Search goes on for Harvey survivors, new evacuations in Houston

Jenna Fountain and her father Kevin carry a bucket down Regency Drive to try to recover items from their flooded home in Port Arthur, Texas, on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 02 September 2017

Search goes on for Harvey survivors, new evacuations in Houston

ORANGE, Texas/HOUSTON: Rescuers searched painstakingly through flooded neighborhoods across southeastern Texas on Friday for people stranded by Hurricane Harvey’s deluge as Houston’s mayor warned residents of the city’s west side that their homes may not dry out for weeks.
The storm, one of the costliest to hit the United States, has displaced more than 1 million people, with 50 feared dead from flooding that paralyzed Houston, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, a city of 120,000 people.
Though the sun was out in Houston on Friday and water levels down in many areas, Mayor Sylvester Turner called for voluntary evacuations on the city’s west side. He said already-flooded neighborhoods there may be in greater danger as the Army Corps of Engineers continues to release water into the adjacent Buffalo Bayou to prevent dam and levee failures.
About 80 miles (130 km) to the east, the Neches River, which flows into Beaumont and nearby Port Arthur, was forecast to crest on Friday.
“There still remain areas that are deadly dangerous,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters. “The Neches River continues to rise. It is about 7 feet (2.1 meters) above the record and it will continue to remain at or be near that high for about the next week. This flooding poses an ongoing threat.”
Rescue officials were still working to determine the scope of flooding, said Rodney Smith, deputy chief of the Cedar Hill, Texas, Fire Department.
The storm’s impacts played out in ways large and small, a full week after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast Friday night as a Category 4 storm.
At the Hollywood Community Cemetery in Orange, floodwaters had caused three coffins to pop out of their concrete vaults. One belonged to Dewey Mosby, who died in 2003 at the age of 82.
“He won’t stay put,” said Ron Kendall, 63, who helps maintain the cemetery and said he knew Mosby well in life. Kendall had helped direct Mosby’s coffin back to its resting place after the 2008 floods from Hurricane Ike and again during floods in 2016.
“Everybody knows where Mr. Mosby goes now because he always comes up,” Kendall said.

BURNING CHEMICALS
At chemical maker Arkema SA, a fire started on Thursday in a truck storing chemicals at a flooded plant east of Houston had burned itself out by Friday. But more blasts were likely in eight other trucks storing the same chemicals. .
Aerial images broadcast by NBC showed thick black smoke rising from the plant.
Meanwhile a new storm, Irma, had strengthened on Friday into a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It remained hundreds of miles from land but was forecast to possibly hit Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti by the middle of next week.
Harvey was the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in half a century, and went on to dump unprecedented amounts of rain and leave devastation across more than 300 miles (480 km) of the state’s coast.
A list of the dead put out by Harris County officials painted a grim picture of the storm’s brutality, describing bodies found floating face down in floodwaters, lying in ditches or across fences. Many were unidentified.
The storm shut about a fourth of US refinery capacity, much of which is clustered along the Gulf Coast, and caused gasoline prices to spike to a two-year high ahead of the long Labor Day holiday weekend.
The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has risen 17 cents since the storm hit, hitting $2.519 as of Friday morning, according to motorists group AAA.
Supply concerns prompted the US Energy Department to authorize the release of up to 4.5 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Several East Coast refineries have run out of gasoline, raising fears that travelers will face fuel shortages during the three-day holiday.
In major Texas cities including Dallas, there were long lines at gas stations. Abbott said the state was taking steps to ensure adequate supplies, adding, “Don’t worry. We will not run out of gasoline.”
Harvey came on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,800 around New Orleans. Then-US President George W. Bush’s administration was roundly criticized for its botched early response to the storm.
Signaling that he did not want to be seen as repeating those mistakes, President Donald Trump plans a second visit to the region on Saturday.
“The people of Texas and Louisiana were hit very hard by a historic flood and their response taught us all a lesson, a very, very powerful lesson,” Trump said. “There was an outbreak of compassion only ... and it really inspired us as a nation.”
Some 440,000 Texans have already applied for federal financial disaster assistance, and some $79 million has been approved so far, Abbott said.
Lawmakers will replenish a federal disaster relief fund to keep aid flowing, but full assistance will come from Congress in installments, US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said.
Moody’s Analytics estimated the economic cost from Harvey for southeastern Texas at $51 billion to $75 billion.


