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Tropical storm Harvey: number of confirmed deaths rises to 23 – live

This article titled “Tropical Storm Harvey: number of confirmed deaths rises to 23 – live” was written by Claire Phipps (now), and Sam Levin and Jamiles Lartey (earlier), for on Thursday 31st August 2017 02.54 UTC

Texas governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday said he would accept an offer of assistance from the Mexican government, which will now send vehicles and supplies to the stricken region.

Separately, the Mexican Red Cross has also sent 33 volunteers to Texas to work in shelters in Houston.

Red Cross coordinator Marco Franco Hernandez told Reuters the move was part of an international programme in which volunteers from different countries offered aid to each other:

There’s also the possibility that one day in the future, they’re going to help here in our country.

Flooding has caused at least two significant oil spills, Associated Press reports:

State officials say floodwaters from Harvey toppled two oil storage tanks in south Texas, spilling almost 30,000 gallons of crude.

Burlington Resources Oil and Gas reported the spills in DeWitt county to the Texas Railroad Commission on Wednesday. They include a 16,170-gallon (385 barrels) spill near the town of Westhoff, and a 13,272-gallon (316 barrels) spill west of Hochheim. That’s an area about 150 miles west of Houston.

It was not immediately clear if any of the spilled oil was recovered. About 8,500 gallons (200 barrels) of wastewater also spilled.

More damage to oil industry infrastructure is expected to emerge as floodwaters recede.


Texas ban on ‘sanctuary cities’ blocked

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Wednesday that blocks key parts of Texas’s ban on so-called sanctuary cities two days before the law was scheduled to go into effect.

The decision is a victory for immigration rights advocates and a potential blow for other Republican-led states that may be keen to follow Texas – as well as for the Trump administration, which has vowed to crack down on sanctuary cities as part of its immigration enforcement plans.

Coming against the backdrop of Hurricane Harvey, news of the judge’s ruling will be a welcome boost for the state’s large population of undocumented immigrants. There were concerns that some of those affected by the storm’s widespread flooding had stayed away from shelters or avoided asking for help because they feared that interactions with law enforcement could be a prelude to deportation.

Rumours spread that evacuees were being asked for immigration documentation at shelters, which the city denied in a tweet:

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said in a Monday press conference that he would personally offer assistance to any immigrants detained after seeking emergency aid:

If you need help and someone comes and they require help, and then for some reason, then somebody tries to deport them, I will represent them myself, OK?


Joel Osteen, pastor of Houston’s Lakewood church, has been responding to criticism that his megachurch was slow to offer its huge building to those fleeing the flooding.

Osteen told Fox News that the church is now being used as a distribution centre for the city for supplies, and being stocked with air mattresses for evacuees:

The church doors have always been open. We took people in as soon as the waters receded.

There’s a big shelter just down the street, maybe four miles, where they have thousands and thousands of people – but they’ve always been open, this is what Lakewood is all about.

Denying that negative comments on social media – read more on that here – had forced the church’s hand, Osteen said:

They don’t realise that the church was flooded … it’s a safety issue … This is a huge storm, you don’t have staff here, just a whole lot of things going on that people don’t really see …

Social media is powerful these days and I think some of it is just people who don’t like people like me or people of faith.

Evacuee Teddy Gifford, 90, waits for a medical evaluation with first responder Veronica Garza at the Lakewood Church.
Photograph: LM Otero/AP


Images of flooded streets in Texas are mirrored by scenes of inundated communities in India and Bangladesh, the recent mudslides in Sierra Leone and last month’s deadly overflow of a Yangtze tributary in China. In part, these calamities are seasonal. In part, the impact depends on local factors. But scientists tell us such extremes are likely to become more common and more devastating as a result of rising global temperatures and increasingly intense rainfall.

Our planet is in an era of unwelcome records. For each of the past three years, temperatures have hit peaks not seen since the birth of meteorology, and probably not for more than 110,000 years. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air is at its highest level in 4m years.

This does not cause storms like Harvey – there have always been storms and hurricanes at this time of year along the Gulf of Mexico – but it makes them wetter and more powerful.

As the seas warm, they evaporate more easily and provide energy to storm fronts. As the air above them warms, it holds more water vapour. For every half a degree celsius in warming, there is about a 3% increase in atmospheric moisture content. Scientists call this the Clausius-Clapeyron equation.

This means the skies fill more quickly and have more to dump. In Harvey’s case, the surface temperature in the Gulf of Mexico is more than a degree higher than 30 years ago.

