Here's What We Know:
- At least 50 people have died in connection to Harvey, which has battered Gulf Coast of Texas. Authorities expect the death toll to rise as officials assess the full extent of the storm's damage.
- The storm has officially passed, and now Houstonians are facing the aftermath — returning to destroyed homes and cars, dealing with insurance companies, and trying to rebuild every day lives.
- President Trump visited Texas on Saturday. He was in Corpus Christi and Austin on Tuesday.
- Harvey, which began as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, set a new continental US record for single-storm rainfall in Cedar Bayou, Texas, which saw 51.88 inches of rain, the National Weather Service said. The previous record was 48 inches.
- BuzzFeed News is reporting from the region. See all our work here.
- If you've been impacted by the storm in Texas or have a tip about rescue, relief, government, or aid efforts, call the BuzzFeed News tipline at (646) 589-8598. You can also find us on Signal, email, and SecureDrop here.
Circles show calls for help compiled by volunteer groups. Income data from the 2015 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates. Gray indicates areas close to the national median; green areas have higher income, pink areas less.
Texas officials now say 60 people have died as a result of Harvey
The Associated Press reports that 60 people died as a result of Harvey, most drowning and succumbing to flash floods or inundated roads. The count includes those who died as a result of "indirect complications" cased by Harvey, such as fallen trees and malfunctioning medical equipment.
BuzzFeed News has confirmed more than 50 deaths. Read about them here.
Officials say all of the fires at the Arkema plant are now out
All of the fires at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, are now out, after authorities set off a series of controlled burns Sunday, officials said in a statement.
All nine trailers at the Harvey-wrecked chemical site, which were filled with highly flammable organic peroxides that require refrigeration, have now burned, the Harris County Fire Marshal's office said Sunday night. This will allow crews to assess the flooded facility.
The statement said that officials continue to monitor air quality in the area, but that so far, the data has showed no impact on the air from the burns. Still, it will likely take years to know the true health risks from this chemical site and others after Harvey's destruction.
An evacuation zone of 1.5 miles around the plant is still in place.
– Michelle Broder Van Dyke
EPA to intentionally set fires to trailers at flooded chemical plant outside Houston
The US Environmental Protection Agency and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have decided to intentionally set fire to trailers at a flooded chemical plant near Houston. The decision comes days after a fire broke out at the plant on Thursday morning, resulting in an evacuation of a 1.5-mile area around the plant.
The agencies decided to begin a controlled burn, the statement said, "Rather than risk additional damage to the facility or spreading into the surrounding area."
First responders will remain outside of the facility to ensure a quick reaction for any possible adverse effects from the fire.
"We continue to monitor smoke and air quality, the potential for additional fires in the area, and have aerial assets ready to be deployed, as needed," the statement also said. Late last week, the EPA conducted aerial flights to test the air around the plant, concluding that toxic levels of chemicals were not found outside of the evacuation radius.
Harvey Damages Now Estimated At A Record $180 Billion
Texas governor Greg Abbott raised the damage estimates from Hurricane Harvey for his state to $150 to $180 billion, a record for US storm costs.
"When you look at the number of homes and business affected by this I think this will cost well over $120 billion, probably $150 to $180 billion,” Abbott told Fox News on Sunday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) puts the record US storm costs at $160 billion for 2005's Hurricane Katrina, which decimated New Orleans. Next comes the costs of 2012's Superstorm Sandy, at $70 billion in damages.
Harvey's numbers could get even worse. The private weather firm Accuweather has estimated the costs of Hurricane Harvey even higher than Abbott, at $190 billion.
The Trump Administration has asked Congress for $7.85 billion in initial relief funds for victims of Harvey, which Abbott called, "a down payment," in his comments.
Texas Governor Calls Rebuilding Flood-Prone Houston Homes "Insane"
As Houston's recovery begins, talk has turned to how the massive flooding will reshape the nation's fourth-largest city.
Flood waters are receding and only 5% of the city is now still underwater, according to Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation. Survey teams are reportedly looking for victims and recording damage on a block-by-block basis.
Turner estimates clean-up efforts will take 10 days, with rebuilding efforts a long-term problem for the city. How that rebuilding will take place is now becoming a question for public officials:
"It would be insane for us to rebuild on property that has been flooded multiple times," Texas governor Greg Abbott told ABC News on Sunday morning. Abbott suggested that Houston's famous lenience toward building housing on flood plains should end.
Meanwhile, more than 10,000 Houston school students will report for classes in temporary buildings on September 11.
Houston placing mandatory evacuation, shutting off power, in area where residents refused to leave inundated homes
Houston is placing a mandatory evacuation and shutting down power in an inundated community where roughly 300 people have refused to leave, the mayor announced Saturday.
"I understand people trying to protect their private property," Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference. "This is a situation when you have to put your own personal safety as a priority."
The decision was prompted after city firefighters had to trudge through a flooded community to reach a building that caught fire Saturday morning. Electricity, Turner said, is increasing the danger of fires and electrocution for first responders who might have to traverse through hazardous waters to reach the area.
"Think of our first responders," Turner said. "They too, have families."
The evacuation order will be placed for flooded homes only that are south of the I-10, north of Briarforest, east of reservoirs, and west of Gessner, Turner said, where about 300 people have refused to leave.
Though officials can't forcefully remove someone from their home, the city by 7 am Sunday will be shutting off electricity, gas and water to reduce the risk to first responders.
"It's something I'd hate to do," the mayor said. "I would have preferred if people chose to leave."
Though rain has stopped pouring on the Texas city, several more days of flooding are expected as officials release water from nearby reservoirs.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said he supported the mayor's decision. Not only is fire and electrocution possible in such areas, he said, but hazards under the water such as debris and open manhole covers pose a danger for first responders, he said.
Houston fire and police officials will likely be seeing a reduction in FEMA and federal personnel, meaning less resources to respond to inundated areas, Peña said.
— Salvador Hernandez
This family has the craziest story of evacuating to escape Harvey three times
BEAUMONT, Texas — Over the past week the Dahab family has crossed Texas trying to escape Storm Harvey – fleeing their flooded home, a trapped car, and an evacuation center with no running water.
