Hurricane Harvey

UPDATE: Stats On Rainfall And Damage Show Harvey’s Impact In Texas

Harvey ravaged southern Texas with record rainfall, damaged homes and flooded neighborhoods since making landfall on Aug. 25. Here are some statistics about the storm’s impact on the state.

THE LATEST:

Harvey ravaged southern Texas with record rainfall, damaged homes and flooded neighborhoods since making landfall on Aug. 25. Here are some statistics about the storm’s impact on the state:

 

WIND AND WATER: Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane with a top wind speed of 132 mph, recorded in Port Aransas, Texas. It dumped 51.88 inches of rain over a seven day period near Mont Belvieu, about 35 miles east of Houston. An estimated 1 trillion gallons of water fell during the four days that Harvey stalled over Harris County. The highest storm surge — about 12.5 feet — was recorded at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, located northeast of Corpus Christi.

DEATHS: At least 72 fatalities have been attributed to Harvey.

FINANCIAL DAMAGES: Analysts estimate Harvey’s financial damages could range from $80 billion to more than $100 billion. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says its damage to the state could be $150 billion to $180 billion. The Texas Division of Emergency Management shows more than $439 million in costs tied to damage to public property and costs associated with debris removal and police/EMS response. Hurricane Katrina remains the costliest U.S. natural disaster at $175 billion.

AREA AFFECTED: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved individual assistance for residents affected by Harvey in 39 counties in southern Texas, with 35 reporting sustaining damage. Some counties may not yet have reported damage.

DAMAGED HOMES: More than 210,700 homes — single-family, multiple-family and mobile — were damaged or destroyed. In Harris County, where Houston is located, officials estimate that at least 136,000 homes were damaged.

PEOPLE IN SHELTERS: At the height of Harvey, more than 34,500 people were housed in shelters throughout Texas. In Houston, the George R. Brown Convention Center housed more than 10,000 at one point. Currently, more than 21,200 people are in shelters, including more than 9,200 in the Dallas area.

RESCUES: State and federal agencies conducted more than 122,300 rescues and evacuations. Those included more than 34,000 by the Texas National Guard and other state military forces and more than 11,000 by the U.S. Coast Guard. In Houston, the police department helped perform more than 5,000 water rescues.

FEMA AID: More than 660,200 individuals have applied for federal assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA has approved more than 204,200 individual applications, totaling more than $216 million in assistance.

CHARTIABLE CONTRIBUTIONS: More than $320 million has been donated to help people affected by Harvey. The American Red Cross said it has raised $211 million. The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, set up by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, has raised more than $37 million. A fund set up by the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt has raised more than $29 million. The United Way has raised more than $26.9 million. The Salvation Army has raised more than $19.2 million.

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Gov. Greg Abbott hands out food at an aid distribution center in Beaumont on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.
Gov. Greg Abbott hands out food at an aid distribution center in Beaumont on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.

What you need to know 

(By Cassandra Pollock for the Texas Tribune)

From the nation’s capitol to the state capitol to around the Houston area, the debate over what will be needed for Texas to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey is gaining steam. Here’s what you need to know: 

• The Texas delegation in Congress is showing a united front — at least over Harvey relief funding. The 38 Republican and Democratic members plotted over lunch on Thursday about leveraging their various standings in Congress to advocate for more federal dollars toward Harvey. The House has already passed a nearly $8 billion measure to do just that. And on Thursday, despite some Republicans furious over President Trump making a deal with Democrats to tie that emergency funding to other measures, the Senate voted on that very deal while also increasing the amount of short-term Harvey dollars to more than $15 billion.

• Gov. Greg Abbott echoed that theme of bipartisan cooperation this week when he tapped Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, a former longtime Democratic elected official, to head recovery efforts. It’s the latest example of Abbott drawing broad praise in Harvey’s aftermath, just weeks after his first special legislative session ended on a sour note. 

• But questions remain over how much the state is on the hook for. The Legislature isn’t set to meet again until 2019 — and Abbott has said the storm won’t require a special session, despite some suggesting such an action may be necessary at some point to tap some of the roughly $10 billion in Texas’ savings account. The governor more recently expressed a willingness to dipping into that fund, but only once Texas examines Harvey’s impact and what other funding sources can be used to fix it. 

• As for local officials in the state — like those in Houston — the conversation is growing over what lessons have been learned from the storm, and what big policy changes need to take place. The area has been here before — Tropical Storm Allison dumped more than 40 inches of rain and cost Harris County alone more than $5 billion in damage. Moving forward, expect the discussion to intensify on what kinds of steps public entities will need to take to prevent this from happening again.

 

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Texas agricultural officials fear thousands of cattle may have died in the aftermath of Harvey.

As News 88.7’s Andrew Schneider reports, ranchers face losses that could run into tens of millions of dollars.

The counties that sustained damage when Harvey first came ashore were home to 1.2  million head of cattle. That represented one in four of all beef cows in Texas, the nation’s largest producer.

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In this Sept. 2, 2017 photo, community environmental activist Juan Flores talks a reporter in Galena Park, Texas. Petrochemical corridor residents say air that is bad enough on normal days got unbearable as Harvey crashed into the nation’s fourth-largest city and then yielded the highest ozone pollution of the year anywhere in Texas. (AP Photo/Frank Bajak)

 

Cindy Sánchez began to feel ill while barbecuing just before Harvey’s torrents started pelting this city just east of Houston, along a corridor with the nation’s highest concentration of petrochemical plants.