Yes, the storm surge was greater because sea levels have risen 20cm as a result of more than 100 years of human-related global warming. This has melted glaciers and thermally expanded the volume of seawater.

Many factors are involved, but human impact on the climate has added to the tendency for more severe droughts and fiercer storms.

High tides have added to the unusually harsh monsoon flooding in India and Bangladesh that has killed more than 1,000 people in recent weeks and forced millions from their homes.

Related: In an era of unwelcome climate records Hurricane Harvey won’t be the last

Louisiana has been under siege from Harvey’s rains throughout Wednesday, with flooding across parts of the state close to the border with Texas.

The then tropical storm, which had left land, returned on Wednesday just before dawn west of Cameron, Louisiana, with winds of 45mph (72kph).

The Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles is opening as a new shelter for those evacuated in Louisiana and from the Orange, Vidor, Port Arthur and Beaumont areas of southeast Texas.

Cots are set up in the Burton Coliseum.
Photograph: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

The US National Hurricane Center has warned that Mexico’s Pacific coast is under threat from the coming tropical storm Lidia, Associated Press reports:

Authorities warned the Baja California peninsula to prepare for high winds, heavy rain and a dangerous storm surge along a shore that includes the twin resort cities of Los Cabos.

A new tropical storm, Irma, also formed far out in the eastern Atlantic but forecasters said it did not pose an immediate threat to land.

The National Hurricane Center said Lidia was expected to approach the southern tip of Baja California by late Thursday. It said the storm was likely to strengthen some more and there was a possibility it “still has the opportunity to become a hurricane before landfall”.

Lidia had maximum sustained winds of 40mph (65kph) on Wednesday evening. Its centre was about 180 miles (290km) south-southeast of the peninsula’s tip Wednesday evening and it was heading north-northwest at 7mph (11kph).

The hurricane center said the storm was dumping heavy rains over southwestern Mexico and was expected to produce total accumulations of as much as 8 to 12 inches (20-30cm) across much of Baja California Sur state and western Jalisco, threatening flash floods and landslides.

This is Claire Phipps picking up the live blog.

Former Hurricane Harvey is now former tropical storm Harvey, as the National Hurricane Center officially downgrades it to a tropical depression.

Harvey currently sits 10 miles (16km) southwest of Alexandria, Louisiana, and its maximum wind speeds have dropped to 35mph (56kph).

But while the heavy rains are ceasing, the effects of Harvey continue to bring devastation: catastrophic flooding is still in evidence across Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and southwestern Louisiana.

We’ll continue to have fresh developments on Harvey and the relief efforts on the live blog.

The latest

  • Tropical storm Harvey has just been downgraded to a tropical depression, but the heavy rains, catastrophic flooding and rescue efforts have continued.
  • The total confirmed death toll has increased to 23, with ongoing reports of people drowning and swept away by floods across the region.
  • Harvey has spawned at least one tornado in Mississippi, damaging homes and toppling trees.
  • More than 48,700 homes have been affected by flooding and other damage in Texas, and one analysis suggests $24bn worth of property has been impacted.
  • Texas senator Ted Cruz and New Jersey governor Chris Christie publicly feuded on Wednesday over disaster funding.
  • Republicans in the House are considering cutting almost $1bn from disaster accounts to help finance Donald Trump’s proposed Mexico border wall.
  • Texas’ governor said the area affected by Harvey is greater than Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy and that the federal funding should be “well in excess” of those disasters.
  • The US government has issued emergency waivers allowing more than a dozen states to ignore certain clean-air requirements for gasoline to ensure a proper fuel supply.
  • A chemical plant near Houston might explode, and the CEO has said there’s nothing the manufacturer can do to prevent it.
  • There have already been 210,000 registrations to Fema for individual assistance, and $37m has been approved.


State transportation officials are working to try to prevent water from bursting on to Interstate 10 around 20 miles west of downtown Houston.

One of the world’s widest and busiest freeways in this location, I-10 is a vital link between the western and eastern regions of the city, especially this week with many other routes closed. It connects Houston to San Antonio in the west and New Orleans in the east.

But it passes between the Addicks and Barker reservoirs and Buffalo Bayou and its frontage roads are submerged. Workers are installing a temporary barrier next to an existing wall on the westbound side. The freeway was closed today around Beaumont, 80 miles from central Houston, which was hit hard overnight by Harvey as the storm moved eastwards.

