The Latest: Nation's biggest refinery starts revving up
Posted September 5
HOUSTON — The Latest on the aftermath of Harvey (all times local):
The nation's largest oil refinery is starting to reboot after shutting down ahead of Harvey's onslaught.
Motiva Enterprises says its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery should be running at 40 percent of capacity by Monday, producing more fuel than other refineries running at full throttle. At full capacity, the Saudi company's Port Arthur facility can process more than 600,000 barrels of oil per day — equivalent to 25.2 million gallons (95.4 liters).
San Antonio-based Valero Energy also is early in the restart procedure at its Port Arthur refinery. Meanwhile, Paris-based Total's Port Arthur refinery remains shut down, as does Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil's flooded refinery in Beaumont, Texas.
The number of families asking for FEMA money after Harvey inundated much of Houston and Southeast Texas has increased to more than 573,000.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday that 180,000 of those Texas families have been approved to receive grants that can be used to make home repairs or replace property damaged in a natural disaster.
FEMA's Tiana Suber said residents who aren't approved for FEMA grants can apply for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration. Homeowners, renters, nonprofits and businesses of all sizes can get those loans.
Suber also said about 56,000 Texas residents displaced by Harvey are in government-funded hotel rooms.
Once people are granted the assistance, there is a minimum allotment of 14 days, but that can be extended if necessary.
Authorities say that the body of a 3-month-old baby swept away from her parents in Harvey floodwaters more than a week ago has been recovered.
The New Waverly Fire Department said in a release that the San Jacinto Sheriff's Office, which oversaw the search, announced Tuesday the recovery of the child, whose name has not been released.
The fire department said that the family had fled the Houston area on Aug. 27 and were trying to cross Winters Bayou Coldspring when their truck was swept off the road and into raging floodwaters.
Firefighters were able to reach the mother and father after they spent three hours clinging to trees. The child's parents told rescuers that their truck started sinking and as they were escaping the strong current ripped the girl away.
This version of the story has been corrected to say the baby was three months old, not six months old. The sheriff's office corrected information previously released by the fire department.
Officials say Houston's downtown criminal courthouse could be closed for up to a year due to damage from Harvey.
Officials in Harris County, where Houston is located, said Tuesday the county courthouse's basement was flooded by Harvey.
Upper floors got water damage from rain that got in through windows and from a malfunction in the building's chilled water system. Several lower floors have sewage that backed up from the city's sewer system.
Harris County engineer John Blount says all 20 of the building's floors have some damage.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg says her office's 700 employees have begun relocating to several different buildings.
Hearings and trials in criminal cases are expected to be moved to the nearby civil courthouse, which will not have any civil trials in September.
Blount says the courthouse will be closed for at least eight months.
The storm surge pushed ahead by Hurricane Harvey during its landfall on the Texas coast last month reached 12.5 feet at a wildlife refuge north of Corpus Christi and climbed to 10 feet in an area north of Port Lavaca, but occurred in areas where few people live.
John Metz, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service at Corpus Christi, said Tuesday his office's surveys showed the highest tidal surge came aground in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, a swampy area between Rockport and Port O'Connor. The back bay areas at Port Aransas and Rockport also saw high water levels as winds west of the eye came in from the north.
While dozens died in flooding after heavy rains in the Houston area, only one fatality was reported along the coast near where Harvey's eye came ashore — in a mobile home blaze being investigated by the state fire marshal's office.
Metz said he is concerned that the 300,000 people who live at Corpus Christi will mistakenly believe they survived a big storm. He said winds in the city were that of a Category 1 storm, not a Category 3 or 4.
President Donald Trump will soon announce what organizations will receive his $1 million donation to help with Harvey relief efforts.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that Trump would announce the plans for the money Wednesday. She said the contribution was coming from the president's personal funds.
Trump has been criticized in the past for giving far less of his income to charitable causes than some other wealthy people.
Harvey dumped several feet of rain on southeast Texas in a matter of days.
Red Cross volunteers and rescuers are bringing bodies to the Jefferson County Morgue between Beaumont and Port Arthur, but officials say they won't release details of storm-related deaths until body recovery is complete.
The cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur were pummeled by rain from Harvey as it moved away from Houston. The death toll from Harvey has risen to at least 65, according to county emergency officials contacted by The Associated Press, but that number could rise significantly depending on the number of bodies from those extensively flooded areas.
