Tropical Storm Harvey damage in Texas expected to be ‘many-year’ recovery, death toll rises to 20
While federal officials said they are expecting a multi-year recovery in Texas and across the south as Tropical Storm Harvey continues its course east into parts of Louisiana, the death toll rose to 20 people, sheriff’s said Wednesday.
Montgomery County Sheriff’s Capt. Bryan Carlisle said two more Harvey–related deaths were reported north of Houston.
He said 33-year-old Joshua Feuerstein of Conroe died when he disregarded a barricade and drove his pickup into standing water Monday.
Carlisle said witnesses saw the pickup’s reverse lights illuminate, indicating that Feuerstein was attempting to back out of the water.
But the pickup was carried into deeper water. The witnesses swam to help, but Carlisle says he was already dead.
Separately, an unidentified man died as he tried to swim across a flooded roadway Monday.
Carlisle says people nearby saw the man sink under the fast-moving water. His body was found a day later in the same area.
Earlier in the day, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said Wednesday federal government agencies would help those affected for as long as needed.
“We expect a many-year recovery in Texas and the federal government is in this for the long haul,” Duke said. “We will help the people of Texas for as long as they need.”
She added: “This particular storm was unprecedented in terms of volume, of rain, and that’s what we’re focusing on now.”
Duke said while officials were monitoring the situation in Louisiana, the focus remained on the greater Houston area, which saw more than 50 inches of rain after Harvey made landfall Saturday.
“Catastrophic flooding is likely to persist days after the rain stops,” she added.
Wtih at least 13,000 rescued in the Houston area and surrounding cities and counties, more people were still trying to escape from their inundated homes.
FEMA administrator Brock Long said more than 230 shelters are operating in Texas, housing more than 30,000 people.
“We’re also calling on other states through emergency management assistance compacts,” he said. “We’re still in lifesaving, life sustaining mode.”
He added: “Shelters are obviously not ideal and unfortunately people are going to be there for quite some time.”
Additional rain flooded shelters in parts of Texas overnight as Harvey made landfall again early Wednesday in southwestern Louisiana – potentially putting New Orleans in the path of another devastating storm on the 12thanniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The storm returned to land about five miles west of Cameron with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph. Meanwhile, in Texas, additional rain overnight left shelters flooded.
“We are starting to get down to the end of the tunnel of all this rain,” Meteorologist Roger Erickson said.
Forecasters warned of potential tornadoes forming in northeast Louisiana and across southern and central portions of Mississippi.
Louisiana Gov. John Edwards told “Fox & Friends” Wednesday morning the “worst case scenario has not happened” and officials were hopeful they would get through the next 24 hours without much damage.
“We need to get this storm moving, get it overland and let it dissipate,” he said. “Thus far, things are not going as we had feared.”
The same cannot be said about Texas, where massive flooding has isolated communities. In Port Arthur, near the Louisiana border, the storm dropped more than 2 feet of additional water, flooding shelters.
Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens told KFDM-TV that county responders were struggling to rescue local residents because of the flooding.
The city’s mayor, Derrick Freeman, urged residents to get to higher ground and to avoid becoming trapped in attics.
“The city is underwater right now but we are coming!” he wrote on Facebook.
Before it breaks up, Harvey could creep as far east as Mississippi by Thursday, meaning New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina unleashed its full wrath in 2005, is in Harvey’s path.
Foreboding images of Harvey lit up weather radar screens Tuesday on the 12th anniversary of the day Katrina made landfall in Plaquemines Parish.
Despite more than a decade between major storms, New Orleans is still suffering from a malfunctioning pump system, and the city was working around-the-clock to make repairs. Earlier this month, New Orleans’ pump system failed after fewer than 10 inches of rain fell.
On Tuesday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged residents to stay home Tuesday because of the threat of potential high water.
“We’ve got to save our house,” New Orleans resident Israel Freeman said as he loaded sandbags for his mother’s home into his Cadillac. “She already went through Katrina. She built her house back up. We just had a flood about two, three weeks ago. She just recovered from that.”
Harvey hit Texas as a Category 4 storm late Friday night packing 130 mph winds. It made a second landfall about three hours later before it was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane. After the winds dropped below 73 mph, it was downgraded to a tropical storm.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.