Harvey moves into Louisiana, with at least 25 dead, 17 missing

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A car gets towed while men walk in the flooded waters of Telephone Rd. in Houston Houston, Texas on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Michael Roberts, who came from northeast Louisiana, looks for residents to rescue in flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Orange, Texas, on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 31 August 2017

Harvey moves into Louisiana, with at least 25 dead, 17 missing

LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana/HOUSTON: Tropical Storm Harvey spun across southeastern Texas into Louisiana on Wednesday, sending more people fleeing for shelter after swamping Houston with record rains and flooding that killed at least 25 and drove tens of thousands from their homes.
The slow-moving storm has forced 32,000 people to seek shelter since coming ashore on Friday near Corpus Christi, Texas, as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than half a century. On Wednesday, it pummeled a stretch of coast from Port Arthur, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Among the latest deaths reported were two people who drowned while driving through high water near Simonton, Texas, 40 miles (64 km) west of Houston, Major Chad Norvell of the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.
Houston’s KHOU-TV reported that an infant girl was swept away by floodwaters as her parents were driving from Houston toward Louisiana on Highway 150. Police in Harris County, home to Houston, said 17 people remained missing.
Busloads of people fleeing floodwaters around Port Arthur arrived in Lake Charles, joining local residents who had already packed into shelters to escape waterlogged homes.
Harvey was forecast to drop a further 3 to 6 inches (7.5-15 cm) of rain on Wednesday, with a storm surge of up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) along the western part of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. The floods shut the nation’s largest oil refinery in Port Arthur in the latest hit to US energy infrastructure that has sent gasoline prices climbing and disrupted global fuel supplies.

Moody’s Analytics is estimating the economic cost from Harvey for southeast Texas at $51 billion to $75 billion, ranking it among the costliest storms in US history.
“The worst is not yet over for southeast Texas as far as the rain is concerned,” Governor Greg Abbott said.
He warned residents of storm-hit areas to expect floodwaters to linger for up to a week and said the area affected was larger than that hit by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people in New Orleans, and 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, which killed 132 around New York and New Jersey.
The population of Houston’s metropolitan area is about 6.5 million, far greater than New Orleans’ at the time of Katrina. Abbott asked that the federal government spend more on rebuilding Texas’ Gulf Coast than it did after the earlier storms.
US President Donald Trump opened a speech on tax reform in Springfield, Missouri, on Wednesday with a pledge to stand by the people of Texas and Louisiana. He visited Texas on Tuesday to survey damage from the first major natural disaster of his presidency.
“We are here with you today ... and we will be with you every single day after to restore, recover and rebuild,” he said on Wednesday.
The storm made it less likely Trump would act on his threat to shut the federal government over funding for a border wall with Mexico, Goldman Sachs economists said on Wednesday. They now estimate the probability of a shutdown at 35 percent, down from 50 percent previously.
Clear skies in Houston on Wednesday brought relief to the energy hub and fourth-largest US city after five days of catastrophic downpours. Houston airports were to begin limited operations on Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Disruptions lingered as even some of the people helping evacuees in Houston said they had lost their homes.

Even those who safely evacuated their homes found further suffering as floodwaters inundated part of Port Arthur’s Bob Bowers Civic Center, forcing the residents who had sought shelter there into the bleachers, according to photos posted to social media.
A shelter in Lake Charles was bracing for about 1,500 people rescued from floods by the US Coast Guard, said Angela Jouett, who is running the shelter. A line of buses began arriving in the early afternoon.
Among them was Jacelyn Alexander, 41, who woke up at 4 a.m. when her neighbor in an Orange, Texas, apartment complex warned her the building was flooding. She flagged a rescue boat and escaped.
“I can’t move. I’m wet and tired. I’m trying to find my family,” said Alexander, who last spoke with her parents early in the morning when her father told her by phone he had declined a rescue.
Harvey made landfall for a third time early on Wednesday, and was about 50 miles (80 km) north of Lake Charles, near the Texas border at 4 p.m. CDT (2100 GMT), the US National Hurricane Center said. The winds were expected to drop below tropical storm force by Wednesday night, according to the NHC.
Texas officials said close to 49,000 homes had suffered flood damage, with more than 1,000 destroyed. Some 195,000 people have begun the process of seeking federal help, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
The state is investigating hundreds of complaints of price gouging involving loaves of bread offered for $15, fuel for $100 a gallon and hotels raising room rates.
The nation’s largest refinery, Valero Energy Corp’s facility in Port Arthur was shut, said sources familiar with plant operations.
The storm has shut about one-quarter of US fuel production, sending gasoline futures surging to a two-year high on Wednesday.
Royal Dutch Shell sent staff back to the Perdido oil and gas platform in the US Gulf of Mexico to begin to restart production.


Death toll in Australia bushfires rises to four

Updated 51 min 57 sec ago

Death toll in Australia bushfires rises to four

  • More than 100 blazes were burning on Thursday
  • Hundreds of houses have already been damaged or destroyed
BURRELL CREEK, Australia: The death toll from devastating bushfires in eastern Australia has risen to four after a man’s body was discovered in a scorched area of bushland, police said Thursday.

Three others have perished in bushfires in New South Wales, the state worst affected by a series of catastrophic fires that broke out along the eastern seaboard late last week.

Residents found the body — believed to be a 58-year-old man last seen on Friday — near the New South Wales town of Kempsey, one of several areas hit by the fires in recent days.

More than 100 blazes were burning on Thursday but a respite from tough conditions has seen the danger from many fires downgraded and residents returning to sift through the remains of their homes.

Hundreds of houses have already been damaged or destroyed and more than one million hectares (2.5 million acres) of land burnt in the blazes.

Challenging conditions were expected to flare again in Queensland and New South Wales at the weekend as the temperature rises and winds pick up, and many blazes are still proving difficult to contain.

In Burrell Creek, dozens of firefighters were preparing to battle an out-of-control bushfire that has so far engulfed 24,000 hectares from the coastal town of Old Bar inland to Hillville in northern New South Wales.

Native wildlife has also been badly hit by the bushfires, with conservationists estimating that hundreds of koalas have perished.

As many as 350 koalas died in a single nature reserve near Port Macquarie alone, raising fears for the future of the creature in the area.

Nick Boyle, of Taronga Conservation Society, said “our hearts are breaking” not only for the victims but also for the “defenseless wildlife” that had been killed by the state’s “earliest and worst” bushfire season.

“Pressures on the koala were already compounding,” he said, citing habitat loss and non-native predators. “And now this.”

Bushfire-prone Australia is experiencing a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say is being exacerbated by climate change.

The Bureau of Meteorology says human-caused climate change is increasing the “frequency and severity” of dangerous bushfire conditions by raising temperatures, sapping moisture from the environment and causing an earlier and more extreme fire season.

The bushfires have created mounting pressure on the conservative government to curb fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia’s leaders, ever-conscious of the country’s economic reliance on mining exports, have been steadfastly ignoring those calls.