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Pence Visits Texas as Floodwaters Pose Lingering Threats

  • VOA News

Vice President Mike Pence, center, and other bow their heads as his wife, Karen prays during a visit to the First Baptist Church of Rockport, Aug. 31, 2017, in Rockport, Texas. The church received heavy damage from Hurricane Harvey.

Vice President Mike Pence visited Texas on Thursday to survey the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey, commending residents of the town of Rockport for the manner in which they were handling adversity.

"You've inspired the nation by your resilience and by your courage, and we just came here to commend you and to encourage you and to assure you that we will be there," Pence told a gathering outside First Baptist Church.

Pence was accompanied by several other Cabinet secretaries, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, a former Texas governor. President Donald Trump visited Texas on Tuesday and plans to return Saturday.

Residents affected by Hurricane Harvey are visited by Vice President Mike Pence during a visit to the First Baptist Church of Rockport, Aug. 31, 2017, in Rockport, Texas.
Residents affected by Hurricane Harvey are visited by Vice President Mike Pence during a visit to the First Baptist Church of Rockport, Aug. 31, 2017, in Rockport, Texas.

Harvey, now a tropical depression, brought heavy rain to Louisiana and northwestern Mississippi on Thursday, leaving flooded east Texas to start drying out but still facing danger from flooding. Forecasters expected parts of Louisiana to receive 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain as the storm system continued moving toward Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Harvey also left the town of Crosby, east of Houston, expecting more explosions after two early-morning blasts at a chemical plant.

Residents of Crosby were ordered to evacuate their homes after the explosions at the Arkema Inc. plant emitted flames of 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 meters) and black smoke, resulting in the hospitalization of 15 sheriff's deputies who had inhaled the smoke. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said 13 of the deputies had been released after receiving treatment for inhaling a "nontoxic irritant," but Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long told reporters in Washington that the plumes were considered "incredibly dangerous."

A man talks with officers at a roadblock near the Arkema Inc. chemical plant, Aug. 31, 2017, in Crosby, Texas. The plant that lost power after Harvey engulfed the area was rocked by multiple explosions early Thursday, the plant's operator said.
A man talks with officers at a roadblock near the Arkema Inc. chemical plant, Aug. 31, 2017, in Crosby, Texas. The plant that lost power after Harvey engulfed the area was rocked by multiple explosions early Thursday, the plant's operator said.

Arkema executive Richard Rennard said at a news conference in Crosby that "there is a possibility" more explosions could occur after the company and local officials agreed the best plan was to allow the plant's extremely flammable organic peroxides to burn themselves out.

Rennard acknowledged the situation at the plant "is a very serious issue" and that the smoke "is certainly noxious." Rennard said anyone who was exposed to the smoke could suffer irritation to the eyes, lungs or skin. He urged those exposed to "call their doctor or to seek medical advice."

Bob Royall of the Harris County Fire Marshall's Office said authorities established a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) "evacuation zone" around the plant to ensure "our citizens are safe and that our environment is protected to the best we can."

Workers begin repairs to a wall that was lost in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Aug. 30, 2017, in Rockport, Texas.
Workers begin repairs to a wall that was lost in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Aug. 30, 2017, in Rockport, Texas.

The National Hurricane Center said that while the risk of more rain was over for Houston, "catastrophic and life-threatening flooding" will still be present there, in Beaumont, Texas, and into southwestern Louisiana for the rest of this week.

The threat was also clear Thursday as Fort Bend County, on the southwest side of Houston, announced a mandatory evacuation for people living near a reservoir because "imminent flooding."

Officials in Beaumont said the flooding had caused the city water system to stop working, and repairs will have to wait until the water recedes. Beaumont officials could not say when the city's homes and businesses would have running water again.

The lack of running water and limited access forced Baptist Beaumont Hospital to evacuate nearly 200 patients, according to spokeswoman Mary Poole. Christus Southeast Texas-St. Elizabeth Hospital in Beaumont said its emergency and trauma operations would continue, but officials were considering whether to relocate patients in other departments.

Two women walk along the flooded Parish Barn Road in Iowa, La., Aug. 30, 2017.
Two women walk along the flooded Parish Barn Road in Iowa, La., Aug. 30, 2017.

In Houston, where some parts of the metropolitan area saw more than 50 inches (130 centimeters) of rain, city services were resuming Thursday, with regular trash pickup and limited bus and rail schedules. Flights into and out of Houston's two main airports resumed Wednesday.

Houston's fire department said it would go block by block, starting Thursday, to look through areas with floodwaters of roughly 3 feet (1 meter) in order to make sure "no people were left behind." Officials estimated the process could take up to two weeks.

Officials in Texas have confirmed more than 38 storm-related deaths. Nearly 780,000 Texans have been forced to evacuate their homes, and 32,000 others have been forced into shelters, according to FEMA.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported to FEMA that it had saved 3,000 lives.

Estimates of the damage from the storm ranged into the tens of billions of dollars.

Watch: White House Defends Trump's Proposal to Cut Disaster Relief Budget

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A multitude of charity efforts have raised millions of dollars from businesses, celebrities and everyday people to help those who need immediate help as well as more long-term assistance in rebuilding.

The Associated Press reported rap star Bun B, a Houston native, was gathering talent for a hurricane aid concert to be televised on four national networks September 12. He is working with music manager Scooter Braun, who produced the charity concert Ariana Grande held in Manchester, England, in June.

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