LA Times 1 Sept 2017


As Houston residents Friday faced the heartache of evacuating their homes again due to water expected from reservoir releases, parts of Texas south of the city were bracing for potentially deadly flooding from overflowing rivers.

The coastal city of Lake Jackson, about an hour south of Houston, Friday issued emergency mandatory evacuation orders for two subdivisions threatened by the overflowing Brazos River. Voluntary evacuation orders were also extended to thousands of other residents along the Brazos and San Bernard rivers, said Brazoria County spokeswoman Sharon Trower.

“The deal is that we’re at the end of the line, everybody else’s rainfall is pouring into our rivers, so we’re being affected now,” Trower said.

Meanwhile, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked people in 15,000 to 20,000 homes that had already been inundated in the western part of the city to evacuate again because reservoir releases were likely to send still more water pouring into their neighborhoods.

The new evacuation requests came just as apprehensive residents across the region began making their way back to swamped dwellings, being warned only to return in daylight and to keep a wary eye out for wildlife, especially snakes. One Lake Houston resident came home to a 6-foot alligator in the living room.

In a partially flooded neighborhood three blocks north of the Buffalo Bayou, in western Houston, residents were resigned to the news that their homes might remain flooded for the foreseeable future. In hip waders and boats, they moved in and out of the water to gather their belongings. Someone handwrote a sign and hung it from a street sign, “If you loot, we shoot,” with a drawing of a gun.

John Latrobe, a lawyer, 44, hauled paintings and a picture through the water in a plastic tub. He hadn’t heard the news that flood officials think the dam releases might continue 10 to 15 more days. His home had survived the initial round of flooding.

When the releases came, however, it was a different story, and his property was inundated. Fortunately, Latrobe said he had flood insurance, which he’d gotten approved right before the storm, on Aug. 18. “Best $360 I ever spent.”

Lacy Johnson and her family of four evacuated from their home Wednesday and were hoping to return to the Lakeside Place subdivision, but the reservoir releases may make that impossible anytime soon.

When officials started releasing water from the reservoir Tuesday night, neighbors closer to the bayou “woke up to find themselves flooded and trapped in their houses,” she said.

As airboats rescued neighbors and military planes circled overhead, she and others called neighborhood officials. Johnson said she pleaded with them “not to release any more water because it was flooding out here.”

Johnson, 39, an assistant professor of creative writing at Rice University, left with her husband and two children, ages 6 and 10. Their home of four years was still dry, and had never flooded before, but as rushing water rose in the street, they decided to escape while they still could.

“It’s really hard to live with two small kids in an island of fetid water,” said Johnson, whose family was staying with friends in northwest Houston.

Still, Johnson said of the releases, “They’re doing the right thing. It’s an inconvenience. But if our neighborhood has to be flooded to save the city, so be it.”

By the latest count, the storm killed at least 47 people, forced the rescue of more than 72,000 and caused as much as a $100 billion in damage.

White House officials indicated earlier that they were putting together an initial, emergency financial aid package of about $6 billion.

President Trump offered words of encouragement Friday.

“Texas is healing fast thanks to all of the great men & women who have been working so hard,” Trump tweeted. “But still, so much to do. Will be back tomorrow!” Trump, who misspelled “healing” as “heeling” in the original tweet, plans to visit Texas and Louisiana on Saturday and has proclaimed Sunday a national day of prayer for storm victims.

Parts of Kentucky were projected to receive more than four inches of rain from Harvey’s remnants over the next 24 hours, with flash floods the main concern in the state’s mountainous regions.

Just as emergency officials are getting a chance to step back and assess the scope of the damage from Harvey, concern was switching to another powerful storm, Irma, brewing in the open Atlantic.

Despite clear skies over much of Texas, many rivers along the state’s coastal plains remained at major or record-high flood stages, which are projected to last for days, and waters remained high in many parts of Texas and western Louisiana.

About 70% of Harris County’s 1,777 square miles was covered with 1½ feet of water at some point after the deluge, flooding about 136,000 buildings, according to county officials.

Government offices in Beaumont remained closed after the region was hit with floods, costing the city its water supply and cutting off access to medical services such as dialysis and forcing hospital patients to evacuate.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, noting that low-lying places along rivers swollen with runoff remain “deadly dangerous,” announced the launch of the Rebuild Texas Fund with a $36-million pledge from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The aim was to raise $100 million over Labor Day weekend to support recovery efforts.

West of Houston, the city of Rosenberg announced that its shelters would be closing as the waters moved on.

Meanwhile, federal officials have launched an investigation into a fire at a chemical plant in Crosby, east of Houston, that lost electrical power needed to cool volatile organic peroxide, leading to a pair of explosions Thursday. The plant, owned by Arkema Inc., has had Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations in the past, including a $110,000 fine this year for 10 violations found during an inspection.

In a call with reporters early Friday, Arkema officials said there are nine refrigerated trailers containing about 500,000 pounds of liquid organic peroxide at three various locations at the Crosby plant, and only one of them has exploded so far.

Officials said there is a good chance the others could ignite.