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UPDATE: Superfund Sites No Threat to The Public ‘At This Time’, Abbott Says

The Houston area houses more than a dozen highly toxic waste sites, among the nation’s most intensely contaminated places.

 

THE LATEST: 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said  11 toxic Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites still need follow-up visits to “confirm their status,” after flooding unleashed by Harvey, but “we are unaware of any damage or danger that has occurred.”

Abbott said at a news conference in Austin on Tuesday that no threat to the public from the 11 sites “is known at this time.”

He said state environmental officials are “working constantly and collaboratively” with the EPA to monitor the situation and ensure that any damage eventually discovered “is contained.”

The Houston area houses more than a dozen Superfund sites, among the nation’s most intensely contaminated places.

The AP surveyed seven such sites and previously reported that all had been inundated with water, raising concerns about flooding spreading pollution.

 

 

Dwight Chandler walks through his devastated home in Highlands, Texas on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. Chandler, 62, said he worried whether Harvey’s floodwaters had also washed in pollution from the old acid pits that were designated as a U.S. EPA Superfund site just a couple blocks from his home. The Highlands Acid Pit site near Chandler’s home was filled in the 1950s with toxic sludge and sulfuric acid from oil and gas operations. (AP Photo/Jason Dearen)

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Texas state biologists say residents cleaning up their properties as Harvey’s floods recede should watch out for snakes, skunks, raccoons and other wildlife.

John Davis is the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s wildlife diversity director. Davis says snakes and other animals may seek shelter in debris piles and people should use common sense during cleanup.

He says displaced wildlife will return to their usual habitats quickly if left alone because “they don’t want to be there, either.”

An alligator specialist at the agency, Jonathan Warner, says people should stay away from alligators in places where they are not normally seen, even though the reptiles are usually wary of humans.

Davis says wildlife populations are fairly resilient and will likely recover, because “these species evolved with hurricanes and floods.”

 

Homes are surrounded by water from the flooded Brazos River in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, in Freeport, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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People in Brazoria County under mandatory evacuation are being given limited access to their homes.

Brazoria County officials announced on Tuesday that people will be allowed to enter and exit the mandatory evacuation zones with proof of residency, but the lift on the restrictions is only from sunrise to sunset.

Some neighborhoods near the Brazos River and San Bernard River are still under water.

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Harris County officials say about 96 percent of the 900 county-operated traffic signals are back to normal.

Traffic signal maintenance teams haven’t yet been able to get into a small number of areas, primarily upstream from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in west Houston where releases from the reservoirs swollen by Harvey’s record rains continue to flood some neighborhoods.

Harris County includes most of Houston. And most of the county-operated traffic signals are in unincorporated areas of Harris County.

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The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says about 1,400 inmates who were evacuated from Houston-area prisons affected by flooding are heading back to the lockups.

The Jester 3 and Vance Unit prisons are near Richmond, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southwest of Houston and in an area flooded by the Brazos River.

Another 4,500 inmates removed from three other prisons farther south along the Brazos River remain in other prisons in East Texas.

Prison agency spokesman Jason Clark says officials are continuing to assess the flood situation at the Ramsey, Stringfellow and Terrell Units near Rosharon in Brazoria County.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)  has granted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for Community Disaster Loan assistance for parts of the state hard-hit by Harvey.
Abbott revealed the grant approval in a tweet posted on Monday night.
Texas cities struggling to recover from the storm can obtain loans to help keep their operating budgets intact and full operations functioning while the cities focus on reconstruction.

This happens as Congress could pass the first relief package for those hurt by Hurricane Harvey before this week is out. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made the announcement on Monday evening at NRG Center, alongside Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and much of the Houston Area congressional delegation.

Members of Congress return to work Tuesday, following the August recess and Labor Day weekend. Congressman McCarthy pledged to the lower chamber would vote to send the first Texas relief package to the Senate by Wednesday. He said it would be the first aid package but not the last.

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FEMA says it has about 560,000 families registered for its housing assistance program.
That comes from John Long, deputy federal coordinating officer of the agency.
FEMA spokeswoman Tiana Suber says if those people’s homes are found to be uninhabitable or inaccessible for an extended time, they may qualify for the agency’s Transitional Shelter Assistance. Some will qualify for short-term hotel lodging at FEMA expense, while others will be referred to local agencies or voluntary organizations for possible assistance.
Long said the main focus is to move people from the large shelters, where stress levels can run high. He says FEMA is tracking the families being moved from the large shelters as best as it can, but people will move in and out of those shelters.
He says FEMA’s mission is changing from life-saving to life sustaining.
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Officials blame at least 60 deaths on Harvey after the storm dumped many feet of rain on several counties in a matter of days.
Many of those deaths were people drowning in flash floods or water-logged roads. But county emergency management departments across southeast Texas tell The Associated Press they are including people in their storm-related death totals who died from indirect complications of Harvey.
The huge dump of water loosened the ground around trees that have fallen into at least two homes in Montgomery County and on a car in Jasper County, accounting for some of the deaths. Power outages have knocked out electricity to medical equipment that several elderly people needed to survive. And officials say floodwaters have caused delays in responses to medical emergencies that resulted in deaths.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency says 53,630 Texas residents displaced by Harvey are currently staying in government-funded hotel rooms.
FEMA spokesman Bob Howard the temporary housing has been provided for 18,732 households. Once people are granted the assistance there is a minimum allotment of 14 days, but that can be extended on a case-by-case basis.
FEMA is currently using vacant hotel rooms to provide temporary housing, but officials also are weighing other options such as mobile homes should the need arise.
Under another FEMA program, displaced residents who are able to find their own apartment can receive two months of paid rent upfront and can qualify for more as needed.
Howard says that under the disaster declaration President Donald Trump signed, the federal government contributes 90 percent of the relocation costs while Texas provides the other 10 percent.
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The Red Cross says that its officials counted 1,400 people Sunday night at the George R. Brown Convention Center, 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.
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.

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