Here are some images from earlier:

A Reuters analysis has found that at least $24 billion worth of property has been impacted by Harvey flooding in Harris and Galveston counties in Texas. The analysis is based on satellite imagery and property data. From Reuters:

The number represents market value, not storm damage, and is but a small fraction of the storm’s reach, as satellite images of the flooding are incomplete. Satellite imagery compiled by researchers at the University of Colorado shows flooding across 234 square miles (600 square kilometers) of Harris County and 51 square miles (132 sq km) of Galveston County, about one-eighth of each county’s land area.

Aerial images of Harvey devastation

Below is a collection of aerial photos and videos capturing some of the devastation caused by Harvey as of Wednesday evening.

Harvey could soon be downgraded

Forecasters are now predicting that Harvey will be downgraded to a “tropical depression” late Wednesday or early Thursday and that the storm will completely dissipate within three to four days, the AP reports.

Winds were 40 mph (65 km/h) as of Wednesday afternoon, and the National Hurricane Center is predicting that Harvey will drop 4 to 8 inches of rain from the Louisiana-Texas border northeastward to Tennessee and Kentucky through Friday, according to the AP. Flooding is possible, and some areas could get up to a foot of rain.

Arkema, an industrial chemical manufacturer, has warned that its plant struck by storm Harvey near Houston could explode and that there is “no way to prevent” it. CEO Rich Rowe said in a press conference on Wednesday:

There is no way to prevent an explosion or fire. … It’s impossible to predict with 100 percent confidence a situation like this. No one anticipated six feet of water.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the facility lost power from its primary supply and backup generators late Monday night. While the company moved highly volatile organic peroxides into back-up containers to keep them cool, if the chemicals get too hot, they can cause explosions or fires, the paper reported.

It’s unclear how big an explosion might be, and officials have not disclosed the amount of chemicals on site. Employees and nearby residents have been evacuated:

Married couple confirmed dead

The number of confirmed deaths has increased to 23 as of late Wednesday afternoon. Authorities have reported that a married couple who drove a pickup truck into floodwaters drowned after a current from a nearby creek swept the vehicle away, according to the AP.

Chad Norvell, with the Fort Bend county sheriff’s office, said the couple was on the phone with 911 seeking help when the call dropped. Officers later found the truck completely submerged, the AP reported.

Norvell identified the couple as Donald Rogers, 65, and Rochelle Rogers, 58. They lived in a rural part of the county southwest of Houston and were headed to a relative’s house.

It’s possible that as many as 100,000 Houston-area homes could be flood damaged due to Harvey. Asked if the scale of the damage could reach that level at a press conference, Jeff Lindner of the Harris County Flood Control District said:

Right now we don’t have any hardcore estimates of the number of homes that have been damaged, but that figure would not be surprising to me … 100,000 is certainly not out of the question.”

Linder added that problems would continue in neighborhoods around the Barker and Addicks dams. He said that places that have not yet flooded are unlikely to, but water levels may rise again in some parts that were draining, and inundated areas may have to cope with enduring floods as water discharges from the reservoirs continue.

Tornado damage in Mississippi

Tropical storm Harvey has led to at least one tornado in Mississippi, with strong winds damaging homes and toppling trees, the AP reports.

The National Weather Service said the tornado touched down in the southern Mississippi town of Petal, near Hattiesburg, on Wednesday. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Multiple tornado warnings have been issued across the state.

US waives clean-air rules

Sam Levin here, taking over our live coverage of Harvey, which continues to drop substantial amounts of rain in Texas and beyond.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has now issued emergency waivers allowing more than a dozen states to ignore certain clean-air requirements for gasoline to ensure that there is an adequate fuel supply during the ongoing storms, according to the Associated Press.

The waivers, effective immediately through at least 15 September, apply to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington DC.

One-fifth of oil refineries in the US have been shut down as a result of Harvey.

Christie v Cruz

The two once upon a time GOP presidential hopefuls have been sparring over federal funding for hurricane relief after Texas Senator Cruz described the appropriations bill for Sandy relief as full of “pork” and said that two-thirds of funds were used for things other than relief.

“I have no sympathy for this – and I see Sen Cruz and it’s disgusting to me that he stands in a recovery center with victims standing behind him as a backdrop,” Christie told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on New Day. “He’s still repeating the same reprehensible lies about what happened in Sandy (and) called on Congress Wednesday morning to work fast on a bill to aid Texas after Hurricane Harvey.”

Ted Cruz in Corpus Christi, Texas Tuesday.
Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Cruz responded:

“I’m sorry that there are politicians who are really desperate to get their names in the news and are saying whatever they need to do that… For folks who are focused on raising political shots and snipes about the Sandy bill, facts matter. And the fact is that the Sandy bill was over $50bn and 70% of it was not emergency funding. Only 30% of the funding was emergency funding.”

