Dangers from Harvey loom as Houston floodwaters recede

HOUSTON — Major dangers for the U.S. Gulf Coast area loomed Thursday with the threat of major flooding further east near the Texas-Louisiana line and a fire at a Texas chemical plant as Harvey‘s floodwaters began receding in the Houston area after five days of torrential rain.

Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, struggled with rising water as the area was pounded with what remained of the weakening storm, while Houston’s fire department said it would begin a block-by-block search of thousands of flooded homes. Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann said the searches were to ensure “no people were left behind.”

The confirmed death toll climbed to at least 29, including six family members — four of them children — whose bodies were pulled Wednesday from a van that had been swept off a Houston bridge into a bayou.

“Unfortunately, it seems that our worst thoughts are being realized,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said after the van that disappeared over the weekend was found in 10 feet of muddy water.

Follow along below for live updates on the storm. All times are Eastern unless otherwise noted. 


1:15 p.m.: Pence arrives in Corpus Christi

Vice President Mike Pence has landed in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he will survey flooding caused by Harvey along with other cabinet members.

Pence arrived in Corpus Christi with his wife Karen, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. They were greeted on the tarmac by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his wife Cecilia.

Pence is scheduled to speak at 5 p.m.

12:35 p.m.: Dramatic footage of helicopter rescues in Port Arthur

Helicopter crews in Port Arthur, Texas, rescued residents trapped by floodwaters, hovering over homes and repeatedly lifting people into the air.

Footage showed crews making multiple rescues in a residential area where water appeared to still be several feet deep. Port Arthur was one of the towns hardest hit by Harvey.

12:29 p.m.: EPA: No “concentrations of concern” of toxic chemicals at Arkema plant

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it is working with local and federal authorities to monitor the situation in Crosby, Texas, where a trailer at an Arkema chemical plant exploded and caught fire.

“EPA has emergency response personnel on the scene and the Agency is currently reviewing data received from an aircraft that surveyed the scene early this morning,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement. “This information indicates that there are no concentrations of concern for toxic materials reported at this time.”

The agency says it has deployed aircraft to the scene to collect chemical information about the smoke cloud produced by the fire.

12:00 p.m.: Gas prices jump after Harvey

Gasoline prices in Texas and across the country have increased by at least 10 cents since Harvey came ashore and caused record flooding in places. 

AAA Texas on Thursday reported the average price at the pump statewide was $2.26 per gallon. That’s 12 cents higher than a week ago, before Harvey made landfall, and 4 cents higher than on Wednesday. 

The association survey says U.S. gasoline prices Thursday averaged $2.45 per gallon, which is 10 cents higher than a week ago and 5 cents more than on Wednesday.

11:56 a.m.: Irma reaches hurricane-strength in the Atlantic

Far out over the Atlantic, Hurricane Irma formed as a Category 2 storm, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It posed no immediate threat to land.

Irma’s center was about 650 miles west of the Cabo Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa Thursday morning. Maximum sustained winds were near 100 mph. It was heading west-northwest at 10 mph, and no coastal watches or warnings were in effect.

The center said Irma was forecast to become a major storm by Thursday night.

11:06 a.m.: Arkema executive talks to CBS News about fire at chemical plant

Following a press conference on the situation at an Arkema Inc. chemical plant that caught fire in Crosby, Texas, early Thursday, executive Richard Rennard spoke to CBS News correspondent David Begnaud about the risk at the plant.

“The concern is that when these things degrade, they generate heat. When they generate heat, they can burn. When they burn, they burn aggressively. You can have an explosion,” Rennard said. “We wanted to remove people from any potential hazard or risk for a potential explosion.”

Rennard said he was confident the 1.5-mile evacuation zone around the plant was large enough to keep residents safe. He said the company was monitoring the remaining eight containers at the plant but couldn’t say for sure whether Arkema would be able to anticipate future explosions.

“We want to make sure that we just have the right information in the hands of the citizens of the community,” Rennard said.

10:01 a.m.: Officials provide update on fire at Arkema chemical plant

A fire continues to burn at a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, after a reaction in a trailer storing unrefrigerated chemicals, officials said at a press conference Thursday morning.

