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White House Assures Harvey Victims Money Will Be Available

  • VOA News

Tyler Moody removes a mattress from a friend's home after floodwaters recede from Tropical Storm Harvey, Aug. 31, 2017, in Houston, Texas.

As rescue and recovery from Hurricane Harvey continued in southeast Texas, the White House assured storm victims that it was "not going anywhere" and that money to help them would be available.

Harvey left unspeakable damage as it spent five days dumping record-breaking rainfall on Texas and Louisiana. Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, was hit especially hard.

Even though the rain had stopped and the sun was out, more evacuations were ordered east of Houston on Thursday.

The storm-related death toll was at least 37, and White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert told reporters that number would rise.

People launch boats from an overpass into floodwaters in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Kountze, Texas, Aug. 31, 2017.
People launch boats from an overpass into floodwaters in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Kountze, Texas, Aug. 31, 2017.

Bossert said officials were still in a lifesaving response mode, and he made no effort to sugarcoat the situation.

There's going to be "a long, frustrating recovery process," he said.

Damage and destruction

Bossert said 100,000 homes had been affected by the storm and a lot of public infrastructure, such as highways and bridges, had been damaged. But he said the disaster relief fund was strong.

"I'm not worried at all that we won't have the money," Bossert said. The disaster relief fund had $3.2 billion on hand when Harvey hit last Friday, and Bossert said the White House would ask Congress for "a responsible supplemental request" for more funds.

John Paul Klotz, 80, center, pulls his cane out of floodwaters as U.S. Border Patrol Agent Steven Blackburn stands by to help Klotz board a boat during a search-and-rescue operation in a neighborhood inundated by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 30, 2017.
John Paul Klotz, 80, center, pulls his cane out of floodwaters as U.S. Border Patrol Agent Steven Blackburn stands by to help Klotz board a boat during a search-and-rescue operation in a neighborhood inundated by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 30, 2017.

Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas told VOA such a bipartisan effort was already under way.

"We want to push for that money. I'm crafting an aid package," Lee said while meeting with storm victims at the Houston Convention Center.

Meanwhile, Bossert made it clear that no one who needed help would be turned away.

"No individual human being should worry about immigration status if you need food, water and shelter," he said. "No one will starve or die of thirst or exposure."

A customer walks into an Exxon filling station and convenience store location where a sign on the door reads, "No Gas," Aug. 31, 2017, in Bedford, Texas. It’s getting harder to fill gas tanks in parts of Texas where some stations are out of fuel and pump costs are spiking.
A customer walks into an Exxon filling station and convenience store location where a sign on the door reads, "No Gas," Aug. 31, 2017, in Bedford, Texas. It’s getting harder to fill gas tanks in parts of Texas where some stations are out of fuel and pump costs are spiking.

Warning on price gouging

Bossert also had a strong warning for anyone thinking of gouging people who have lost their homes and are looking for places to rent, saying President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions would not tolerate it and police would come down on them "with a hammer."

The Washington Post reported incidents of some Houston-area stores charging as much as $99 for a case of drinking water and $20 for a gallon (nearly 4 liters) of gasoline.

The White House said Thursday that Trump planned to pledge $1 million of his own money for storm relief and that he would return to Texas and Louisiana on Saturday. Trump visited the area Tuesday.

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, 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 was in hard-hit Rockport, Texas, Thursday, where he pitched in to help clear away debris. He said 21,000 federal officials were on the ground.

Just before leaving Texas, Pence said he was most inspired by the volunteers. He urged every American to find a way to help, including coming to Texas in person to be what he called "the hands and feet of American compassion."

WATCH: Pence ‘Inspired by the Volunteers’

Chemical plant

Explosions and fires at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, led to an evacuation of the town.

The facility manufactures organic peroxides. Plant officials said all week that the blasts were inevitable and much of the area had already been cleared of people.

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.

Earlier Thursday, 15 Harris County sheriff's deputies called to the plant were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

FEMA called the chemicals from the plant "incredibly dangerous." But Arkema said there was little anyone could do but let the fires burn themselves out.

Also, Harvey knocked out the pumps delivering fresh water in Beaumont, Texas. The lack of clean drinking water forced one Beaumont hospital to evacuate patients and another to shut down except for emergency cases.

A U.S. Border Patrol air boat moves through neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 30, 2017. John Morris, the Border Patrol’s chief of staff in South Texas, said the agency had 35 boats in the city’s flooded neighborhoods on Aug. 31, 2017, and had rescued about 450 people since Monday.
A U.S. Border Patrol air boat moves through neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 30, 2017. John Morris, the Border Patrol’s chief of staff in South Texas, said the agency had 35 boats in the city’s flooded neighborhoods on Aug. 31, 2017, and had rescued about 450 people since Monday.

Harvey slammed into the southeast Texas coast nearly a week ago as a Category 4 hurricane. It soaked the region with more than 50 inches (130 centimeters) of rain — an all-time record from a single storm in the continental United States.

As of Thursday evening, Harvey, downgraded to a tropical depression, moved northeast across the Tennessee and Ohio valleys and into the mid-Atlantic.

A dog rescued from Harvey floodwaters in Houston, Texas, waits to be relocated to a shelter, Aug. 31, 2017.
A dog rescued from Harvey floodwaters in Houston, Texas, waits to be relocated to a shelter, Aug. 31, 2017.

But even as Harvey grew weaker and weaker, it wasn't going away without a fight. Forecasters predicted heavy rains and flash floods from what was left of the storm over the next two days.

Undocumented? You can still ask for help

Affected undocumented immigrants in Texas, who are afraid to apply for help for fear of being detained, should not hesitate applying, officials say. To reassure them, outreach workers have reportedly been deployed.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he would personally represent anyone arrested on immigration violations after seeking help.

Cesar Espinosa, executive director of Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle said Turner's statement was a "big deal" for undocumented immigrants. Espinosa said "When they hear it from an official, they say, 'OK, now we believe it.'"

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said it is "not conducting immigration enforcement operations in the affected area."

VOA's Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.

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