Houston drying out, cleaning up after Harvey

By Allen Cone  |  Updated Sept. 3, 2017 at 10:23 PM
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Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Residents of Houston and the surrounding metro area are cleaning up as they dry out one week after U.S.-record flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Sylvester Turner, the mayor Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States, was optimistic but cautious on network TV broadcasts Sunday morning.

"The City of Houston is open for business," Turner told CBS' Face the Nation host John Dickerson.

"I am expecting employers to open and employees to get back to work."

Municipal workers return to work Tuesday, one day after the Labor Day holiday, although the city's schools won't open until Sept. 11. U.S. mail is being delivered again, including on Sunday in some areas. Fewer people are in Houston shelters and mandatory evacuations have been lifted in most areas of the metro area of 6.5 million people.

"I'm encouraging people to get up, let's get going," he told told NBC Meet the Press host Chuck Todd

But Turner said much work lies ahead after several parts were hit by 50 inches of rain.

He said on NBC that cleaning up could take 10 days as debris piles must be hauled away. The mayor of 2.3 million said 95 percent of the city is dry and "for many homes the damage is only inside."

Turner said "most of those homes are flooding because water is being released from the reservoir."

Most homes didn't lose electricity and he said on CBS "drinking water was never a question, our plants continue to function. No one had to borrow any water. The water system is safe."

Ninety miles east of Houston in Beaumont, the city's water system remains knocked out since Thursday morning when the pumps were flooded.

The rebuilding process will be lengthy as people search for permanent housing and move out of shelters.

"What we need is rapid repair housing, so people can stay in their homes while they make the bigger repairs," Turner told Todd.

And that might mean not rebuilding in certain low-lying areas.

"It would be insane for us to rebuild on property that has been flooded multiple times," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told ABC News' Martha Raddatz in Houston. " I think everybody probably is in agreement that there are better strategies that we must employ."

Abbott said in an interview on Fox News Sunday that the cost of storm recovery could reach $180 billion in federal funds -- $60 billion more than was required to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has received more than 507,000 applications for aid. So far, FEMA has approved $114.7 million in aid for 161,000 people -- $33.6 million is for assistance with housing and $81 million will help victims replace personal property, pay for transportation and cover medical costs.

Donations continue to roll in. On Saturday, James Harden of the Houston Rockets announced a $1 million donation for relief while visiting evacuees at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.

Football player J.J. Watt's online fundraiser reached $17 million on Saturday, according to his Twitter account. The NFL Texan originally set a fundraising goal of $200,000.

President Donald Trump is deciding how to distribute his personal $1 million donation.

On Saturday, Trump visited Houston's NRG Center, which is being used as a shelter for those the storm has displaced. The president later went to Louisiana.

On Saturday night, more than 37,000 people spent the night in the 270 Texas shelters.

But Houston officials said fewer people are staying in shelters -- 1,000 people in the Convention Center and about 2,700 people in the NRG Center as of Sunday.

The Harris County medical examiner confirmed the 29th flood victim Saturday.

More than 50 people have died or are feared dead in the Houston area from the storm, which struck coastal Texas a Category 4 storm on Aug. 25.

Harris County Fire Marshal's Office set fire to the remaining six containers of chemicals at Arkema's Crosby plant on Sunday afternoon as "a proactive approach to minimize the impacts to the community." One of company's nine containers caught fire Thursday morning and two more Friday.

Thick pillars of black smoke around the area were seen around 5 p.m. A 1.5-mile radius surrounding the plant has been evacuated.

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