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.


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.