidly expanding volunteer force attempting to reach those still stranded. Many had heeded advice to shelter in place when the storm first hit, only to be forced from their homes now by torrents of water or by lack of food and water.

“It’s desperate in there man,” said Mr Rieathbaum, who was visiting Houston on Friday on a work assignment as the storm approached. He said he felt compelled to return today to help save lives.

He added: “It’s crazy. The fate of so many of these people is in our hands. The authorities are doing what they can but they can’t do it alone.”

Art Acevedo, the chief of the Houston police department, tweeted earlier today that his rescue crews had taken 3,400 people to safety. “They will not stop until this threat ends. Stay strong Houston!” he wrote.

President Donald Trump and his wife Melania, the First Lady, were on their way to Corpus Christi, Texas, today to thank first responders but were not visiting the hardest hit areas, where life-saving rescue operations were continuing.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross reported that 17,000 people were in shelters across Texas, and that the convention centre in Houston, where 9,000 sought refuge, had run out of temporary beds.

Authorities said the death toll from Harvey had risen to nine, and authorities in Brazoria County, south of Houston, issued an urgent “get out” alert to residents mid-morningtoday [TUES] after the Columbia Lakes levee wall was breached by rising floodwaters.

Overnight rescues also took place in Louisiana as Harvey’s rainy wrath spread east, with at least 500 plucked to safety by helicopters and boat crews.

The deluge has been so unprecedented that the National Weather Service has had to add two new colours to the charts that it uses to illustrate rain levels.

It previously used a 13-colour scale to indicate the intensity of rainfall recorded in a 24-hour period, area by area. Dark purple represented the top level – 15 inches – a record never broken previously. Now the NWC has added two paler hues of purple to highlight areas that exceeded 30 inches in a day.

In Cleveland, cowboys rode out to flooded rural properties to rescue livestock for others. In Baytown, fleets of boats shuttled workers from the Chevron oil refinery to dry land. Around two million barrels a day of oil have been lost a day due to refinery closures since the storm hit.

In Houston, the mayor, Sylvester Turner, tried to assuage concerns that some residents may be refusing to leave their homes because they are undocumented immigrants who fear arrest under President Donald Trump’s crackdown on so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ that harbor them.

“If you are in a stressful situation I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what your status is. I don’t want you to run the risk of putting yourself and your family in danger…It’s as simple as that. Non-negotiable,” he said.

The recovery from Hurricane Harvey would be long and challenging, he said. “We’re not taking about a few days. We’re frankly not talking about a few weeks. We’re talking about months,” he added.

Butch Wetz left his home in Wharton to attend a family wedding on Friday but never went home again because his community has been blocked by flods. The same goes for 29 other family members. They now take up the entire fifth floor of a hotel in Conroe.

“There’s that anxiety, that ‘what am I going to find when I get back’ feeling,” he said/

Daniel Uribe’s family group is even bigger, totalling around 50, including his two foster children. The 55-year-old father of five, who works for a gas company, lived in a mobile home in Freeport, but does not now if it even exists any more. “I don’t know what I’m going back to, but I do know it won’t be nice” he said.

“We’ll just go back, pick up the pieces, and start again. Back to robbing Peter to pay Paul and struggling to make ends meet – only now, probably even more so. I wasn’t leaving anything to chance when that storm came – I needed to get out for those kids, keep them safe. Even if I’ve got nothing else left, I’ve got them.”

Hurricane Harvey

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If Florida gleaned anything from Hurricane Andrew, the intensely powerful storm that tore a deadly trail of destruction across Miami-Dade County almost exactly 25 years to the day that Hurricane Harvey barrelled into the Texas coastline, it was that living in areas exposed to the wrath of Mother Nature can come at a substantial cost.

At the time the most expensive natural disaster ever to hit the US, Andrew caused an estimated $15bn in insured losses in the state and changed the way insurance companies assessed their exposure to risk for weather-related events.

Many of the lessons that Florida has learned since 1992 have parallels in the unfolding disaster in Texas, experts say, and what was already a trend toward factoring in environmental threats and climate change to land and property values looks certain to become the standard nationwide as Houston begins to mop up from the misery of Harvey.