The county medical examiner's office has contracted with Victim Relief Ministries to help handle death inquiries and get missing person reports. Veronica Sites, a chaplain with the group, says the morgue, which conducts autopsies and death investigations for 13 counties, would not release numbers or circumstances at this time.
A report released two decades ago about the Harris County reservoir system predicted with alarming accuracy the catastrophic flooding that would besiege the Houston area if changes weren't made in the face of rapid development.
The report released in 1996 by engineers with the Harris County Flood Control District says the Addicks and Barker reservoirs were adequate when built in the 1940s.
But it notes that as entire neighborhoods sprouted over the years around the reservoirs in western Harris County, as many as 25,000 homes and businesses at the time were exposed to the kind of flooding Harvey has now brought.
Engineers proposed in the report, obtained by The Dallas Morning News , a $400 million solution that involved building a massive underground conduit that would more quickly carry water out of the reservoirs and into the Houston Ship Channel.
Arthur Storey, who in 1996 was director of the flood control district, says he's embarrassed that he "was not smart enough, bold enough to fight the system" and implement an action plan to prevent the damages of Harvey from occurring.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says 11 toxic Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites still need follow-up visits to "confirm their status," after flooding unleashed by Harvey, but "we are unaware of any damage or danger that has occurred."
Abbott said at a news conference in Austin on Tuesday that no threat to the public from the 11 sites "is known at this time."
He said state environmental officials are "working constantly and collaboratively" with the EPA to monitor the situation and ensure that any damage eventually discovered "is contained."
The Houston area houses more than a dozen Superfund sites, among the nation's most intensely contaminated places.
The AP surveyed seven such sites and previously reported that all had been inundated with water, raising concerns about flooding spreading pollution.
Texas state biologists say residents cleaning up their properties as Harvey's floods recede should watch out for snakes, skunks, raccoons and other wildlife.
John Davis is the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's wildlife diversity director. Davis says snakes and other animals may seek shelter in debris piles and people should use common sense during cleanup.
He says displaced wildlife will return to their usual habitats quickly if left alone because "they don't want to be there, either."
An alligator specialist at the agency, Jonathan Warner, says people should stay away from alligators in places where they are not normally seen, even though the reptiles are usually wary of humans.
Davis says wildlife populations are fairly resilient and will likely recover, because "these species evolved with hurricanes and floods."
Officials say they're preparing the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas for the possible arrival of 1,000 Texas residents who are being temporarily housed at shelters in Louisiana.
Dallas city spokeswoman Monica Cordova said Tuesday that Texas emergency management officials have not yet determined where the evacuees will be sent when they arrive in the coming days, but that Dallas is a leading option.
The city has meanwhile closed its other shelters and consolidated the people who fled Harvey's destruction at the Hutchison center in downtown Dallas.
Cordova says approximately 3,000 evacuees stayed at the center Monday night. It can accommodate 5,000.
Harris County officials say about 96 percent of the 900 county-operated traffic signals are back to normal.
Traffic signal maintenance teams haven't yet been able to get into a small number of areas, primarily upstream from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in west Houston where releases from the reservoirs swollen by Harvey's record rains continue to flood some neighborhoods.
Harris County includes most of Houston. And most of the county-operated traffic signals are in unincorporated areas of Harris County.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says about 1,400 inmates who were evacuated from Houston-area prisons affected by flooding are heading back to the lockups.
The Jester 3 and Vance Unit prisons are near Richmond, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southwest of Houston and in an area flooded by the Brazos River.
Another 4,500 inmates removed from three other prisons farther south along the Brazos River remain in other prisons in East Texas.
Prison agency spokesman Jason Clark says officials are continuing to assess the flood situation at the Ramsey, Stringfellow and Terrell Units near Rosharon in Brazoria County.
Texas cities are getting some help to keep focusing on reconstruction after Harvey brought floods and damaged homes across the region.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved loans to help keep struggling cities operating after the storms.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the approval on Twitter, saying the loans are critical to providing services in some communities.
It's an early step in a massive cleanup effort that's beginning with people leaving emergency shelters.
More than 50,000 people are in government-paid hotels. FEMA officials also are weighing other options, like mobile homes.
The storm is now blamed for at least 60 deaths in 11 counties. Harris County, which is home to Houston and saw the worst flooding during the storm, reports 30 confirmed deaths as of Monday evening.
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