Four-year-old Zeina Dahab acted pretty nonchalant about her first helicopter ride, even though just hours earlier the Coast Guard had saved her and her family after a night spent in their stranded minivan, trapped by floodwaters, near Beaumont.
“It was loud,” she told BuzzFeed News on Thursday, sitting in the dark at the Beaumont evacuation center, because the electricity had just gone out.
For her mother Mariam, 32, the arrival of the Coast Guard chopper was pure relief.
“I felt finally safe,” she said. “The last days, I was fighting all the time to save my kids’ lives.”
Read more here.
-- Amber Jameison
"As tough as this was, it's been a wonderful thing," Trump says, while visiting Houston residents at a shelter
President Trump returned to Houston and visited a shelter at the NRG Stadium Saturday, following criticism of his first trip Tuesday, during which he failed to meet with any people affected or visit flooded areas.
“They were just happy. We saw a lot of happiness," Trump told reporters, who asked what families had said to him in the shelter. "It’s been really nice. It’s been a wonderful thing. As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing, I think even for the country to watch it and for the world to watch. It’s been beautiful.”
Trump then excused himself, saying, "I’m going to be doing a little help over here.”
The president tweeted footage of his takeoff and landing prior to the visit, along with messages of support for the city.
-- Cora Lewis
A paramedic with DACA status rescues Harvey victims as Trump decides his fate
Houston-area paramedic Jesus Contreras worked six days straight after Hurricane Harvey hammered through southeast Texas, rescuing people from flood waters and taking some of them to local hospitals.
“It was emotional because you’re seeing people go through some of the hardest moments of your life,” Contreras told BuzzFeed News. “It shook up our entire community.”
In between rescuing people and helping people who needed dialysis, insulin, or reach life-saving medical machines, Contreras didn’t have a lot of time to think about himself. That changed when he came home on Thursday to shower and saw the news that President Trump may end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The Obama-era program protects undocumented immigrants who, like Contreras, were brought to the US as children from deportation, while also granting them permits to legally work.
“Hearing that my future in the United States is being threatened and possibly taken away was disheartening, it was disappointing,” the 23-year-old said. “It was like getting an extra kick to the face when you’re already down.”
Read more here.
Trump asks Congress for $7.9 billion for initial hurricane relief
President Trump on Friday requested that Congress approve $7.9 billion in aid for initial Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.
The president's request to lawmakers was reported by the Associated Press.
In Trump's letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, he asked for $7.4 billion to go to FEMA's disaster relief fund and $450 million to the Small Business Administration's post-disaster loan program.
Moody's Analytics on Friday estimated the hurricane's total damages at between $86 billion and $108 billion. Passing an aid bill will be part of Congress' busy fall, during which deadlines are coming on government spending and debt. But House Republicans who spoke with BuzzFeed News were confident they could navigate a disaster relief bill without political divisiveness.
President prepares for Saturday trip to Texas and Louisiana, citing "great progress"
President Trump on Friday tweeted about his preparations to go to Texas and Louisiana over the weekend, where White House staff said he would meet with the survivors of Hurricane Harvey.
The president earlier this week visited Texas amid the storm, but he spent his time in briefings with state officials and emergency responders. He did not travel to Houston or surrounding areas, where flood waters had left devastating destruction.
Following his trip on Saturday, Trump was expected to return to Washington DC. Though his schedule for Sunday and Monday had not yet been publicized, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said he would be working on whether to roll back DACA, the Obama-era program that protects undocumented residents who were brought to the US illegally as children from deportation.
Smoke is again seen coming from flooded chemical plant near Houston
Another fire broke out at the flooded Arkema chemical plant near Houston Friday afternoon.
News stations flying helicopters near the scene, including Houston's KHOU, reported seeing smoke and fire near the plant's trailers, the second time fires have been sparked at the plant.
Fires broke out Thursday morning after what the company said was a reaction by chemicals stored there sparked a fire. That fire eventually burned itself out, the company said.
Still, Arkema Inc. President and CEO Richard Rowe said Thursday fires were still possible at the plant after they lost power and were unable to keep certain chemicals properly refrigerated.
The plant and a 1.5-mile area around it has been evacuated.
On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it sent aerial surveillance aircraft to the plant after the second fire broke out to check the smoke. The agency also conducted ground-level air quality tests.
In a statement, the agency said it did not find toxic concentrations of chemicals in the air in either of the tests outside of the 1.5 evacuation area.
The statement did not say what the results were within the evacuation zone.
A total of nine trailers with organic peroxide are expected to eventually catch fire because of lack of refrigeration, the agency said.
"Local, state and federal response managers concluded that the safest course of action was to allow the remaining containers to catch fire, rather than try to send people to move them or put firefighters and first responders in harm's way," the statement read.
Things get worse in Beaumont, where evacuees are flown to Dallas
With no running water since Thursday morning, intermittent electricity, few medical facilities, little food, and rising floodwaters, the situation in Beaumont, Texas, became increasingly dire for its trapped residents, forcing the evacuation of the city's two relief shelters to Dallas.
More than 120 evacuees from Harvey relief shelters in Beaumont slept on buses overnight outside the Jack Brooks regional airport as they waited to be flown to the mega-shelter evacuation center in Dallas on Friday.
"It looks like a war zone," said Beaumont resident Shayla Harris, 50, as rescue helicopters buzzed overheard outside the Beaumont Civic Center Shelter on Thursday afternoon.
By late Thursday, the aftermath of Harvey was squeezing Beaumont, a city of 120,000 people, on multiple fronts.
The Neches River, which flows through the middle of the city and alongside the Beaumont Civic Center, was rising rapidly as officials upstream released water from a dam, Beaumont Officer Haley Morrow told BuzzFeed News. The rising water raised concerns that additional neighborhoods might be flooded.
Read more here.
—Amber Jamieson and Jim Dalrymple II
New estimates put Harvey damage at up to $108 billion
Moody’s Analytics on Friday increased its estimate of damages from Harvey to between $86 billion and $108 billion after the storm’s second landfall battered Jefferson County, Texas. The new estimate makes the storm the second-worst in recent history, the company said in a release.