New Jersey’s governor, again: “Let me be very clear about this: Sen Cruz was playing politics in 2012, trying to make himself look like the biggest conservative in the world,” Christie said. “And what I said at the time, both to him and everybody else, was if you represent a coastal state, don’t do this because your day is going to come and you’re going to expect people to help you.”

A Washington Post fact check suggests that Christie’s understanding is much closer to the reality. “It is wildly incorrect to claim that the bill was ‘filled with unrelated pork.’ The bill was largely aimed at dealing with Sandy, along with relatively minor items to address other or future disasters,” the Post fact check concluded.


Authorities in the Houston-area say they are investigating 17 more deaths to see whether they qualify as storm-related.

Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences spokeswoman Tricia Bentley says that the medical examiner is doing autopsies Wednesday and the agency will update its storm-related death toll in the evening.

She says authorities expect to find more bodies in homes and cars as the waters from Harvey begin to recede. The 17 bodies at the morgue do not include the bodies of six relatives found in a van in Houston on Wednesday.

The overall death toll from Harvey is at least 21.

Number of confirmed deaths rises to 21

Harvey’s floodwaters started dropping across much of the Houston area and the sun peeked through thinning clouds Wednesday in the first glimmer of hope in days for the besieged city. But the crisis was far from over, and the storm began to give up some of its dead.

The number of confirmed deaths rose to 21 after a woman’s body was discovered afloat in Beaumont. Authorities also recovered the bodies of six family members, including four children, from a van that had been swept off a Houston bridge into a murky bayou.

“Unfortunately, it seems that our worst thoughts are being realized,” Harris County sheriff Ed Gonzalez said of the discovery.

From the Associated Press


Port Arthur, Texas was among the hardest hit places over the past 24 hours, taking on at least 25 inches of rain overnight.

A number of people took to social media to request rescue for themselves or for loved ones, while local officials begged for people with access to boats to show up and help out.


Trump began his Missouri rally Wednesday afternoon with comments about Harvey’s impact in the gulf.

As we all know our Gulf Coast was hit over the weekend with a devastating hurricane of historic proportion. Torrential rain and terrible flooding continue to pose a grave danger to life and to property.

Our first responders have been doing absolutely heroic work to shepherd people out of harm’s way, and their courage and devotion has saved countless lives. They represent truly the very best of America.

We must be vigilant. We must protect the lives of our people. I was on the ground in Texas yesterday to meet with Gov Abbott, who is doing, by the way, an incredible job, and local officials so that we could coordinate the very big and unprecedented federal response.

In difficult times such as these we see the true character of the American people: Their strength, their love and their resolve. We see friend helping friend, neighbor helping neighbor, and stranger helping stranger. And together, we will endure and we will overcome.

To those affected by this storm, we are praying for you and we are here with you every single step of the way…

To those Americans who have lost loved ones, all of America is grieving with you and our hearts our joined with yours forever…

Recovery will be tough, but I have seen the resilience of the American spirit first hand all over this country…

We are here with you today, with are here with you tomorrow and we will be with you every single day after to restore, recover and rebuild.”

Utterly inspiring.

The Texas Department of Public Safety says more than 48,700 homes have been affected by flooding and other damage brought by Harvey since it first came ashore Friday.

A report released Wednesday shows more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed while about another 17,000 have sustained major damage. Approximately 32,000 have damage described by state authorities as minor.

In Harris County, one of the state’s largest and home to Houston, about 43,700 homes have been damaged, with some 11,600 receiving major damage and another 770 destroyed.

From the Associated Press

Spring, Texas homes inundated by floodwaters from tropical storm Harvey.
Photograph: David J. Phillip/AP

Harvey has also damaged nearly 700 businesses in the state.

DPS says its report will be updated each day so the number of damaged structures is expected to rise, particularly with expanding floodwaters in Southeast Texas as Harvey moves into Louisiana.


Notes from Gov Greg Abbott’s early afternoon press conference update, where he warns that “the worst is not yet over for south-east Texas, as far as the rain is concerned.”

  • Calls price gouging “unTexan” and says businesses can and will be put out of operation for engaging in it.
  • Says area affected bigger than Katrina, Sandy, and that federal funding should be “well in excess” of outlays for those disasters.
  • Says this is the largest national guard deployment (14,000+ with another 10,000 en route) in Texas history that he’s aware of, has deployed Texas resources at 100%.
  • Urges residents not to drive into flooded waters: Many “if not most” lives lost have been “people who were driving vehicles into flooded waters.”
  • There have already been 210,000 registrations to Fema for individual assistance; $37m in assistance approved so far.
  • Says state will accept relief offered by Mexico, and reiterates that in recovery missions and shelters “no one is being asked about their [immigration status]. People are here for one purpose, and that isto save lives.”


