The Latest: Officers find Houston family in submerged van
The Latest: Officers find Houston family in submerged van
Aug. 30, 2017
HOUSTON (AP) — The Latest on Tropical Storm Harvey (all times local):
Officers have located a submerged van in which six members of a Houston family were traveling when it was swept off a Houston bridge and into a storm-ravaged bayou.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez says the van is in about 10 feet (3 meters) of muddy water in Green's Bayou in northeast Houston. He says the bodies of two adults can be seen in the front seat but that if the four children's bodies are inside they are obscured because of the water conditions and the angle of the vehicle.
Authorities are trying to decide whether dive team members will retrieve the bodies or if it would be safer to pull the van from the treacherous water first.
Samuel Saldivar told deputies he was in his brother's van rescuing his parents and relatives from their flooded home Sunday when the van was tossed by a strong current into the bayou as it crossed a bridge. He escaped through a window but the others were trapped.
Authorities say a 3-year-old girl who was found clinging to the body of her drowned mother in a rain-swollen canal in Southeast Texas is doing well and should be released from the hospital soon.
Beaumont police on Wednesday identified the girl's mother as 41-year-old Colette Sulcer.
Officer Carol Riley says the toddler, who was suffering from hypothermia when she was rescued Tuesday afternoon, has now been reunited with her family. Riley says the girl is in stable condition and should be released from the hospital on Wednesday.
Authorities have said the mother's vehicle got stuck in a flooded parking lot of an office park just off Interstate 10. A witness saw the woman take her daughter and try to walk to safety when the swift current of a flooded drainage canal next to the parking lot swept them both away.
Officials say the child was holding onto the floating woman when police and fire-rescue team in a boat caught up to them a half-mile downstream.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it has assigned about 150 employees from around the country to help with disaster relief efforts in Houston.
The agency said Wednesday that 139 agents and officers from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Washington, New York, San Diego and Tampa are on scene. They are on 25-member teams that answer to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
ICE also has another dozen employees on another team that assists FEMA. It says it is prepared to send more employees if needed.
The agency says it is not doing immigration enforcement operations in storm-affected areas.
President Donald Trump is promising billions to help Texas rebuild from Harvey, but his Republican allies in the House are looking at cutting almost $1 billion from disaster accounts to help finance the president's border wall.
The pending reduction to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief account is part of a spending bill that the House is scheduled to consider next week when Congress returns from its August recess. The $876 million cut, part of the 1,305-page measure's homeland security section, pays for roughly half the cost of Trump's down payment on a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
It seems sure that GOP leaders will move to reverse the disaster aid cut next week. The optics are politically bad and there's only $2.3 billion remaining in disaster coffers.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it's not conducting immigration enforcement operations in storm-affected areas.
The agency's statement Wednesday came in response to reports a day earlier that impersonators were knocking on doors in Houston and identifying themselves as Homeland Security Investigations agents. ICE says the impersonators are reportedly telling people to evacuate, presumably with the intention of robbing their empty homes.
ICE is encouraging people to demand to see badges and credentials. The agency has sent employees to help with search-and-rescue operations.
The latest statement is more explicit than one issued earlier this week and perhaps more reassuring to people in the country illegally. On Monday, ICE said it won't conduct "routine, non-criminal immigration enforcement operations" at evacuation sites and shelters, but that the law will not be suspended.
Venezuela says it will offer aid to victims of Harvey through the U.S. subsidiary of its state oil company.
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza announced Wednesday that President Nicolas Maduro had ordered Venezuelan officials to develop a plan to help those affected by the storm.
Arreaza says that Citgo will provide up to $5 million in heating products to people in Houston and that when someone fills up their tank at a Citgo, station "they will be supporting the recovery."
Harvey hit Southeast Texas last week as a Category 4 hurricane and has since downgraded to a tropical storm.
The gesture follows the imposition of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela's government that prohibit banks from providing it with new financing. Citgo is also restricted from sending dividends back to Venezuela. The sanctions were imposed because of the country's creation of a government-loaded constitutional assembly that overrides the opposition-dominated congress.
The National Hurricane Center says Harvey should soon slow to a tropical depression.
Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said Wednesday that Harvey is "spinning down," and while it is still a tropical storm with 45 mph (72 kph) winds, "it should be a depression sometime tonight."
A depression has maximum sustained surface winds of 38 mph (61 kph) or less.
Feltgen says Beaumont, Texas, and Cameron, Louisiana, are "still under the gun" for rain from Harvey, and conditions won't improve until Wednesday night.
The storm is forecast to then move from Louisiana into northwestern Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.
The National Weather Service is predicting 5 to 6 inches (13 to 15 centimeters) of rain in western Tennessee. Flood watches and warnings have been issued for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee.
Houston City Council is holding its weekly meeting at a shelter for people displaced by Harvey because city hall is flooded.
Mayor Sylvester Turner opened the meeting Wednesday at the George R. Brown Convention Center by thanking Houston's first responders, prompting a standing ovation from council members and observers.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told the meeting that his officers and other first responders continue to work, despite personal hardships including their own flooded homes.
The convention center has become a temporary home for more than 10,000 people since Friday, when Harvey struck the Southeast Texas coast as a Category 4 hurricane. Harvey has since weakened to a tropical storm.
City hall is closed because torrential rain flooded its basement and the bottom floor of an annex building, knocking out power.
Three Carnival Cruise Line ships that are based in Galveston but detoured to New Orleans to wait out Harvey could soon be back in storm-battered Texas.
The ships, carrying more than 15,000 passengers and crew, were scheduled to return to Galveston last weekend but changed course when Harvey slammed into Southeast Texas as a Category 4 hurricane. Harvey has since weakened to a tropical storm that has dumped more than 50 inches (127 centimeters) of rain in parts of Southeast Texas.
Carnival spokeswoman Christine de la Huerta says the Carnival Freedom and the Carnival Valor were departing Wednesday from New Orleans as preparations continue to reopen the Port of Galveston. She says the Carnival Breeze left New Orleans on Tuesday.
Miami-based Carnival, its parent company Carnival Corporation and the Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation, are donating $2 million to Harvey relief efforts. Mickey Arison is Carnival's chairman.
Harris County flood control officials are concerned that a levee could fail in a suburban Houston subdivision in the north of the county, thus adding to the Harvey-related floods.
Spokesman Jeff Lindner says if the weakened section of levee along Cypress Creek in Inverness Forest is breached, water is going to rise "very quickly and very fast, and it is going to be deep."
He says the water could reach the rooftops of homes immediately in the levee area. The area is under a mandatory evacuation order due to Harvey, but some residents have remained.
Lindner says county authorities are working with several agencies to figure out how to increase pressure on the outside of the levee to compensate for the tremendous pressure inside due to record amounts of water.
A sheriff's official north of Houston says two men died this week in separate drownings, bringing the number of confirmed Harvey-related deaths to 20.
Montgomery County sheriff's Capt. Bryan Carlisle said Wednesday that 33-year-old Joshua Feuerstein of Conroe died when he disregarded a barricade and drove his pickup into standing water Monday.
Carlisle says witnesses saw the pickup's reverse lights illuminate, indicating that Feuerstein was attempting to back out of the water. But the pickup was carried into deeper water. The witnesses swam to help, but Carlisle says he was already dead.
Separately, an unidentified man died as he tried to swim across a flooded roadway Monday.
Carlisle says people nearby saw the man sink under the fast-moving water. His body was found a day later in the same area.
Joel Osteen is defending the decision not to open his Houston megachurch as a shelter during the initial flooding from Harvey in the face of withering criticism on social media.
The televangelist maintained on ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday that his Lakewood Church was inaccessible due to floodwaters during the early part of the storm. He says the 16,000-seat former basketball arena is prone to flooding and "the last thing we would do is put people in it right at the beginning." He says the city didn't ask the church to open as a shelter initially.
Osteen tells NBC's "Today" show that a "false narrative" on social media was to blame for the backlash.
Lakewood Church began taking in Harvey evacuees Tuesday afternoon.
The elected official in charge of the county that includes Houston says Harvey could have damaged 30,000 to 40,000 homes.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told TV station KTRK on Wednesday that it's just an estimate officials are discussing, but that it could be even more.
He says some homes have been damaged irreparably and that there will difficult months or even years ahead.
