Hurricane Harvey death toll increases to 7, expected to rise

Hurricane Harvey death toll increases to 7, expected to rise
Posted at 1:05 PM, Aug 28, 2017

As Harvey continues dumping rain on East Texas and the waters there continue to rise, people are starting to panic, rushing rescue boats and even shooting at them if they don't stop, said one volunteer rescuer.

Clyde Cain, of the Cajun Navy, a Louisiana-based rescue force that gained fame during Hurricane Katrina, said in one instance, a boat broke down, and while the crew sought shelter in a delivery truck, people tried to steal the inoperable boat.

"They're making it difficult for us to rescue them," he said. "You have people rushing the boat. Everyone wants to get in at the same time. They're panicking. Water is rising."

Because of the hostile responses, the Cajun Navy has been forced to halt some rescue attempts, Cain said.

Keep track of Harvey

"We have boats being shot at if we're not picking everybody up. We're having to pull out for a minute. We're dropping an air boat right now to go rescue a couple of our boats that broke, and they're kind of under attack," he said.

There is no indication the water will stop rising anytime soon. Swollen rivers in east Texas aren't expected to crest until later this week, but federal officials are already predicting the deadly Tropical Storm Harvey will drive 30,000 people into shelters and spur 450,000 victims to seek some sort of disaster assistance.

And yet, forecasters say, more rain is coming. Lots more.


Latest developments


-- Harris County has had "six suspected flood-related deaths" since Harvey made landfall last week, said Tricia Bentley, spokeswoman for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences. The manners of death will be confirmed this week, she said. This brings the confirmed death toll to seven, which includes the previously reported deaths of a man killed in a fire in Rockport and a woman swept away in Harris County after exiting her vehicle in high water.

-- The average annual rainfall in Houston is 50 inches. The city has seen 25 inches of rain in two days. Another 25 could fall by Saturday.

-- Early tallies indicate at least 5,500 people have arrived at shelters in Houston and another 1,000 in Friendswood.

-- Several cities, including Katy, Alvin, Friendswood, League City, Pasadena, Pearland, Seabrook and Webster, have instituted curfews.

-- The Houston Independent School District has canceled school for the week for the district's 215,000 kids.

-- Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and possibly Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are scheduled to tour the Coastal Bend region Monday.

-- Dallas is opening a "mega-shelter" at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, but Mayor Mike Rawlings said, "We may have thousands upon thousands upon thousands of more individuals that will get bigger than this convention center."

-- President Donald Trump, who will visit Texas on Tuesday, approved Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards' request for an emergency declaration. The governor said in his request that he believes Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Vermilion parishes will face the brunt of Harvey's winds and rain.

-- Energy provider CenterPoint says 96% of its Houston customers have power, but more than 104,000 are without electricity as crews experience difficulty reaching affected areas.

-- The NFL's Texans, MLB's Astros, and the University of Houston and University of Texas football teams -- as well as Louisiana State University, which has a game scheduled Saturday in Houston -- all have practices or games this week and are monitoring the storm before deciding if they will play.


'Landmark event'


Several locales have received 2 feet or more of rain, and forecasters say a reprieve won't arrive until week's end at the earliest. By then, rain totals could reach another 2 feet -- with isolated instances of 40 to 50 more inches -- along the upper Texas coast.

"This is a landmark event for Texas," FEMA Administrator Brock Long said. "Texas has never seen an event like this."

Harvey will likely surpass 2008's Hurricane Ike and 2001's Tropical Storm Allison, two of the most destructive storms to hit the Gulf Coast in recent memory, he said. Millions of people from Corpus Christi to New Orleans were under flood watches and warnings Monday as Harvey's storm bands repeatedly pummeled the same areas.

For state and federal officials working to mitigate Harvey's devastation, one of the more frustrating aspects of the storm is uncertainty.

"The word catastrophic does not appropriately describe what we're facing," said US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. "We just don't know when it's going to end."

Early Monday, Harvey was barely clinging to tropical storm status, but the danger is far from over. The storm is forecast to head southeast toward the Matagorda Bay and Gulf of Mexico where it will pick up additional moisture before sliding back over Galveston and Houston -- cities it's already hammered.

The slow-moving nature of the storm -- it's traveled at about 3 mph, human walking speed, since Friday's landfall -- has fueled the rain and flooding. Houston's William P. Hobby Airport recorded more than a foot of rain Saturday and 11 inches of rain Sunday, the two wettest days recorded since 1930.

