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Houston tries to safeguard some areas by flooding others

Officials in Houston sought Friday to safeguard parts of their devastated city by intentionally flooding others that were inundated by Harvey, which retained enough rain-making power to raise the risk of flooding in the middle of the country a week after it slammed into Texas.

Long lines for drinking water as city of Beaumont struggles to deal with overflowing reservoirs

The Sam Houston Parkway is still completely covered with Harvey floodwaters in Houston, where water released from reservoirs could keep as many as 20,000 homes flooded for two weeks. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Officials in Houston sought Friday to safeguard parts of their devastated city by intentionally flooding others that were inundated by Harvey, which retained enough rain-making power to raise the risk of flooding in the middle of the country a week after it slammed into Texas.

The mayor announced plans to release water from two reservoirs that could keep as many as 20,000 homes flooded for up to 15 days.

In another Texas city with no drinking water, people waited in a line that stretched for more than a kilometre to get bottled water. An aerial video broadcast Friday evening showed a new fire at a crippled Houston-area chemical plant that was the scene of an earlier explosion and fire.

Residents of the still-flooded western part of Houston were told to evacuate ahead of the planned release from two reservoirs protecting downtown. The move was expected to flood homes that were inundated earlier in the week. Homes that are not currently flooded probably will not be affected, officials said.

Reservoir drainage could take until December

It could take three months for the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, which are normally dry, to drain. The Harris County Flood Control District said it had to continue releasing water to protect the reservoirs' structural integrity and in case more heavy rain falls.

Some of the affected houses have several metres of water in them, and the water reaches to the rooftops of others, district meteorologist Jeff Lindner said.

Melissa Ramirez reacts to seeing the flooded Buffalo Bayou Monday for the first time since Harvey floodwaters arrived in Houston. Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded for more high-water vehicles and more search-and-rescue equipment as the nation's fourth-largest city continued looking for any survivors or corpses. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded for more high-water vehicles and more search-and-rescue equipment as the nation's fourth-largest city continued looking for any survivors or corpses that might have somehow escaped notice in flood-ravaged neighbourhoods.

Search teams quickly worked their way down streets, sometimes not even knocking on doors if there were obvious signs that all was well — organized debris piles or full cans of trash on the curb, for instance, or neighbours confirming that the residents had evacuated.

$75M requested for debris removal

Authorities considered it an initial search, though they did not say what subsequent searches would entail or when they would commence.

Turner also asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide more workers to process applications from thousands of people seeking government help. 

Almost 90,000 homes were damaged. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

The mayor said he will request a preliminary aid package of $75 million US for debris removal alone.

The storm had lost most of its tropical characteristics but remained a source of heavy rain that threatened to cause flooding as far north as Indiana. By Friday evening, Harvey had dumped more than 23 centimetres of rain in parts of Arkansas and Tennessee and more than 20 centimetres in spots in Alabama and Kentucky. Its remnants were expected to generate another 2.5 to 8 centimetres over parts of Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia.

Thousands in shelters

National Weather Service meteorologists expect Harvey to break up and merge with other weather systems over the Ohio Valley late Saturday or Sunday.

More than 1,500 people were staying at shelters in Louisiana, and that number included people from communities in Texas. The state opened a seventh shelter Friday in Shreveport for up to 2,400 people, said Shauna Sanford, a spokesperson for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.

A U.S. Air Force pararescueman from the 106th Rescue Wing, New York Air National Guard, carries a young girl to the safety of a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter over floodwaters caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Authorities raised the death toll from the storm to 39 late Thursday, while rescue workers conducted a block-by-block search of tens of thousands of Houston homes. (Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins/USAF/Reuters)

The Texas city of Beaumont, home to almost 120,000 people near the Louisiana state line, was trying to bring in enough bottled water for people who stayed behind after a water pumping station was overwhelmed by the swollen Neches River.

One Houston-area man returned to his flooded house to discover a nearly three-metre alligator inside, KTRK-TV reported Friday. It took four men to carry away the reptile, whose mouth was taped shut.

Block-by-block search

Authorities raised the death toll from the storm to 42 late Friday, while rescue workers conducted a block-by-block search of tens of thousands of Houston homes.

The latest statewide damage surveys showed the extent of destruction.

Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Jansen Schamp, a native of Denver, Colo., rescues two dogs at Pine Forrest Elementary School, a shelter that required evacuation after floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey reached its grounds in Vidor, Texas. At least 6,800 homes were destroyed in Texas. (Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Christopher Lindahl/U.S. Navy/Reuters)

An estimated 156,000 dwellings in Harris County, or more than 10 per cent of all structures in the county database, were damaged by flooding, according to the flood control district for the county, which includes Houston.

Lindner called that a conservative estimate.

87,000 homes damaged

Figures from the Texas Department of Public Safety indicated that nearly 87,000 homes had major or minor damage and at least 6,800 were destroyed.

Gov. Greg Abbott warned Friday in an interview with ABC's Good Morning America that it could take years for Texas to "dig out from this catastrophe." President Donald Trump tweeted that there's still "so much to do" in Texas's recovery.

At the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, thick black smoke and towering orange flames shot up once again. The company has blamed the blasts and fires on floodwaters that engulfed the plant's backup generators and knocked out the refrigeration necessary to keep unstable compounds from degrading and catching fire.

A fire burns at the flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema after tropical storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas. Blasts at the plant northeast of Houston sent up a plume of acrid black smoke that stung the eyes and lungs. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

In Beaumont, people waited Friday in a line of cars that stretched more than a kilometre at a water-distribution centre at a high school football field. Each vehicle received one case. Earlier, people stood in line at a Kroger grocery store that was giving away 3.8-litre jugs of water, which were gone in two hours.

While city officials said little about plans to restore water service, a spokeswoman for ExxonMobil, which has a refinery and chemical plants in Beaumont, said Friday that the company helped install a temporary intake pipe to the city's treatment plant.
 
The water began pumping late Thursday and a little was flowing into some homes, but the water will not return to full pressure until the city refills reservoirs, spokesperson Ashley Alemayehu said.

Pumping station submerged

The water supply for the Bolivar Peninsula southeast of Houston was expected to run out within days, and could be out for weeks, after a pumping station 48 kilometres away was submerged by floodwater, officials said.

About 2,000 people live year-round on the 43.45-kilometre-long peninsula, a narrow strip of land in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nancy McBride reacts as she returns to her home for the first time Monday since Harvey floodwaters arrived in Houston. An estimated 136,000 structures in Harris County, or 10 per cent of all structures in the county database, were flooded. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

People fleeing the flooding were being bused to the Beaumont airport where airplanes and helicopters waited to fly them to Dallas and elsewhere. Air ambulances were on standby for those with critical medical needs.

About 1,800 people were staying in shelters in Dallas, including about 1,000 who were flown late Thursday from Beaumont, officials said. 

Harvey initially came ashore Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days. The storm brought five straight days of rain totalling close to 1.3 metres, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental U.S.

Far out over the Atlantic, Hurricane Irma was following a course that could bring it near the eastern Caribbean Sea by early next week. The Category 2 storm was moving northwest at nearly 20 km/h. No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.

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