Moody’s Analytics said the biggest hit was inflicted upon the area's homes, which suffered $45 billion to $55 billion in damages. The property analytics company CoreLogic said in a release on residential damage in Texas and Louisiana on Thursday night, "an estimated 70% of flood damage from Hurricane Harvey is not covered by any insurance."
"The damage and disruption faced by Southeast Texas is clearly worse than most believed earlier this week," the report by Moody’s Analytics said. "Although the full extent of the damage in Houston remains uncertain, it is clear that flooding damage is widespread, leaving a sizable trail of destroyed homes, buildings and cars in its wake."
Read the full story here.
Trump tweeted Friday that there is "still, so much to do" in Texas
Friday, after a visit to Texas that did not include visiting affected areas, Trump tweeted that the state is "healing fast" but that there is still "so much to do."
"Will be back tomorrow!" he tweeted.
An initial tweet had referred to the state as "heeling," but he corrected it later in the morning.
-- Cora Lewis
Full measure of Harvey's destruction starts to reveal itself in East Texas
For the army of flood rescuers that have descended on east Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, plenty of work remains.
Although most rescue operations have halted in Orange, which on Wednesday had become a focal point of volunteer efforts, constant pleas for help from small towns along the I-10 corridor between Orange and Beaumont were still coming in to dispatchers for the volunteer Cajun Navy.
A young woman was stranded with three others in 3 feet of water in West Orange. An elderly man with emphysema had run out of medicine and was in dire condition in Mauriceville. Thirty people were stuck on a roof in Vidor.
The problem was getting there. Between Orange and Beaumont, the surface roads were almost entirely impassable, turning the rural enclaves into literal islands in a sea of fast moving, polluted waters.
Read more here.
Fire at chemical plant is out, but company says more fires and explosions still possible
Fires that broke out at a chemical manufacturing plant near Houston are out, the company said Thursday, but more fires at the flooded facility are still possible.
Explosions were reported at the plant early Thursday morning, after trailers containing organic peroxides caught fire, the company said.
Two "explosions" were reported, but officials said they were in fact chemical reactions.
"Some of the area surrounding the trailer was burned or charred, but any adjacent fires burned themselves out," the company said. "We continue to monitor the temperature in the remaining trailers and there is evidence suggesting that other trailers will soon burn, but there have been no reports of any fires or smoke."
Richard Rowe, president and CEO of Arkema Inc., said at a news conference that the plant was still under about 6 feet of water, and that the power necessary for safe refrigeration of the stored chemicals was still out.
The 1.5-mile evacuation area surrounding the Crosby plant, he said, remains in effect.
Before and after satellite photos show Harvey's devastation
For more before and after images of the flooding caused by Harvey, go here.
—Michelle Broder Van Dyke
Houston residents return home to ruin as floodwaters recede
HOUSTON — The last time Dora Yudelevich saw her home, before she and her family were forced to flee on Sunday, water was up to her waist, her neighborhood looked like a raging river, and Tropical Storm Harvey continued its unprecedented downpour. When she returned three days later, the streets were dry, the sun was out, and the house she’d lived in for 25 years was ravaged.
By Thursday morning, furniture, mattresses, and garbage bags filled with ruined possessions were piled five-feet high on the curb, beside the car that had been drowned beyond repair. Inside the house, Yudelevich sorted through cabinets and closets, pushing through the long process of deciding what to keep and what to toss. In one room, relatives placed water-damaged photos on a table to dry.
“I’m devastated,” said Yudelevich, who arrived in the US from Chile in the ‘80s, later opened a clothing store, and worked seven days a week into her sixties. “You feel like at this age you're ready to retire, then you lose everything. We had no savings other than this house.”
It was a sentiment felt across the city Thursday as residents returned to the homes they fled amid rapidly rising floodwaters caused by the most intense rainfall in US history.
Read more here.
Feds have already approved $50 million in aid to people affected by hurricane
The federal government has already approved about $50 million in individual aid, Elaine Duke, acting Homeland Security secretary, told reporters Thursday.
The aid was issued for roughly 100,000 requests that have already been approved for people affected by the storm, making it the first batch of approved requests by the federal government to help the region rebuild after Hurricane Harvey.
Duke was there along with Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Secretary Elaine Chao to talk about reconstruction efforts in the region.
More than 10,000 people have been rescued in Texas, Duke said, and officials were beginning to refocus their efforts toward rebuilding.
Chao said there was roughly $350 million in pending Department of Transportation funds available for Texas. The department had also already identified about 200 engineers who would be available within 48 hours to inspect roads and bridges as portions of the state begin to reopen.
Chao said she has also signed an executive order waving requirements and easing the transportation of fuel into Texas to help with the shortage.
"Governor, we waived that requirement, and you got it," she said.
— Salvador Hernandez
Houston hospitals brace for surge in patients after Harvey
As the floodwaters clear and the roads dry out, Houston hospitals that spent the week keeping tropical storm Harvey at bay are bracing for a massive surge of patients.
In the wake of what was essentially a disruption in healthcare as usual as Harvey loomed over the Texas coast, hospitals are re-opening urgent care facilities. Several are beefing up their staffs in anticipation of big crowds.
Medical facilities will be tending to this extra patient load while finding and repairing damages at sites hit by the storm. As of Wednesday, more than 27 hospitals in Harvey’s path had evacuated and closed. By Thursday, state personnel had evacuated 1,086 patients on 165 missions, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Read more here.
After Harvey, small social networks prove their might
On Wednesday morning, with flood waters still rising in Houston, voices bubbled inside the relatively obscure walkie-talkie app Zello, coordinating a volunteer effort to get help to those in need.
“I have an 18-foot flat bottom aluminum boat, I need to know where to go this morning," one member of the app’s 500-plus person North Houston Rescue channel told the group.