“I started getting really, really bad headaches,” said Sanchez, a 32-year-old housewife. “I never get headaches.”
“My husband’s eyes were burning,” she said. “He actually had a napkin that was wet over his eyes.” The sewage-like stench chased the couple indoors and Sanchez, sick to her stomach, lay down.

People complained of headaches, nausea, itchy skin and throats — classic symptoms of industrial chemical exposure — as plants and refineries raced to burn off compounds that could combust in extreme weather or power loss.

Petrochemical corridor residents say air that is bad enough on normal days got worse as Harvey crashed into Houston and then yielded the highest ozone pollution so far this year anywhere in Texas. The Houston metro area was ranked 12th in the nation for worst ozone pollution by The American Lung Association this year, although its air was better than the Los Angeles and New York regions.

Plants owned by Shell, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil and other industry giants reported more than 1.5 million pounds (680 metric tons) of extraordinary emissions over eight days beginning Aug. 23 to the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality in Harris County, which encompasses Houston. That amounted to 61 percent of this year’s largely unpermitted emissions for the county and five times the amount released in the same period in 2016. Of the known carcinogens released during Harvey, more than 13 tons were benzene. Inhaling it can cause dizziness and even unconsciousness and long-term exposure can trigger leukemia.

Asked about the health effects of the dramatic emissions spike, state environmental commission spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said “all measured concentrations were well below levels of health concern” and “local residents should not be concerned about air quality issues related to the effects of the storm.” The federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a similar statement.

Yet most air monitors were knocked out or offline during Harvey’s wrath, making measurement difficult.

Texas sets fines low for industrial polluters— at $25,000 per day for federal clean air violations. Big plants tend to delay shutdowns for as long as possible when a hurricane is coming — then restart quickly afterward — triggering another spike in unhealthy emissions, said Daniel Cohan, a Rice University environmental scientist.

“These (plants) are three and four decades old, beasts that are meant to operate all the time.”
Asked if emissions could have been reduced by winding down plant operations sooner, American Petroleum Institute spokesman Reid Porter said: “We are still gathering information and making assessments.”

Some emissions were triggered by the sheer volume of Harvey’s deluge.

At an Arkema Inc. plant about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of downtown Houston, organic peroxides rendered unstable by lost refrigeration exploded in flames and cast an acrid plume. At least 18 tons burned after people within a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) radius were evacuated. On Thursday, seven sheriff’s deputies and emergency medical responders sued Arkema in state court for gross negligence, claiming fumes from the incident made them vomit and gasp for air.
Benzene and other toxins spilled into the air outside the Valero Partners refinery on Houston’s east side, as heavy rains damaged a tank’s floating roof and invaded a dike.

A city health department air monitor downwind of the refinery on Friday registered an alarming level of up to 14,000 parts per billion of volatile organic compounds, some carcinogenic, said department chief scientist Loren Raun, and aerial monitoring continued to detect benzene on Monday.

On Sept. 1, Houston registered Texas’ worst ozone pollution this year — an average of 95 parts per billion (ppb) over eight hours. It was Harris County’s first of four straight days of unhealthy ozone levels, exceeding the EPA standard of 70 ppb.

By volume, most of Harris County’s emissions were sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, which break down to fine particles and ozone that all can cause respiratory problems, especially for people with asthma and emphysema, said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a health scientist for environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.

Of the dozen plants in Harris County reporting storm-related emissions, Exxon Mobil, Chevron Phillips and Shell Oil have been fined or ordered to pay settlements totaling $27.8 million since 2010 for violating federal environmental laws after suits by The Sierra Club and Environment Texas. A federal judge ordered Exxon Mobil in May to pay most of it — $19.9 million — for illegal emissions from its Baytown refinery. Exxon Mobil is appealing. The other two companies paid, said Philip Hilder, attorney for the environmental groups.

In heavily Latino lower middle-income communities like Pasadena and Galena Park, which sit along the plant and refinery corridor near Houston’s seaport, some residents complained of feeling sick during Harvey.

Ruben Basurto, who lives two blocks from a petrochemical shipping terminal and refinery, described major flaring as Harvey hit — the burning off of volatile byproducts of petrochemical manufacture that sends flames soaring from plant stacks. The air reeked of natural gas, he said, driving him and his friends inside.
“It still smelled at midweek, more during the night,” said the 33-year-old construction worker.

As the storm closed in, Gov. Greg Abbott decreed the temporary suspension of emissions regulations. The state environmental agency’s director said Texas law could exempt refineries and chemical plants from state fines and liability for extraordinary releases resulting from “an act of God, war, strike, riot, or other catastrophe. “

In Galena Park, mothers in a private Facebook group described sickening odors like “sweet gasoline,” raw sewage and thick air.
Some in the city of 11,000 with a median household income of $43,000 called 911 but police were too busy to respond, said local environmental activist Juan Flores.

“A lot of people are afraid to talk because their husbands work in the plants,” said Flores.

People in the petrochemical corridor should be provided health screening as a next step in Harvey recovery, said Rotkin-Ellman of the environmental group NRDC.

A Harris County pollution control services toxicologist, Latrice Babin, said she was not aware of any special screening.

Sanchez’s headaches still hadn’t gone away on Wednesday. Nor had the sickening smell, she said.

She wants to see a doctor, but like many in her neighborhood, she said, Sanchez currently has no health insurance.
“I don’t even know where I would start.”

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