Even when the rain is gone, dangers will persist, said National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini, because "the flooding will be very slow to recede."


Finding a 'new normal'


Citizens with boats assisted authorities in search and rescue efforts Sunday, and at Monday's press conference, Long encouraged more citizens to come forward, saying the recovery efforts would require community involvement. He said the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasterwebsite would direct folks to religious and nongovernmental agencies through which residents can help out victims, who, so far, span 30 to 50 counties.

Nursing home residents rescued

"Donate your money. Figure out how you can get involved as we help Texas find a new normal." said Long, who was scheduled to arrive Monday in Corpus Christi.

One citizen answering the call is Jim McIngvale, who owns furniture stores in Houston and Richmond. He opened his doors to evacuees Sunday and provided 600 people a place to sleep.

"We have tons of mattress in our warehouse and we can provide them with a blanket," he told CNN. "We have a restaurant inside the stores, and we are feeding them for free."

The Cajun Navy, a Louisiana-based volunteer rescue force that gained fame during Hurricane Katrina, has also arrived in the Houston area to assist in rescue efforts.

"We started deploying people this morning at 3 a.m. There are hundreds of volunteers and we've already made hundreds of rescues," said Clyde Cain, who runs the group's Facebook page. "Right now, we are heading to North Houston where we are hearing of around 300 people that are trapped in apartments and homes. People there are pulling each other out with air mattresses and boats."


Thousands of rescues


One victim, Aaron Mitchell of Aransas Pass, appeared shell-shocked as he recounted riding out the storm in his mobile home, which he said "felt like 'The Wizard of Oz,' man." He had walked 12 miles to find his father in Rockport, to no avail.

Though he has no intention of leaving the place he calls home, he second-guessed his decision not to evacuate, he said.

Why didn't Houston evacuate?

"I just lost everything I worked for. Everything," he told CNN. "I don't know. Maybe I should've left."

(Following his interview, Mitchell reached his father via telephone and, in tears, told him, "OK, dad, I'm going to jump on a bus. I'll be there.")

Houston resident Louise Walker also chose to brave Harvey's wrath, leaving her trapped in a neighbor's apartment.

Recovery could take years

"Our bottom level is waist-deep in water," she said. "We have people who are living in these first-floor apartments, like I have. They have been breaking into empty second-level apartments just to have somewhere to go," she said.

State, local and military rescue units have plucked thousands of stranded residents from the water and deluged homes. That includes about 2,000 victims in Houston and between 800 and 1,200 in Galveston County, officials said.

"None of us (is) going to give up," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said, reassuring residents.

In Harris County, authorities asked stranded residents to hang sheets or towels from their abodes, so rescuers could spot them more easily.

The Pentagon is also identifying resources, including trucks, aircraft and troops, that can be dispatched for hurricane relief if the request comes, defense official said, and Gov. Abbott has activated the entire Texas National Guard, roughly 12,000 Guardsmen, he said Monday.


Dam releases


The US Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water from the Addicks and Barker dams in west Houston early Monday, said Jeff Linder, Harris County flood control district meteorologist

Harvey's impact by the numbers

"The rationale is it is better to start with controlled releases using the outlet structures than to allow uncontrolled release to go over the edge of the dam. So we have more capability to control the downstream effects," said Edmond Russo with the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In Conroe, an hour's drive north of Houston, record levels of water are also being released from Lake Conroe Dam. The city will be evacuating some neighborhoods as a result.

How to help

Residents living along the Brazos River in Fort Bend County were ordered to evacuate after the National Weather Service predicted river levels of 56.1 feet -- nearly two feet above the record during flooding last year.

Tyler County, north of Beaumont, also issued a mandatory evacuation order for all "low-lying and flood-prone areas."

South of Houston, in Brazoria County, officials set up an evacuation route for at-risk residents, ordering them to "LEAVE NOW!" Those in need of shelter can take refuge in the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, officials said.

Stuck in the floods? Here's what to do

The state of roads -- particularly interstates 10, 45 and 610 in Houston -- left many residents stranded. Much of that is due to flooding from the White Oak Bayou, which rose more than 20 feet in four hours Sunday.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Dallas mayor. He is Mike Rawlings.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Addicks and Barker dams are in Galveston. They are in west Houston.

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