”Is there any need for a couple of jet skis and four guys?” another asked. Almost instantly and with calm precision, group administrators directed them to areas that could use their help.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey — which has left thousands seeking shelter — small, locally oriented social networks like Zello are showing their strength as organizing tools. Though social networks are an imperfect substitute for rescue infrastructure, a listen into Zello, or a peek into Nextdoor (where neighbors are working to inform and help each other), or even a visit to Harvey-related Facebook groups shows why people are relying on these networks. They are focused, intensely local, and put critical information in front of the right audiences quickly with little distraction or noise.
“It’s not 911, but it’s pretty effective,” Zello CEO Bill Moore told BuzzFeed News.
Read more here.
Tropical storm Harvey is officially dead
After nearly a week of monitoring one of the worst storms in US history, the National Hurricane Center has issued its final advisory on Harvey.
The powerful storm has continued to weaken, though still drenching parts of Texas and Louisiana with rain and causing deadly, widespread flooding. The center warned that "ongoing, catastrophic and life-threatening flooding will continue across southeastern Texas," specifically around Houston, Beaumont, and Port Arthur.
Harvey, which began as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, appears to have set a new continental US record for single-storm rainfall in Cedar Bayou, Texas, which saw 51.88 inches of rain, the National Weather Service announced Tuesday. The previous record was 48 inches.
"The National Hurricane Center would like to thank all the men and women that have worked countless hours at local National Weather Service Forecast offices along the Gulf coast providing life-saving warnings and information during the past week, on top of preparing their family and homes for the storm," the center said in its 46th advisory.
President Trump pledges to donate $1 million of his own money for hurricane relief
President Trump is pledging to donate $1 million of his personal money to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
"He would like to join in the efforts that a lot of the people that we've seen across this country do and he's pledging $1 million of personal money," Sanders told reporters at a press briefing.
Sanders said Trump had not yet decided what organization he would be donating the money to, and said the president wanted the White House press pool to suggest what organizations are "best and most effective in helping."
Asked whether the donation would be coming personally from the president, or from the president's foundation, Sanders said she was not sure about "the legal part of exactly that."
"He said his personal money, so I would assume that comes directly from him," she said.
— Salvador Hernandez
Shelters and hospital are forced to evacuate as flooding cripples Beaumont and Port Arthur
The city of Beaumont in eastern Texas lost its water supply Thursday as a result of flooding from Tropical Depression Harvey, forcing evacuations of shelters and a local hospital, officials said.
Beaumont's primary and secondary water supply pumps were submerged by floodwaters from the overflowing Neches River nearby, city officials said, adding that they're not sure when they'll be able to begin repairs.
Beaumont police told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that the city will have to evacuate 1,400 people currently taking refuge in its two main storm shelters — Beaumont Civic Center and the Montagne Center at Lamar University — because they don't know when they'll be able to restore running water. Baptist Hospital Beaumont is closing down entirely, including its emergency department, spokeswoman Mary Poole said.
In Port Arthur, officials were forced to close a shelter in the Bob Bower Civic Center on Wednesday after flood waters entered the venue.
Read more here.
Undocumented immigrants affected by hurricane likely not eligible for long-term benefits, White House says
Undocumented immigrants affected by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey won't likely be eligible to receive long-term benefits, Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert told reporters during a White House press briefing.
Bossert stressed no one, including undocumented immigrants, would be turned away from life-saving measures, food and water. But when it comes to housing relief or other benefits the federal government was working on for those impacted by the storm, Bossert suggested the undocumented population would not receive any of it.
"No individual human being should worry about their immigration status unless they've committed a crime atop of coming here illegally," he said. "I don't think there's going to be a lot of benefits going out to illegal immigrants in terms of the American taxpayer."
Many of the undocumented population in Texas have been reticent about seeking help for fear of being deported. Those fears have been augmented by the administration's effort to ramp up deportations and expand those targeted by immigration officials.
Bossert said the administration would still be working on who specifically would be eligible for certain benefits. But when pressed on whether those who have been living in Texas' affected areas, and were undocumented, Bossert reiterated the White House's priority to deport those with a criminal record.
"There's a lot of 'if's' and I'll figure that out as I deal with them, but the priority couldn't be any clearer," he told reporters. "Those who have come to the country illegally and then commit crimes constitute the priority we need to focus on, and that's not a victimless crime."
— Salvador Hernandez
Damage from Harvey has caused millions of pounds of toxic pollutants to be released into the air
A wave of refinery, petrochemical plant, and other industrial facility damages and shutdowns along the Texas coast in response to Harvey’s wrath has led to the release of millions of pounds of pollutants into the air, according to company filings analyzed by BuzzFeed News.
One of the nation’s hot spots for refining and other chemical processing, Houston is especially vulnerable to hurricanes and other flooding. Early Thursday morning — after Harvey had hit the city with more than 49 inches of rain in some places — the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, about 30 miles northeast of downtown Houston, exploded twice due to flooding. The ongoing fire has released black smoke, raising questions about whether large amounts of dangerous materials are being emitted.
Although Arkema has not yet filed a report estimating the air pollution triggered by this explosion, dozens of other industrial facilities already have.
Chevron Phillips, for example, moved to shut down its chemical manufacturing plant outside of Houston. In the process of halting production, however, various pieces of plant equipment spewed an estimated 754,000 pounds of air pollution. This was a noxious mix of cancer-causing chemicals, smog-forming pollutants, and other pollutants, according to the company’s recent report to Texas environmental regulators.
Read more here.
—Zahra Hirji and Jeremy Singer-Vine
The Houston Fire Department is going door to door in neighborhoods that were severely flooded
Fire fighters in Houston are beginning to go door-to-door in neighborhoods where waters have receded after heavy flooding, as people begin to trickle back to survey the damage to their homes.
"A few days ago it looked like we were living on a lake," one resident, Susan Reeves, told BuzzFeed News. "Today you wouldn't even know it."
Houston's Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann told reporters the searches were to ensure "no people were left behind" as recovery efforts get underway.
- Albert Samaha, Jon Passantino and Nidhi Prakash
Explosions have taken place at a flooded chemical plant in the Houston area
Two explosions took place at the flooded Arkema chemical plant in the Houston suburb of Crosby in the early hours of Thursday morning, although the county sheriff said later clarified that they were not technically explosions but "releases" or "chemical reactions."
"This event had been expected and planned," Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.
