‘We need an army of FEMA agents,’ Houston mayor pleads

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HOUSTON — The rain mercifully has stopped in southeast Texas. But a week after Hurricane Harvey, boaters still are shuttling people away from a few high-water areas as millions struggle with what the storm has left — tens of thousands of destroyed homes and altered lives, and grim efforts to find those who may not have survived.

At least 47 people have died from the storm. Other statistics only begin to hint at the scope of the punishing deluge and what the months of recovery will entail.

About 27 trillion gallons of rain fell on Texas and Louisiana over six days — enough to fill the Houston Astrodome 85,000 times.

More than 72,000 people have been rescued.

And about 136,000 structures were flooded in Harris County, home of Houston, alone — about 10 percent of the structures on record there, the county said.

Danger is far from over in places such as Beaumont, Texas, a city of 118,000 dealing with a cruel juxtaposition: Inundated in spots with floodwater as its residents lack flowing tap water because two pumps there failed.

“The river … on the east line of our city should crest today, and it will start falling, (but) our biggest situation is the water supply is cut off,” said Capt. Brad Pennison of the Beaumont Fire Department.

The loss of drinking water has forced an evacuation of patients from Beaumont’s Baptist Hospital.

Patients in intensive care already have been airlifted or taken by ambulance to other facilities, but officials still plan to evacuate 85 people — including 11 babies born prematurely and three other newborns — who remained there Friday morning.

Dr. Snehal Doshi, who runs the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, said several preemies’ parents had been prevented from visiting their infants because of flooding elsewhere.

“There are some parents who simply haven’t seen their babies for days, just because it’s not safe for them to come to the hospital,” he said.

For city residents, officials ordered bottled water and set up distribution points Friday.

Houston’s mayor, meanwhile, made a public plea to the federal government Friday: Advance money and other assistance quickly.

Most of Houston is drying out, and people are starting to pile debris in front of their homes, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

“We need immediately, right now, just for debris removal alone, anywhere between $75 million to $100 million,” Harris said Friday.

“We need housing assistance. We need an army of FEMA agents on the ground to be assisting people, not just in shelters, but (also) people who are in their homes, so we can get them financial assistance they need (so) they can start transitioning.”

The rate of rescues in Harris County has slowed, but some still were happening in high-water areas Friday morning, especially in the western part, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

Firefighters and other emergency personnel are going door-to-door in Houston “to make sure we have not missed anyone … especially seniors or people who are disabled,” the mayor said.

Some flooding in western Houston happened because the Army Corps of Engineers intentionally released water from two reservoirs, Turner said.

Officials have said it was safer for nearby neighborhoods if the Corps managed the water with controlled releases instead of letting uncontrolled water flow over the edge of the reservoirs as more rain was predicted.

Turner and other officials have pointed to small signs of recovery, such as fewer people in shelters, more bus lines resuming and the city’s shipping channel reopening on a limited basis.

The Houston Independent School District, which postponed its school-year opening Monday because of the storm, plans to start classes on Sept. 11 for its 200,000-plus students.

In Crosby, Texas, two blasts rocked a flooded chemical plant, and more could come.

Gas prices across the country have risen an average of nearly 17 cents per gallon after the storm knocked almost a quarter of the nation’s refinery capacity offline.

Drivers in Dallas waited in long lines for gasoline after social media reports of a Harvey-driven fuel shortage. But petroleum analysts said the run didn’t owe to a dearth of supply but to the horde of drivers who panicked.

While promising federal aid, President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser also predicted more misery.

“We will see additional losses of life, if history is any precedent here,” Tom Bossert said Thursday.

“You should continue to have confidence in what we’re doing as a government. But I would be remiss if I didn’t stop and say that none of that matters if you’re an affected individual.”

Trump personally plans to donate $1 million to help storm victims, according to the White House.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday that more than 103,000 storm victims have been approved for emergency assistance, including financial aid for rent and lost property.

More than $66.4 million has been approved for this help, FEMA said, with 264,000 additional applications pending.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, $5.8 billion in individual assistance money was given to nearly 916,000 people affected by those storms.

Trump is expected to visit Houston and other areas Saturday, his second trip to the region this week.

As the government worked to help those affected by Harvey, another storm, Hurricane Irma, loomed Friday in the Atlantic as a threat to Caribbean islands — and potentially, by next week, to the United States

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