“The question is whether people are going to be basing their real estate decisions on climate change futures,” said Hugh Gladwin, professor of anthropology at Florida International University, who says his research suggests higher-standing areas of Miami are becoming increasingly gentrified as a result of sea level rise.

“In any coastal area there’s extra value in property, [but] climate change, insofar as it increases risks for those properties from any specific set of hazards – like flooding and storm surge – will decrease value.”

Miami Beach in particular has become a poster child for the effects of climate change, with some studies making grim predictions of a 5ft sea level rise by the end of the century and others suggesting that up to $23bn of existing property statewide could be underwater by 2050.

To counter those effects and preserve property values, Miami Beach has embarked on an ambitious and costly defensive programme that includes raising roads and installing powerful new pumps to shift the ever more regular floodwaters.

Even so, there are indications that investors are already looking to higher ground elsewhere in the city, such as the traditionally poor, black neighbourhoods of Little Haiti and Liberty City. “The older urban core was settled on the coastal ridge and anything below that was flooded. The coastal ridge we’re talking about is clearly gentrifying,” Gladwin said.

Or, as the journal Scientific American put it in its own investigation in May: “Real estate investment may no longer be just about the next hot neighbourhood, it may also now be about the next dry neighbourhood.”

Other analysts cite recent storms including Harvey, as well as Sandy, which wrecked areas of New Jersey and New York in 2012, as evidence.

“You have folks in south Florida buying houses in North Carolina and Tennessee, because they like the scenery but also because it’s high ground. If south Florida drops off into the ocean, they’ll have a place to go,” said Andrew Frey, vice-chairman of the south-east Florida/Caribbean Urban Land Institute and a Miami real estate developer.

“The more frequent these volatile superstorms become, the more people will look to build in safer places. If seas are rising three millimetres a year that’s one thing, but if we’re getting superstorms every couple of years with greater frequency and intensity, things can change a lot faster.”

Such concerns have fuelled demand for data-driven analysis and climate aggregation services that offer real estate advice to clients ranging from large corporations, state and local governments to farmers and individual house buyers.

One such number-crunching company, the San Francisco-based Climate Corporation, which collates and analyses National Weather Service data mostly for clients in agriculture, has previously warned that it would take only “a few climatic events in a row” for a collapse in property values “that will make the housing crisis [of 2008] look small”.

Its assessment is backed by Albert Slap, president and co-founder of Coastal Risk Consulting, a Florida firm that provides flood risk analysis reports. Slap said Harvey was only the latest natural disaster to expose flaws in the national flood insurance programme allowing property owners in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s so-called Zone X – areas at risk of a once-in-500-years flood event – not to carry coverage or fully disclose their flood risk when they sell.

“With storm surge and heavy rainfall increasing and climate and sea level rise, the system is just not working,” he said.

“Millions more people need flood insurance than have it and the crazy thing about Houston was only 15% of those who were flooded had flood insurance. The risk communication is not enough.

“You have thousands of properties in Norfolk, Annapolis, Atlantic City, Savannah, Charleston and Miami Beach where part of the property goes underwater with seawater for days at a time. When you have fish swimming in your driveway, it’s not an amenity, like a swimming pool. It means you’re driving through saltwater to get your kids to school, get to the supermarket, whatever you’re going to do.

“Will there be a massive decline in the property values of the flooded areas in Houston? Common sense would say yes. And if that’s combined with new legislation that’s going to require full disclosure, then wow.”

Hurricane Harvey: Superstorm hits Texas

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At least eight people have died and tens of thousands more remain stranded as floodwaters continue to rise in Houston, with officials admitting that they have been overwhelmed by Hurricane Harvey’s 11 trillion-gallon downpour.

Army engineers, concerned that two big dams might fail, opened the floodgates to relieve the pressure, potentially sacrificing thousands of homes to save the city’s business district. The entire Texas Army National Guard, totalling 12,000 personnel, was mobilised.

“The word catastrophic does not describe what we’re facing. We just don’t know when it’s going to end,” said Sheila Jackson Lee, one of Houston’s congressional representatives.

Six members of one family were feared dead last night after their van was swept away by the floodwaters. The driver of the vehicle, the children’s great-uncle, reportedly escaped before the van was submerged and grabbed on to a tree limb as the van sunk. He told the children inside to try to escape through the back door but they were unable to get out.