Bob Royall, assistant chief of emergency operations for the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, said officials were taking a “defensive posture” toward the situation at the Arkema Inc. plant but downplayed the severity of the fire.

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A trailer burns at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas.

CBS News

“These are small container ruptures that may have a sound or something of that nature. These are not massive explosions,” Royall said. 

Royall said officials anticipated the fires and were maintaining a 1.5-mile perimeter around the plant.

Arkema executive Richard Rennard said refrigerated containers were used to store organic peroxide after the flooding caused the plant’s regular power and backup generators to fail. But those refrigerated containers also failed, causing the chemicals to degrade and eventually burn in one of the containers. 

He said the company anticipates that the eight remaining containers “where products are starting to degrade will produce more explosions.”

“We encourage anyone who may be exposed to smoke coming from this fire to call their doctor or seek medical advice,” Rennard said.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said one deputy inhaled a “non-toxic irritant” and received treatment.

8:17 a.m.: Police call plant incident a “series of pops”

Police said an incident at a Houston-area chemical plant early Thursday was not an explosion but instead a “series of pops.”

The incident caused a fire to break out at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Harris County police said

Arkema Inc. earlier said in a statement on its website that the Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the plant at about 2 a.m.

7:50 a.m.: Major gasoline pipeline to be shut down

Colonial Pipeline says it plans to shut down a key line that supplies gasoline to the South due to storm-related refinery shutdowns and Harvey’s effect on its facilities west of Lake Charles, Louisiana. The Georgia-based company said in a statement that it expects to shut off the line Thursday. The company had already closed down another line that transports primarily diesel and aviation fuels.

The pipeline provides nearly 40 percent of the South’s gasoline.

In September 2016, a leak and gas spill in Alabama that closed the Colonial Pipeline led to days of empty gas station pumps and higher prices in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

The company didn’t say how long it expects the closure to last, saying it will know more when workers can evaluate its facilities. 

7:36 a.m.: Hospital treats nearly two dozen after explosions

A Texas hospital said nearly two dozen people were being treated after two explosions at a flooded chemical plant in Crosby.

Laurie Terry of Houston Methodist San Jacinto in Baytown told CBS News that 21 emergency responders and police officers were displaying symptoms of respiratory distress.

Terry said the group wasn’t expected to suffer long-term effects and would likely be released later Thursday.

5:30 a.m.: Chemical plant explosions, smoke reported

Two explosions have been reported at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, 25 miles northeast of Houston, CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV reported early Thursday. Arkema officials had previously said they believed that sometime within the next several days, chemicals at the plant would degrade, explode and catch fire due to Harvey flooding-related power outages and a resulting loss of needed refrigeration of the chemicals at the site. 

3:15 a.m.: JJ Watt aid fund leaping

When the NFL’s Houston Texans star JJ Watt set up an online fundraiser to help the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, he hoped to raise $250,000. Now, just a few days later, it’s raised $8.5 million and quickly on its way to $10 million.  Watt revealed the news Wednesday evening on Twitter, CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV notes.

3:00 a.m.: Threat from reservoir grows

Fort Bend County, immediately southwest of Houston, went from urging residents of some areas to evacuate to ordering them to early Thursday after the Army Corps of Engineers forecast record water levels in the Barker Reservoir and warned of imminent additional flooding. The reservoir began overflowing Tuesday.  

2:15 a.m.: Southeast Texas city loses water supply

Beaumont lost serviced from its main pump station due to rising levels of the Neches River caused by Tropical Storm Harvey, the city announced early Thursday.

The pump station draws from the river as its main source of water for Beaumont’s water system.

The city has also lost its secondary water source, at the Loeb wells in Hardin County.

Officials said they’ll have to wait until water levels recede before they can determine the extent of damage and make any needed repairs, adding there’s no way to say how long that wil take.

12:45 a.m.: Death toll rises to 28

CBS News confirmed seven more fatalities in Texas due to Harvey, bringing the death toll to 28.

Find previous updates on Harvey here.

Source: CBS News – United States

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