Security in the Eye of the Hurricane

Security in the Eye of the Hurricane

[UPDATE: August 30, 2017 at 2:21 p.m.]

Harvey made landfall again early Wednesday morning, sending more devastating rain to parts of Texas and Louisiana in what is already the biggest rainstorm in the history of the United States.

The mounting storm-related death toll is at least 31 people, according to an update by the New York Times at 1:54 p.m. on Wednesday. Damage has been estimated at tens of billions of dollars.

In Houston, search-and-rescue missions continue as hospitals have been flooded out, more than 3,000 homes are underwater and thousands more are threatened by two reservoirs swollen by as much as 52 inches of rain in some areas.

Due to quick overcrowding, two more mega centers have been opened to shelter refugees at the Toyota Center, home of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets, and NRG Park, which can house 10,000, and will be staffed in part by members of the National Guard.

More than 32,000 people are in shelters in Texas, with only 30,000 beds available across 230 shelters in the state, Governor Greg Abbott said at a news conference on Wednesday. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said they have supplied five million meals to evacuees so far, and 210,000 people have registered with the agency for assistance.

With thousands of homes abandoned and partially submerged, Houston police are now also battling an onslaught of criminal activity, prompting authorities to enforce a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m.

A crew of armed robbers were arrested for hijacking vehicles and officials also warned residents of people trying to impersonate Homeland Security investigators.


[UPDATE: August 29, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.]

Hurricane Harvey loomed over the Gulf of Mexico last week before making landfall as a Category 4 storm on the Texas coast Friday night. It was the most powerful storm to hit the United States in a decade, according to the National Hurricane Center, which also warned of catastrophic flooding from the storm surge and torrential rains to come.

Sure enough, the storm brought devastating amounts of rain to some of Texas’ most populous areas, including Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city, where more than 30 inches of rain has fallen since Thursday causing catastrophic flooding that officials have called the worst in the state’s history.

While at least nine deaths and more than a dozen injuries have been blamed on the hurricane and its aftermath, the full toll of its destruction remains unclear in Houston and across Texas and Louisiana, where officials say downpour will continue through Friday with an additional 15 to 25 inches expected to pummel the region.

“Catastrophic flooding in the Houston metropolitan area is expected to worsen,” the National Weather Service said Sunday. It added: “This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced.”

Unlike most of the surrounding cities expecting to be hit hard by Harvey, Houston did not order evacuations before the storm.

The torrential downpour has forced Houston residents to flee their inundated homes, turned streets into rivers only navigable by boat and left many families stranded in the continuously rising waters, seeking shelter. In scenes reminiscent of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, helicopters fly above submerged neighborhoods and high-water vehicles plow through flooded intersections; parents carry little ones on their shoulders while wading through the gray-brown water and others use makeshift floatation devices, like an air mattress, to safely transport the belongings they have left.

Local Law Enforcement Aides Harvey Victims

As forecasters promise more rain, rising rivers and floodwaters that are sure to swallow more streets and neighborhoods, local law enforcement described a vast rescue effort, and said they had handled 56,000 calls to 911 and had rescued 2,000 people by Monday morning, however, more people are still in need of help.

Many who were stranded received no answer when they dialed 911. Some residents awaiting help have even taken to social media to get the word out.

“My sister needs help!!!” read one tweet, followed by an address. A Facebook post by a woman early Monday morning said: “Urgent please send help! My parents are in a 1 story home and the cypress creek is rushing in their home. PLEASE.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said the city is aware of about 185 calls for rescue that had not been handled yet.

“A lot of people are frustrated,” Acevedo said. “Hopefully today we’ll get to the rest of you. Please don’t give up on us. None of us are going to give up.”

Authorities overwhelmed by the sheer number of calls for help said Sunday that emergency services were at capacity and residents should only call 911 if their home was in “imminent danger.”

Acevedo also said local police are also focused on protecting the city from looters as floodwater recede: "We've already arrested a handful of looters. We've made it real clear to our community we're going to do whatever it takes to protect their homes and their businesses," Acevedo said.

On Sunday, state and local officials pleaded for help from volunteers, especially those with boats and high-water vehicles. Even those who cannot help with rescuing can help in other ways.

“We're setting up so many shelters. People can go volunteer in those shelters to serve food, to provide supplies," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. "This is something that neighbor to neighbor, we just have to pitch in and help each other."

Brock Long, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he believes that – when it comes to emergency response and evacuations – local, state and federal agencies thus far have operated with the "best information that they had at the time." More widespread evacuations would have been "difficult" given the time frame, putting people at risk of becoming trapped in long lines of vehicles trying to escape rising floodwaters.

"All disasters begin and end at the local level," he added. "All evacuation decisions are made at the local level in Texas."

State and Federal Rescue Efforts

The dire situation in Houston prompted Governor Greg Abbott to order another 1,000 National Guard members to the city. Abbott said the state activated 3,000 National Guard and State Guard members as a result of the storm damage, and that 500 vehicles, 20 helicopters, and 60 boats and high-water vehicles have already been deployed.

A spokesman for the Texas governor said President Donald Trump’s team had been working “hand in hand” with Abbott’s and that the president offered “all available resources from the federal government to assist in preparation, and rescue and recovery efforts.”

FEMA is urging residents and visitors to monitor local radio or TV stations for updated emergency information.

“This remains a significant, deadly storm, and must not be underestimated,” Long said on Monday. “With the continuing widespread flooding and devastation, every person in its path should heed the warnings of their local officials.”

With reports of rapidly rising water entering homes and widespread reports of impassable roadways due to extreme flooding, FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue teams are supporting swift water recuse operations in south Texas.  The United States Coast Guard is using shallow-draft vessels to provide search and rescue assistance in flooded areas, while aircrews conduct damage assessment and search and rescue patrols.

FEMA has created a support base at an auxiliary airfield near Seguin, Tex., north of coastal city Corpus Christi, to have water, meals, blankets and other resources ready for areas that will affected by the storm, according to a release from the agency Thursday.

Long has also put Regional Incident Management Assistance Teams in place at emergency operations centers in Austin, and Baton Rouge, La., in anticipation of requests for federal assistance.

A statement from the White House Monday said Trump has declared an emergency in Louisiana, whose residents are also fighting extreme flooding, authorizing federal assistance for hurricane relief efforts in the state.

“We have not seen an event like this,” Long said Monday morning at a news briefing. “You could not draw this forecast up. You could not dream this forecast up.”

He also said that, in total, more than 450,000 people are likely to seek federal aid in recovering from Harvey. The agency has also estimated that about 30,000 people will need to seek emergency shelter.

Trump to Visit Texas

President Donald Trump has announced plans to visit Texas on Tuesday, although he will not be heading to Houston, according to Abbott.

"The place he will be going to will not be Houston, so [he] will not be getting into harm's way or interrupting the evacuations or emergency response in the Houston area," Abbott said. "He most likely will be going closer to where the hurricane hit land."

The hurricane hit coastal cities of Corpus Christi, Rockport and more, leaving a trail of destruction in its path.

Trump, who spent the weekend at Camp David, frequently tweeted his praise for the emergency responders and federal agencies in their efforts to aid storm victims.

Posted by Nicole Crites on Aug 30, 2017

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