Coronavirus spreads in China prisons, Korean church as fears weigh on global markets

Updated 23 min 31 sec ago

Coronavirus spreads in China prisons, Korean church as fears weigh on global markets

  • Hubei doubles Wednesday’s number of reported new cases
  • Global stock markets, US business activity hit

BEIJING/SEOUL : The coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in Chinese prisons, authorities said, as cases climbed outside the epicenter in Hubei province, including 100 more in South Korea and a worsening outbreak in Italy where officials announced the country’s first death.
A total of 234 infections among Chinese prisoners outside Hubei ended 16 straight days of declines in new mainland cases. Another 271 cases were reported in prisons in Hubei — where the virus first emerged in December in its now locked-down capital, Wuhan.
US stocks sold off and the Nasdaq had its worst daily percentage decline in about three weeks on Friday as the spike in new coronavirus cases and data showing a stall in US business activity in February fueled investors’ fears about economic growth. The rise in coronavirus cases sent investors scrambling for safe havens such as gold and government bonds.
Chinese state television quoted Communist Party rulers as saying the outbreak had not yet peaked amid a jump in cases in a hospital in Beijing.
Total cases of the new coronavirus in the Chinese capital neared 400 with four deaths.
China has reported a total of 75,567 cases of the virus to the World Health Organization (WHO) including 2,239 deaths. In the past 24 hours, China reported 892 new confirmed cases and 118 deaths.
US activity in the manufacturing and services sectors stalled over growing concern of the potential toll of the virus, a survey of purchasing managers showed on Friday.
The IHS Markit flash services sector Purchasing Managers’ Index dropped to its lowest since October 2013, signaling that a sector accounting for roughly two-thirds of the US economy was in contraction for the first time since 2016.
Data also showed Japan’s factory activity suffered its steepest contraction in seven years in February, underlining the risk of a recession there as the impact of the outbreak spreads. Asian and European stocks also fell.
The impact of the outbreak on global growth “may be large” given China’s role in the world economy, and may stress financial markets just as tensions over a US-China trade war did in 2019, Bank of England policymaker Silvana Tenreyro said on Friday.
The outbreak may curb demand for oil in China and other Asian countries, depressing prices to as low as $57 a barrel and clouding growth prospects across the Middle East, the Institute of International Finance said.
The WHO warned that the window of opportunity to contain the international spread of the epidemic was closing after cases were reported in Iran and Lebanon.
An outbreak of coronavirus in northern Italy worsened on Friday as officials announced and 78-year-old man was the first Italian to die after being infected. The man was among 17 confirmed cases, including the country’s first known cases of local transmission.
The virus has emerged in 26 countries and territories outside mainland China, killing 11 people, according to a Reuters tally.
“There still is a chance we can focus principally on containment, but it’s getting harder because we’re getting secondary chains of transmission in other countries now,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a US infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University.

South Korea hot spot
The spike in cases in jails in the northern province of Shandong and Zhejiang in the east made up most of the 258 newly confirmed Chinese infections outside Hubei province on Friday.
Authorities said officials deemed responsible for the outbreaks had been fired and the government had sent a team to investigate the Shandong outbreak, media reported.
Hubei, adding to case-reporting confusion, doubled the number of new cases it initially reported on Wednesday to 775 from 349. The lower number was a result of going back to counting only cases confirmed with genetic tests, rather than including those detected by chest scans.
South Korea is the latest hot spot with 100 new cases doubling its total to 204, most in Daegu, a city of 2.5 million, where scores were infected in what authorities called a “super-spreading event” at a church, traced to an infected 61-year-old woman who attended services.
South Korean officials designated Daegu and neighboring Cheongdo county as special care zones where additional medical staff and isolation facilities will be deployed. Malls, restaurants and streets in the city were largely empty with the mayor calling the outbreak an “unprecedented crisis.”
Another center of infection has been the Diamond Princess cruise ship held under quarantine in Japan since Feb. 3, with more than 630 cases accounting for the biggest infection cluster outside China. Australia said on Saturday that four more of its nationals evacuated from the cruise ship tested positive for coronavirus in addition to two individuals previously identified.
Some 35 British passengers were due to arrive back home on Saturday after spending more than two weeks stuck on the quarantined.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that of 329 Americans evacuated from the ship, 18 have tested positive for the virus.
A second group of Chinese citizens from Hong Kong who had been aboard the Diamond Princess have been flown home from Japan, Xinhua News reported.
In the Iranian city of Qom, state TV showed voters in the parliamentary election wearing surgical masks after the country confirmed 13 new cases, including two deaths. Health officials on Thursday called for all religious gatherings the holy city of Qom to be suspended.
Ukraine’s health minister joined evacuees from China for two weeks’ quarantine in a sanatorium on Friday in a show of solidarity after fears over the possible spread of coronavirus led to clashes between protesters and police.