Emmett says one priority in trying restore some sense of normalcy is getting kids in the region back to school. He says it won't be easy because so many people have been displaced.
This item has been corrected to show Emmett spoke Wednesday, not Monday.
An official says it's too early to say if the thousands of Houston-area homes flooded by Harvey's torrential rains can be rebuilt.
Jeff Lindner of the Harris County Flood Control District says: "When water sits in a house for several weeks, the house begins to degrade."
About 4,000 homes in the areas near the Addicks and Barker reservoirs have been flooded, some with 3 to 6 feet (90 to 180 centimeters) of water. Linder says some of those will remain flooded "for an extended period of time."
He says it's unclear what condition those properties will be in when those residents return.
Lindner says controlled water releases from the two reservoirs continue to flow into Buffalo Bayou, and that some homes in the area could be flooded again. But he expects no additional homes to take on water in the area.
Officials say nearly all Houston-area waterways inundated by Harvey's record rainfall have crested, but that water levels continue to rise in two flood-control reservoirs.
Jeff Lindner of the Harris County Flood Control District says river levels are going down Wednesday "for the first time in several days."
Army Corps of Engineers regional engineer Edmond Russo says water in the Barker and Addicks reservoirs in west Houston rose slightly overnight and is likely to crest Wednesday, but slightly below forecast levels.
The reservoirs have received 32 to 35 inches (81 to 89 centimeters) of rain since Harvey hit last weekend, but Russo says less than an inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain is forecast in the coming week.
Lindner says "we're getting very close to the peak of both reservoirs."
Motiva Enterprises has closed its refinery in Port Arthur, Texas — the biggest in the nation — because of floodwaters that are inundating the area east of Houston near the Louisiana border.
CNN reports that company officials Wednesday opted to temporarily cease operations as Harvey continues to batter coastal regions. The tropical storm has dropped a record amount of rain on Texas.
The company had just announced Tuesday that it had cut output to 40 percent. Motiva, which is owned by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia, said it was dealing with restrictions in the flow of crude oil coming in and products such as gasoline going out through pipelines and ports.
Refineries operated by Exxon, Shell and other companies have released pollutants as torrential rains damaged storage tanks and other industrial facilities on the Texas Coast.
Best Buy says it is "deeply sorry" following accusations of price gouging after a photo posted online showed cases of water for sale at one of the electronic retailer's Houston-area stores for more than $42.
The photo , which was widely shared on Twitter, appeared to have been taken by a Houston resident.
Best Buy says the sale was "clearly a mistake on the part of a few employees at a single store." The company explained in a statement that it doesn't have pricing for cases of water in its system and employees priced the water "by multiplying the cost of one bottle by the number of bottles in a case."
The company says it's "deeply sorry that we gave anyone even the momentary impression that we were trying to take advantage of the situation."
An emergency management official east of Houston says the area bordering Louisiana is virtually isolated because primary roads are flooded and water levels are rising.
Marcus McLellan, spokesman for the Jefferson County emergency management office in Beaumont, said Wednesday that Interstate 10 is flooded, as are several highways and many secondary roads.
I-10 from Houston to New Orleans is one of the most heavily traveled roads in the country, normally carrying tens of thousands of vehicles each day.
McLellan says he's stationed at the emergency operations center in downtown Beaumont and to leave the area he'd have to travel east on secondary roads toward Louisiana, which is receiving the brunt of Tropical Storm Harvey.
Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames on Wednesday told NBC's Today show that every body of water around the city is overflowing and that the rain continues to fall.
A shelter near Houston for at least 100 displaced people has been overrun by Harvey floodwaters, forcing weary evacuees to retreat to bleacher seats.
Jefferson County sheriff's deputy Marcus McLellan said Wednesday that the Bowers Civic Center in Port Arthur was inundated overnight due to overwhelming rainfall and a nearby overflowing canal.
Cots and belongings have been abandoned on the civic center floor, which is under about a foot (30 centimeters) of water.
McLellan says it's not clear where the evacuees will go. Some have been at the civic center since Monday.
He says he's not sure if a Salvation Army shelter in Beaumont has space, and the Beaumont Civic Center can hold 600 people but it's already at capacity. Beaumont is just northwest of Port Arthur.
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