The plant housed extremely flammable organic peroxides that required refrigeration, as once they heat up, they ignite. The sheriff said that what appeared to be an explosion was the containers popping.
In a statement, Arkema said that the company had been alerted to the explosions by the Harris County Emergency Operations Center at around 2 a.m. on Thursday, and that black smoke had been seen. The plant lost power yesterday when flooding overtook it's primary source of power in addition to its two backup sources.
The statement said that the company had agreed with local authorities to let the fire burn itself out because of the volatile chemicals involved and that a 1.5 mile area surrounding the plant had been evacuated.
"It is not anything toxic, it's not that we feel is a danger to the community at all," Gonzalez said.
The sheriff's office tweeted that 10 deputies, who were near the plant maintaining a perimeter, had inhaled smoke near the plant, but that the company believed it to be a non-toxic irritant. One deputy has been hospitalized.
On its website Thursday, Akema listed possible harmful chemicals in the smoke.
"We are assuming exposure to smoke from a fire containing organic peroxides and/or degradation products of hydrocarbons and alcohols," the company wrote. "The smoke may also contain organic peroxide degradation products, including hydocarbons and alcohols."
Side effects of inhalation could include eye, skin and/or respiratory irritation, skin sensitization, nausea, drowsiness, or dizziness, according to the company.
Thursday afternoon, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt put out a statement saying that data from an aircraft that surveyed the scene "indicates that there are no concentrations of concern for toxic materials reported at this time."
"EPA’s focus is on the safety of those around the facility and we urge those in the area to follow the safety instructions of local authorities," Pruitt said. "We will consider using any authority we have to further address the situation to protect human health and the environment."
The EPA is providing assistance and resources to the first responders in Harris County and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to the statement. There is currently a 1.5-mile radius exclusion area around the explosion site, beyond which EPA employees cannot go, as well as a zone set by the local fire marshal to protect the area from potential additional explosions.
— Francis Whittaker and Cora Lewis
Meet the veterans who built a volunteer rescue army in Houston
Buck Buchanan was at home in San Antonio watching the news when Harvey, then a tropical storm, slammed into Houston. As the former US Marine — who served from 1999 to 2006 — watched the scene unfold, he realized two things: first, that the situation looked really bad; and second, that he might be able to do something.
"I called a couple of guys and said, 'We should go help. It doesn’t look like they were ready for this,'" Buchanan told BuzzFeed News.
By Wednesday, Buchanan's idea had grown into a small army of more than 200 mostly former US service members who had shown up to traverse the city in boats and truck convoys, looking for people to pull from their homes and carry to safety.
Read more here. — Jim Dalrymple II
Small Texas border town bands together while waiting for help to arrive
ORANGE, Texas — None of the volunteers awaiting orders in the American Airboat parking lot seemed to know her name, not that any of them had time to find out, or even needed to. If you had a question, you simply talked to the “woman in the neon yellow shirt.”
Even without the shirt, Amanda Labove’s calm confidence made it clear she was in charge of the makeshift command center.
“I need a boat, it’s an emergency,” Labove said, turning to a group of five men. “There’s a mother and infant stuck on a car and the infant is turning blue.”
Two men quickly volunteered and, with address in hand, they climbed into their pickup and sped off west with their flat bottom fishing boat in tow.
It was just one of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of rescue missions Labove would dispatch complete strangers on throughout Wednesday to Orange and other small communities along the Texas-Louisiana border.
Read more here.
Officials attempt to consolidate shelters as storm subsides
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced on Wednesday that the NRG Center in Houston would take on the role of a consolidated, regional shelter.
The NRG Center opened as overflow after beds filled up at the George R. Brown Convention Center. But it was never close to its capacity of 10,000, and going forward, Emmett said it would open its services to people from neighboring counties.
"It's got medical facilities, a grocery store, a childcare area," he said. "It's a place that frankly can't be duplicated in small settings all around the region."
Emmett said he had talked with the Red Cross about closing small shelters in the region and transporting people to the NRG Center. Metro buses were expected to start moving people on a voluntary basis Thursday morning.
"We've got it set up. There's no sense to let it go to waste," he said. "Let's make it available to others."
Harvey has been downgraded to a tropical depression
The National Hurricane Center downgraded Harvey to a tropical depression on Wednesday as it continues to move over land.
Harvey made landfall in Texas on Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane, wreaking havoc along the coast of the state and killing at least 35 people.
The tropical depression is predicted now to cross from the northern part of Louisiana through Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and into Ohio and West Virginia by Saturday.
— Michelle Broder Van Dyke
Leader of Hurricane Katrina response warns of challenges ahead
Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led response to Hurricane Katrina, warned many more trained people would be necessary as waters recede and Harvey relief efforts move into their next phase.
Coroners and medical staff would be necessary to handle remains uncovered by receding flood waters, plus police and members of the National Guard to methodically search homes, he told CNN.
Honoré said it didn't appear Texas officials were prepared for that, and it could mean delays in getting residents back to their homes.
"So the second phase of this, going into homes and doing a recon, is going to be a lot more complex and I don't think they've scaled up enough to be able to do this in a timely manner," he said. "Because until you search everything, you can't let people back in."
Hurricane Katrina, which struck Louisiana in 2005, was one of the costliest natural disasters to hit the US, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing more than 1,800 people.
Honoré on Wednesday added he was impressed by the work of volunteers in Harvey search and rescue efforts, and believed applying technology to their work could make it more efficient.
"There's a lot of wasted hours and time, and it's hard to get from point A to point B, but I couldn't be prouder of what's happening," he said.
Tim Cook says Apple is committed to Harvey recovery efforts
Apple CEO TIm Cook addressed the effects of Hurricane Harvey in an email to employees on Wednesday afternoon and said that the company had helped raise more than $3 million for relief efforts.
"Because Texas is home to more than 8,700 of our coworkers, the storm’s impact is felt by all of us," he wrote in a message obtained by BuzzFeed News, adding that the iPhone maker has a global crisis management team on the ground that is helping to move some employees and their families.
