Slow signs of recovery in Houston as political battle on aid could loom in D.C.
Treasury secretary says Trump wants to tie nearly $8B package to debt ceiling measure
Houston's mayor insists that America's fourth-largest city is "open for business," but with areas under water, people not yet in their homes, and billions in damage to repair, major disasters that Harvey created are by no means resolved.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said much of the city was hoping to get back on track after Labour Day.
"Anyone who was planning on a conference or a convention or a sporting event or a concert coming to this city, you can still come," he told CBS. "We can do multiple things at the same time."
The Red Cross said that its officials counted 1,400 people Sunday night at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, which has been turned into a shelter for evacuees from Harvey. That's down substantially from over 10,000 a few days after the storm struck more than a week ago.
At a second mass shelter opened after Harvey, the NRG convention center, there were 2,800 people as of Monday morning. NRG was opened last week to take some of the overflow from George R. Brown.
Many people have left shelters after they received transitional assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for temporary housing.
Turner said much of the city is hoping to get back on track after Labour Day, and the city can function and recover at the same time.
Floodwaters also have inundated at least five toxic waste Superfund sites near Houston and some may be damaged, though Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials have yet to assess the full extent of what occurred.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told CNN the EPA is "working on some of them already," but "they have restraints on their ability to check out some of them just simply because of the water."
Turner said Houston's drinking water hadn't been affected by the storm, but told CBS, "We would hope that the EPA would be on the ground now to take a look at those Superfund sites, to make sure that contamination is contained and limited."
Residents who live near explosions return
One worry, of further explosions at a damaged chemical plant, lessened after officials carried out a controlled burn Sunday evening of highly unstable compounds at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas. Three trailers had previously caught fire after Harvey's floodwaters knocked out generators.
Residents who live near Arkema and were forced out of their homes are being allowed to return.
Authorities said Monday it is now safe for residents of Crosby to re-enter the 2.4 kilometre evacuation zone around the Arkema plant. They were forced to leave on Aug. 29.
Fire officials conducted a controlled burn at the plant Sunday to neutralize the remaining trailers filled with organic peroxides, which are used in plastics and paints. Three trailers had already caught fire after floodwaters consumed backup generators powering refrigeration necessary to keep the chemicals from degrading and catching fire.
Arkema said it has opened a centre at Crosby High School on Monday to help residents find temporary housing and provide information on filing claims. The centre is open until 5 p.m.
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U.S. House leaders said on Monday they will vote on a bill to deliver disaster relief to Texas as it recovers from Harvey in two days' time.
The move on a $7.9 billion US relief package would replenish a rapidly depleting disaster aid fund even as another storm, Hurricane Irma, churns out in the Atlantic.
President Donald Trump visited storm-ravaged areas in Texas over the weekend, expressing hope for speedy congressional action on Harvey aid.
The vote on Wednesday would come as a stand-alone measure, and not be tied to the contentious issue of increasing the nation's borrowing limit. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that Harvey relief should be tied to a debt limit bill — as a way to ensure storm victims get help.
"The president and I believe that it should be tied to the Harvey funding," Mnuchin said. "If Congress appropriates the money, but I don't have the ability to borrow more money and pay for it, we're not going to be able to get that money to the state. So, we need to put politics aside."
But some House conservatives are opposed to directly pairing disaster aid with an increase in the debt limit, saying it sends the wrong message on overall government spending. Democrats have also been cool to the approach.
The Senate has not said when or how it will vote on Harvey aid.
Trump plans to meet with congressional leaders from both parties this week as lawmakers return to Washington after their summer recess.
'Looters Will B Shot'
The Associated Press reported last week that Republican leaders were making plans to pair Harvey aid with an increase in the debt limit. Other senior GOP aides told the AP that no final decision had been made, and Democrats, whose votes would be needed in the Senate, have yet to signal support.
"Providing aid in the wake of Harvey and raising the debt ceiling are both important issues, and Democrats want to work to do both," said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California in a joint statement Sunday. "Given the interplay between all the issues Congress must tackle in September, Democrats and Republicans must discuss all the issues together and come up with a bipartisan consensus."
Harvey slammed into Texas on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, but brought the worst flooding to Houston and other areas as a tropical storm. The rain totalled nearly 1.3 metres in some spots, and the storm is blamed for at least 44 deaths.
Utility crews went door-to-door Sunday shutting off power and warning those still in some waterlogged homes in western parts of the city that more flooding was possible — not from rain, but from releases of water from overtaxed reservoirs. Thousands of Houston dwellings were under mandatory evacuation orders, though about 300 people were thought to be refusing to leave.
People briefly returned Sunday to some homes in the area, which included brick two-storey and ranch homes bordering Buffalo Bayou, to try to salvage valuables.
In other storm-ravaged neighbourhoods, people worried about thefts.
Police in the southwest Bellaire neighbourhood received reports of scavengers picking through water-damaged possessions and urged those cleaning up to keep anything left outside to dry closer to their homes and separate from what was considered a total loss. In the suburb of Dickinson, one homeowner used orange spray paint on a sheet of dirty plywood to warn: "Looters Will B Shot."
Meanwhile, repairs continued on the water treatment plant in Beaumont, about 140 kilometres from Houston, which failed after the swollen Neches River inundated the main intake system and backup pumps halted. And outside the town of Liberty, about 70 kilometres from Houston, dozens of people were still cut off by the swollen Trinity River. A Texas National Guard helicopter landed at the local fire department with pallets of drinking water.