Around Texas 13 million people were put under flood watches or warnings, with many communities hemmed in by overflowing rivers and bayous. Houston’s main thoroughfares were mostly impassable and escape routes out of the city were beginning to flood. Residents drove from one petrol station to the next, desperate to fill up their vehicles before trying to find a way out of the city.

“We’re just praying at this point,” said Judy Pevehouse, 56, as floodwater washed up the road towards her neighbourhood of Cypresswood, in northeast Houston, blocking the route and submerging the woodland on both sides.

“I live about five streets that way,” she said, pointing behind her. “My daughter lives in Dallas and she’s calling me saying ‘please leave’. It’s scary because the water’s supposed to keep rising. How much longer can it go? How much deeper? Can I even get out of here? I think the roads are probably all blocked by now.”

The ferocious 130mph winds of Hurricane Harvey, which came ashore over the fishing community of Rockport, Texas, on Friday night, have dropped off but the remnants of the tropical storm stalled over the region for much of the weekend and yesterday, dumping record levels of rainfall. It will continue until at least Friday, also spreading into neighbouring Louisiana. The National Hurricane Centre said that Harvey was drifting erratically back towards the Gulf Coast and could hit Texas a second time later this week.

About 50 Texas counties have declared a state of emergency. “When the sun comes up, get out,” Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist for the Harris county flood control district, told residents on Sunday night.

In the George R Brown Convention Centre, Houston, 2,600 people were given shelter. US coastguard helicopters airlifted residents in remote communities from their roofs while boats were sent to cut-off neighbourhoods and rural areas from which residents had no way out.

Volunteer rescuers travelled from all across the US to help. Jason Abney took a day off from his job as a physiotherapist in Dallas to drive his pick-up truck 280 miles to Houston, towing his 12ft airboat behind him. “They were saying people with boats could be of use and I just didn’t feel right staying at home doing nothing,” he said, standing in the water with his dog, Jackson.

“The problem is all the roads are blocked and I can’t get where I’m needed the most, because I don’t know where that is. It’s kind of chaos. On Facebook there was a single mother with three kids in need of help and this was my chance of getting to them but I went as far as I could down the road in my little boat. I wasn’t going to make it. I could feel the current pick up around me. I’m just really sad I couldn’t do more.”

One family who stayed in their Texas home called a radio station saying they were catching fish that were swimming around their living room. Photographs emerged from a care home of elderly residents still sitting in their wheelchairs and armchairs as the water swirled chest-high around them. All were rescued.

Outside Houston a television reporter was filmed by her crew hailing help for a man trapped in the cab of a waterlogged lorry. Minutes later an airboat arrived, the driver was rescued and he was able to describe the ordeal in an interview to the same reporter.

Rockport, a community of about 10,000 people, was a ghost town after the authorities ordered everybody to leave on buses owing to the lack of power, fresh water and sewage disposal facilities. Much of the town is in ruins.

More than 2,000 Houston residents have been rescued by emergency crews but officials said that hundreds more remained in peril. Art Acevedo, the police chief, said that there were 185 “critical rescue requests” pending and that boat crews went out at first light.

He said that four people had been arrested for looting. “After these events, folks move in to loot and create problems. One thing you can be sure, if you try to take advantage of our citizens who have been victimised enough by Mother Nature, you’ll be arrested.”

Sylvester Turner, the Houston mayor, said: “Our major focus for the day is getting people out of their homes or whatever their stressful situation may be.”

He said that by yesterday morning there were 5,500 people in shelters around the city operated by the Red Cross and businesses. “I suspect by the end of the day that number is going to rise exponentially,” he said. “Some people are just needing to come in from their homes for the night and get back to their homes or other places with their relatives. We’re working to make sure we have the supplies, the food. People are needing clothing.

Officials were preparing last night to evacuate one of the country’s busiest trauma centres as flooding threatened the hospital’s supply of medicine and food. A spokesman at Houston’s Office of Emergency Management said that all 350 patients at Ben Taub Hospital would be moved, hopefully within a day. Floodwater and sewage got into the basement and affected pharmacy, food service and other key operations. Patients will be sent to other hospitals.