Cook noted that he was in Austin last week, a day before Harvey hit the Texas shore, and asked the employees donate food and supplies at Apple's Austin campus. Apple also allowed customers to donate to the American Red Cross through its App Store, with the company matching employee donations two-for-one. So far Apple users have raised more than $1 million dollars, while the company has pledged $2 million.
Another technology leader, Facebook, took a different approach in soliciting donations from users for Hurricane Harvey, routing donations made through the social networking platform to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, a lesser-known organization that BuzzFeed News examined on Tuesday. Facebook had previously partnered with the American Red Cross for disaster fundraising efforts.
Read more here.
Some flood victims are losing or abandoning their dogs and the photos are heartbreaking
The victims of Tropical Storm Harvey's deadly floodwaters this week are not only human. Many animals, from dogs and cats to livestock, have had to flee their homes as well.
Many pet owners were able to grab their furry family members to evacuate in time. However, some pet owners were forced to leave their pets behind, or lost them along the way.
Read more here.
Demand for shelter in Houston subsides, so residents won't be sent to other cities, officials say
Despite Texas cities like Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin building emergency shelters to house thousands of Tropical Storm Harvey evacuees, Houston on Wednesday assured residents there are no plans to send those in need out of the city.
“We greatly appreciate all the offers of shelter assistance from other cities, but currently we have no plans from the city or the main partner, the American Red Cross, to transition individuals into other outlying areas,” Houston city spokesman Marc Eichenbaum told BuzzFeed News.
The need for shelter assistance "crested" in Houston as Harvey moved away from the city Wednesday morning and some waters began to recede, Eichenbaum said.
“This is natural as you have individuals in shelters who are there because their houses are uninhabitable,” he said. ”And you have other people whose houses were threatened and they needed to escape the elements and now, as the storm has passed, some are finding that their houses are safe to return to, or the need to be sheltered from the elements is no longer an issue.”
Read more here.
— Nidhi Prakash, Amber Jamieson, and Lam Thuy Vo
CEO says there's no way to stop explosion or fire while chemical plant is flooded
A chemical plant abandoned because of heavy flooding will likely explode or catch fire within the next six days, and there's nothing workers can do to stop it if waters don't subside, the company's CEO told reporters Wednesday.
Arkema North America, which owns the chemical plant in Crosby, Texas — about 25 miles northeast of Houston — evacuated all of its workers Tuesday as the plant was overcome by roughly 6 feet of water.
Harris County also evacuated all residences within a 1.5-mile radius of the facility.
All operations in the plant were shut down Friday just before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, but the company said in a statement that the plant has seen about 40 inches of rain since Monday, flooding backup generators and leaving many of the chemicals stored there without the refrigeration required to keep them stable.
The plant has been without electricity since Sunday.
"The site lost refrigeration to all of its cold-storage warehouses when electrical power was lost and back-up generators were flooded," the company said in a statement. "Arkema is limited in what it can do to address the site conditions until the storm abates."
In a press call with reporters Wednesday, Arkema North America CEO Richard Rowe said the chemicals there could now catch fire or even explode as a result.
The company said it is working with local officials and the Department of Homeland Security to continue monitoring the situation.
Houston officers say they were ill-equipped to deal with Harvey's epic flooding
HOUSTON — Despite Houston's history of flooding, the police department lacked the training and equipment to respond to the disaster amid record rainfall from Tropical Storm Harvey, several officers told BuzzFeed News.
Most officers had not gone through flood training, had no access to boats, and were unable to respond to an untold number of emergency calls because the department had only a limited fleet of high-water vehicles, they said.
“I can’t tell you off the top of my head how many we have, but I can tell you that it wasn’t enough,” said Joe Gamaldi, vice-president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union. “The unexpected challenge we had was that this ended up being one of the most epic storms in history.”
The torrential rain that pounded Houston nonstop from Friday through Monday left the city’s more than 5,000 officers — all on-duty, most working 16-hour shifts — scrambling to find ways to reach residents stranded in homes surrounded by rising floodwaters.
Read more here.
Death toll continues to rise as Harvey drenches Texas
At least 35 people have now died in connection to Tropical Storm Harvey, which has battered southeastern Texas for days and left entire communities underwater. The death toll is expected to rise as officials begin to assess the catastrophic damage caused by the storm.
On Wednesday, Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences told BuzzFeed News that they had 28 suspected and confirmed storm-related deaths, including a veteran Houston police officer, a family of six, and a retired high school football coach.
Read more here.
—Brianna Sacks and Cora Lewis
15 stories of people who have gone above and beyond to help others during the Texas flooding
Amid the devastation wrought on the city of Houston by flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey, people are stepping to the plate to help others in incredible ways.
Here are just a few of the everyday people who did heroic things in the face of danger and tragedy, like one mom who was described as "just boating around Houston picking people up like it ain't no thang."
Read more here.
Bodies of six family members found inside van that was swept away in Houston floodwaters
Houston-area authorities on Wednesday confirmed that they had found the van with the bodies of six family members inside after it was swept away days earlier by rising flood waters.
The four children and their great-grandparents were trying to make the journey from their home to another family member's home on Sunday when they were caught in floodwaters at the intersection of Green River Drive and John Ralston Road.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told reporters Wednesday they located the white van in the embankment near 11400 Ley Road in Greens Bayou as water receded.
At least two bodies could be seen in the front seat, but based on the angle and the type of van with no windows in the back, officials had to wait for confirmation from a police dive team.
"Family is devastated, as we all are," Gonzalez said. "Our worst fears have been realized."
The four children were identified by Ashley Hiser-Jackson, a California-based relative, as Devy Saldivar, 16; Dominic Saldivar, 14; Daisy Saldivar, 6; and Xavier Saldivar, 8. Their great-grandparents were identified as Manuel and Belia Saldivar, 84 and 81, respectively.
Read more here.
—Nidhi Prakash and Claudia Rosenbaum
Southeast Texas and Western Louisiana are now "under the gun," according to officials
Though floodwaters were receding in Harris county Wednesday as evacuations continued, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the state was now dealing with "catastrophic conditions" in southeast Texas.