Even as flood waters continued to rise in many parts of the Houston area, a small item of encouraging news emerged from a hospital in the city’s central district.

Ben Taub hospital, which had been running out of food and was poised on Tuesday to begin evacuating, called off its evacuation plan because the immediate streets had dried out, allowing access for food deliveries and ambulance runs once again. The kitchen is also back in action, spokesman Bryan McLeod said.

Medical facilities in Texas, and Houston in particular, have been extremely hard hit by a lack of resources and an influx of patients due to the storm.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

With improved access, staff had been able to change shifts after many worked through since the storm hit on Friday. Many patients who were well enough had been discharged, reducing the number staying at the hospital on Wednesday from 350 to 307.

Ben Taub is a public sector hospital where the majority of those treated earn low incomes and do not have health insurance. It is part of the Harris Health System, which has 49 hospitals and clinics in the region, the vast majority of which were still closed on Wednesday because of the storm, health system spokesman McLeod told the Guardian. “But I think we’ve turned the corner,” he said.


US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) says it’s not conducting immigration enforcement operations in storm-affected areas.

The agency’s statement Wednesday came in response to reports a day earlier that impersonators were knocking on doors in Houston and identifying themselves as Homeland Security investigations agents. Ice says the impersonators are reportedly telling people to evacuate, presumably with the intention of robbing their empty homes.

Ice is encouraging people to demand to see badges and credentials. The agency has sent employees to help with search-and-rescue operations.

The latest statement is more explicit than one issued earlier this week and perhaps more reassuring to people in the country illegally. On Monday, Ice said it won’t conduct “routine, non-criminal immigration enforcement operations” at evacuation sites and shelters, but that the law will not be suspended.

ESPN is reporting that the NFL has opted to cancel the preseason game between the Houston Texans and the Dallas Cowboys that had been scheduled for Thursday. The good news is: the cancellation comes because the Texans will be able to return home to their families in Houston sooner than anticipated.

The team had been in the Dallas area since early Sunday morning after flying directly from their preseason game in New Orleans.

Tickets for the game went on sale Tuesday night and more than 40,000 have been sold, with the proceeds going to the hurricane relief fund. The Dallas Morning News is reporting that any fans who bought tickets can receive a refund or choose to have the money used as a donation to relief efforts.

“This is bigger than football. It’s bigger than a game. It’s bigger than any of us. So we need to make sure that we’re thinking about these victims and the city of Houston before anything else,” said Texans star defensive end JJ Watt. Watt has raised more than $5m for relief and recovery efforts on social media.

The NFL is currently deciding whether or not to cancel another preseason game scheduled for Thursday night in New Orleans, where Harvey could also bring flooding over the next 24 hours.


Houston’s city council met today and approved the transfer of $20m in funds to disaster relief. City is expected to apply for reimbursement from Fema.

The meeting was held at the city convention center-turned-shelter because city hall is flooded.

The National Hurricane Center says Harvey should soon slow to a tropical depression.

Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said Wednesday that Harvey is “spinning down,” and while it is still a tropical storm with 45 mph (72 kph) winds, “it should be a depression sometime tonight.”

A depression has maximum sustained surface winds of 38 mph (61 kph) or less.

Feltgen says Beaumont, Texas, and Cameron, Louisiana, are “still under the gun” for rain from Harvey, and conditions won’t improve until Wednesday night.

Mike Henry, center, lifts his leg onto a boat as members of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries helps rescue him during flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey in Orange, Texas.
Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

This figure doesn’t include all of those who have been unofficially displaced, riding out the storm and its aftermath in hotels, motels or with friends and family.

Death toll climbs with two more confirmed fatalities

Authorities have just confirmed two more dead north of Houston bringing Harvey’s total death toll to 20.

US gasoline futures have already eclipsed a two-year high since Harvey’s landfall began threatening refinery capacity in the gulf. That means higher prices for consumers are around the corner.


Hello and welcome

Jamiles Lartey here, firing up our live blog for continued coverage on the fifth day of tropical storm Harvey. Our Claire Phipps has this handy roundup of where things stand as of Wednesday morning:

  • Tropical storm Harvey is back on land after coming ashore early on Wednesday just west of Cameron, Louisiana. The storm is expected to weaken and continue north

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Tropical storm Harvey: number of confirmed deaths rises to 23 – live


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