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Louisiana braces for Harvey flooding as Texas reels from its devastation

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Aug ,31 \NewNews

Tropical storm Harvey has made landfall in Louisiana, after dropping devastating rains on America’s fourth largest city for nearly a week.

The storm, which has left a path of devastation behind it and crippled infrastructure in Houston and nearby areas, has triggered a massive National Guard, police, and civilian rescue and restore response. Residents in Louisiana are now watching in horror as a storm that has led the news for days with tales of destruction begins to drop massive amounts of water onto their state, which may be prone to flooding after a particularly rainy summer.

“We are dealing with a state that has already had a lot of rain this summer, so we are very aware and conscious of the potential for flooding,” Col E Bush, of the Louisiana National Guard, said of the coming storm.

Since making landfall in southeast Texas as a hurricane late last week, Harvey has brought anguish and hardship to residents there. Initial reports indicate that at least 20 people have died because of the storm, and officials expect that number to rise as floodwaters recede and emergency responders are better able to take account for the devastation that has been wrought. An updated death toll was expected Wednesday evening after authorities have a chance to conduct autopsies to determine if bodies found were storm-related.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said during a press conference Wednesday that more than 8,500 people have been saved from storm conditions and flooding, and that there are 32,000 people in temporary shelters. A concerted effort to find survivors of the storm stranded amidst rising floodwaters in many areas of Houston has been conducted by local and national officials, while private citizens with high-water vehicles and boats have pitched in to help.

“Texans have really stepped up,” Mr Abbott said. “When you consider the magnitude of this catastrophe, what they have achieved is incredible.”

Shelters across Houston are being used to house people temporarily, including a convention centre, a sports stadium, and religious centres including churches and mosques. Those locations have continued to fill through Wednesday, even though the torrential rains there have stopped.

The city opened it’s second major shelter Tuesday evening, the NRG Centre, which saw more than 1,000 people show up by 2 am local time. The largest shelter in Houston, the George R Brown Convention Centre in downtown Houston, was hosting an estimated 11,000 displaced people – a figure that is twice the facility’s initial intended capacity. Officials originally planned for 5,000 people to be housed there, and some people were forced to sleep on towels or strips of cardboard once cots ran out.

Still, concern had mounted that some vulnerable communities in Texas may be afraid of seeking shelter for fear of deportations if they are in the United States illegally, keeping some from seeking safe refuge that could save their lives. Mr Abbott said that law enforcement agents and other officials were focused primarily on safety, and that nobody should be worried about deportations as a result of Harvey.

“No one is going to be asked about their status, we’re here for one purpose, which is to save and help,” Mr Abbott said.

President Donald Trump and his wife Melania toured Texas Monday, making similar remarks of Texan resilience given by local politicians. Mr Trump promised that the federal government would help the state and those communities affected with funding and support.

Other communities in Texas were likewise working to accommodate an influx of displaced people, and many of those people have no idea when they will be able to return to their homes.

“No one has said when we can go home,” Edward Lewis, a 54-year-old resident of Lake Charles, told Reuters. Mr Lewis awoke Monday and sat up in his bed only to find his feet in ankle-deep waters. He said he immediately flagged down a rescue vehicle and made his way to a shelter intended for 300 people, but is now expecting as many as 1,500 people.

Texas officials say that, as of Wednesday, nearly 49,000 homes have suffered from flood damage, and at least 1,000 have been destroyed. About 195,000 people have begun the process of seeking help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), which is in charge of the nation’s flood insurance program.

The entire Texas National Guard has been dispatched to help in relief efforts, and Mr Abbott said that he expects 10,000 more National Guardsmen to arrive in Texas in the coming days. That will bring the total up to nearly 25,000 guardsmen in the state responding to Harvey. Mr Abbott also said that he has accepted offers from Mexico to help in relief efforts.

Mr Abbott said that Fema had already promised $37m (£28m) in individual assistance so far, and indicated that that may figure may increase. Noting the costs related to other major hurricanes in recent years – including Katrina in New Orleans, and Sandy in the Northeast United States – Mr Abbott estimated that the total disaster relief requirements to respond to Harvey may easily reach past the $100bn (£77bn) mark.

The storm has already impacted the American economy. Southeast Texas is one of the largest sources of energy in the United States, contributing nearly one-fifth of America’s total refining capacity. Harvey has forced the nation’s largest refinery, the 335,000 barrel-per-day Valero Energy Corp processing facility in Port Author, to shut down, sources said. That impact on American energy production sent shocks through the US oil economy, raising the cost of gallon by six cents nationally – and even more in Texas.

All told, analysts are estimating that Harvey may cost southeast Texas between $51bn (£39bn) and $71bn (£55bn), according to Moody’s Analytics. If those predictions come true, that would make the storm one of the costliest storms in American history.

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