Abbott said another 2,000 National Guard members had been deployed, bringing the total to 14,000, some of whom were headed to southeast Texas to deal with the emergency conditions there. An additional 200 boats and 200 vehicles were also being assigned, many to the greater Beaumont and Southeast part of the state, which he called "the most urgent location."
The governor said the Texas National Guard had already conducted more than 8,500 rescues, more than 26,000 evacuations and more than 1,400 shelter in place and welfare checks in the Beaumont region.
"Those conditions are a threat to life and property," he said, adding that major flooding was expected to continue in the area.
Approximately 15 inches of rain have already fallen there, according to Abbott, with "more to come."
"The worst is not yet over for southeast Texas as far as the rain is concerned," he said.
Flooding conditions near the Sabine and Natchez rivers could last as long as a week, according to the authorities.
Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen with the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday that Beaumont, Texas, and Cameron, Louisiana, are "still under the gun" for heavy rain and bad conditions from Harvey through Wednesday. Port Arthur, Texas is also experiencing heavy flooding.
Local media station KJAC reported that the Robert A. Bowers Civic Center in Port Arthur was inundated Wednesday, with evacuees shown on cots above several inches of water on the ground. The station reported many of those evacuees were being transported to other cities.
Motiva Enterprises also temporarily closed and ceased operations at its refinery in Port Arthur, Texas — the biggest in the nation — due to floodwaters in the area, the Associated Press reported Wednesday morning.
The storm is later expected to move from Louisiana into northwestern Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky, according to Feltgen.
-- Cora Lewis
People are slowly trickling into Dallas' new mega-shelter for Harvey survivors
DALLAS – Dallas is ready and waiting to welcome those displaced by Storm Harvey – but the roads are too flooded to get most of them here yet.
On Tuesday in Houston, 10,000 people had fled the floods to hunker down in the city’s overcrowded convention center, half of them needing to sleep on the floor because of a lack of beds.
Just 240 miles away in Dallas, mayor Mike Rawlings stood under bright blue skies and announced the opening of the Harvey “mega-shelter” at Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
It has the potential to hold 5,000 evacuees – with a 10,000 square foot medical center, a Walmart pharmacy, rows upon rows of cots and dozens of volunteers – but on Tuesday night, only 227 people had checked in. A planned evacuation flight from Galveston on Tuesday was cancelled due to the flooding.
Read the full story here.
Harvey returns to land just west of Cameron in Louisiana
Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall in Louisiana early Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center has said.
The storm returned to land just west of the city of Cameron and is expected to weaken and continue to the north.
Harvey returned to land about 5 miles (8 kilometers) west of Cameron with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph).
Harvey is forecast to drop large amounts of rain on Louisiana before moving on to Arkansas, Tennessee, and parts of Missouri. Flooding is also possible in those areas.
Supermarkets in Houston are running out of food and people are getting worried
The line just to get into the Mi Tienda grocery store snaked across the soggy parking lot, past a nearby alley, and down a row of neighboring shops. Shoppers waited for nearly an hour to get inside, even as the store rationed essential items like bread and milk to one per customer.
"Yeah, there's limits," Luis Castillo, a store employee who was working crowd control Tuesday, told BuzzFeed News. "But we already ran out of bread. There's no more bread."
Similar scenes have been playing out across Houston, where catastrophic flooding caused by Tropical Storm Harvey have effectively cut of supply lines to the outside world. Grocery stores across the city shuttered during the storm; those that have remained opened are besieged long lines and increasingly empty shelves.
Food is still available—many stores still had plenty of canned goods and other nonperishable items Tuesday. But supplies are dwindling, and trapped residents are getting increasingly anxious as the storm stretches into its sixth day
—Jim Dalrymple and Talal Ansari
A second massive shelter has been opened for displaced Houston residents
A second massive shelter has been opened at the NRG Center in Houston to house the growing number of displaced residents.
The huge convention center is being run by local nonprofit group Baker Ripley and staffed by volunteers.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced the opening late on Tuesday. The center can hold 10,000 people and will allow pets. Up to 2,000 people are expected to arrive at the center Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown has filled to nearly double its capacity of 5,000 in the five days since the storm first made landfall. The nearby Toyota Center is being opened to alleviate crowding at the George R. Brown center.
The city is working with FEMA to locate longer-term housing for the evacuees.
Five more people confirmed dead Tuesday night, bringing the death total to 16 as Harvey enters its sixth day
An additional five people were confirmed to have died in connection to Harvey Tuesday night, as the tropical storm continues to batter the southeast coast of Texas. The new reports bring the storm's confirmed death toll to 16.
In Jefferson County, a woman died after being swept into a canal with her young daughter, the Beaumont Police Department said Tuesday night.
Officers in a boat were able to grab the girl and her unresponsive mother before they floated underneath a trestle. The child, who is now in stable condition, was hypothermic, and first responders took turns performing CPR until they could get her to an ambulance, police said. Her mother died in the floods.
In Montgomery County, the sheriff's office confirmed that a 60-year-old woman died Monday, after a large tree fell on her trailer during the storm. Three deaths were also confirmed in Galveston County, along the Gulf Coast.
"More deaths are expected but not confirmed at this time," Brittany Viegas, a spokesperson for the Galveston County Office of Emergency Management, told BuzzFeed News.
Ten people, including a veteran Houston police officer, a family of six, and a retired high school football coach, died in floods in Harris County. And in Rockport, officials confirmed that at least one person died after the storm made landfall Friday night.
The death toll is expected to rise across the region in the coming days and weeks, as government agencies and volunteers begin to grasp the extent of the storm's damage.
Read more about the victims here.
Houston imposes overnight curfew Tuesday night to address crime at evacuated properties
A midnight curfew will be imposed across Houston starting Tuesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters, citing reports of looting and people impersonating law enforcement officers.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said there have been some reports of looting and armed robberies across the city, as well people people impersonating federal officers, prompting the department to recommend the curfew, which lifts at 5 a.m. Wednesday.
"We're coming after you," Acevedo said in directing his comment to criminals. "We're not a city that is going to tolerate people who are victimizing people who are in the lowest point of their life."
At a press conference, Turner had said the curfew would be at 10 pm, but later announced via Twitter would instead be set at midnight.
Police have received reports of people in uniform and wearing Homeland Security Investigation patches in the Kingwood and West University area, Acevedo said. The impersonators told residents they were under a mandatory evacuation, trying to get people to leave their homes.
Acevedo said there are no HSI agents deployed in the Houston area.
The curfew, he added, would help to prevent any future looting, burglaries or robberies that have taken place since flood waters crippled the nation's fourth-largest city.
Details of how the curfew would be implemented were not immediately released, but Turner said it would not apply to reporters.
Police will be using discretion on whether to make an arrest, but police stressed there were few reasons for people to be out after dark with the streets flooded.
"If you are out there and you think it's a good enough reason to be out there, there's still a high probability that the Houston Police Department will be stopping you," Acevedo said. "Like we always do, we use a lot of common sense and discretion, but discretion will only be used when necessary."
— Salvador Hernandez
Facebook is steering Harvey relief to a small organization no one has heard of
Facebook is steering donations for Hurricane Harvey relief to a tiny, little-known charity called the Center for Disaster Philanthropy — and bypassing the Red Cross, its longtime partner in the midst of disasters.
During Typhoon Haiyan, in 2013, and the Ebola outbreak of 2015, a button on Facebook news feeds prompted users to send money to the Red Cross. And as floodwaters have inundated Houston, Donald Trump and Barack Obama have both publicly donated to the Red Cross, as have dozens of major corporations.
Now, Facebook is routing its millions of users, and $1 million of its own money, to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which in 2015 had just $3 million in revenue. A message on Facebook feeds with a donate button said, "Show your support. Facebook has matched $1 million in donations to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy."
Read more here.
—Molly Hensley-Clancy and Matthew Zeitlin
First lady says she's praying for people of Texas, Louisiana
After accompanying the president to Corpus Christi and Austin on Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump released a statement to the people of Texas and Louisiana.
"The effects of Hurricane Harvey will be felt in Texas, Louisiana, and other parts of the country for many months and years to come. So far, 1.7 million people are under orders to evacuate their homes, and, as the floodwater in Houston rises, sadly, so will the number of evacuees," the statement said.
"I want to be able to offer my help and support in the most productive way possible, not through just words, but also action. What I found to be the most profound during the visit was not only the strength and resilience of the people of Texas, but the compassion and sense of community that has taken over the State. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with the people of Texas and Louisiana." —Claudia Koerner
Harvey has officially dumped more than 50 inches of rain on parts of Texas
Harvey has already dropped more than 50 inches of rain in parts of Texas, according to new rainfall observations from federal weather officials released on Tuesday.
Nearly 52 inches of rain was recorded at the Cedar Bayou station just outside of Houston, possibly setting a new single-storm record for the continental US, according to the National Weather Service. More than a dozen locations, many of them in and around Houston, have recorded more than 40 inches.
An additional 6 to 12 inches of rain is still expected in the coming days along the northern Texas coast, and across southwestern Louisiana.
Millions of dollars donated for Harvey victims
Millions of dollars of donations were recorded by fundraisers on Tuesday, with local athletes taking a lead.
The owner of the Houston Rockets Les Alexander has promised $10 million, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. An online fundraiser started by the NFL's JJ Watt raised close to $4 million by Monday evening and continued to grow.
The Houston Texans player was receiving so much attention on his YouCaring fundraiser that the site's CEO posted a message urging patience for any lag time due to immense traffic. Almost 30,000 people had donated as of Tuesday afternoon.
The largest came from one of the Texans' rivals, the Tennesee Titans, which Watt said donated $1 million.
"I cannot thank you enough. I'm going to do everything to make sure that that money goes directly to the people, just as I've said all along," he said in a video on Twitter.
He thanked everyone who had contributed and added he would continue to raise the fundraiser's goal accordingly.
"From donations of a million dollars to donations of $5, it's truly unbelievable," he said.
Congress puts fixing federal flood insurance program on “backburner” as Harvey drenches Texas
As Texas faces its fifth day of the worst floods in its history, the National Flood Insurance Program is set to expire on September 30th. While Congress is likely to reauthorize the program, major reforms to the debt-laden program are, for now, being put aside.
The NFIP has over 5 million policyholders insured for flooding damage and is already burdened with $24.6 billion in debt, largely from the damaging and expensive aftermath of major natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. That number is sure to rise dramatically due to the mass flooding in Texas, where some places have already seen 42 inches of rain. Meanwhile, there are complaints that policies are unaffordable as a tiny number of homes rack up huge bills from repeat claims.
Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree the insurance program needs major reforms, and several competing proposals have been floated across the House and Senate. But Senate Banking Committee staff told BuzzFeed News that dealing with the fallout from Harvey is pushing back those discussions.
“There really isn’t any path that’s ahead of the other right now. There’s a lot of discussion right now, but they’ve been kind of put on the backburner,” a Republican staffer said.
Read more here.
—Paul McLeod and Zahra Hirji
House Republicans say they can avoid a fight over Harvey relief funding
House Republicans are facing a fall full of drama, with contentious deadlines coming up on government spending and debt. But the conference, at least for this week, appears to have found a rare point of consensus: They think passing relief funding for victims of Hurricane Harvey will be relatively painless.
Several Republicans who spoke with BuzzFeed News say it’s too early to know how drastically the storm will limit their ability to focus on any of the number of initiatives they’re hoping to take up this fall. But they expect that a disaster relief bill for Harvey will not suffer from the same internal political dramas that hamstrung efforts to pass relief funding after Hurricane Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey in 2012.
The Republican- controlled House struggled to get a Sandy aid bill passed when conservatives dug their heels in against the $50 billion in funding unless it was offset elsewhere. Sixty-seven House Republicans ultimately opposed the funding bill. The fight leading up to the vote left Republican politicos from New Jersey and New York fuming at their colleagues. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the struggle to pass the funding exemplified “why the American people hate Congress.”
But this time around, conservatives appear to have little appetite for a fight over offsets for disaster relief funding.
Read more here.
—Lissandra Villa, Alexis Levinson, and Emma Loop