Harvey Makes Landfall In Louisiana As Houston Copes With Record Rainfall | WBEZ
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Harvey Makes Landfall In Louisiana As Houston Copes With Record Rainfall

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Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET

Tropical Storm Harvey has made landfall again, this time in Louisiana, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm hit "just west" of Cameron, La., at 4 a.m. local time.

The confirmed death toll from Harvey is at least 17, across five Texas counties — although that figure is likely to rise and does not include people who are missing or believed dead.

A storm surge warning was issued for a large swath of Louisiana's coastline, stretching from Holly Beach east to Morgan City. Parts of Louisiana and Texas were under flash flood warnings through Wednesday morning, affecting areas where hundreds of thousands of people live.

More than 32,000 people are currently in shelters, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a press conference. He said that a federal disaster has been declared in 14 additional counties, bringing the total to 33 in the state.

The death tally rose Wednesday after recovery workers in Harris County were finally able to reach a white van that a rescued man had told them was holding several family members. At that time on Sunday morning, the van was seen under at least four feet of fast-moving water and no rescue attempts could be made.

The tragedy took place at Greens Bayou, and six people are confirmed to have died in the van. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told reporters that police initially viewed two bodies, but when the water receded, they found the remains of four minors in the back of the vehicle. Gonzalez says they were all members of the Saldivar family.

Harvey's slow movement away from southeast Texas promises some relief from relentless rains that have inundated large swaths of Houston, Beaumont and other areas since a downpour began late last week. Late Tuesday, some Houston residents glimpsed something they hadn't seen for days: the sun.

Harvey dumped nearly 52 inches of rain at one location east of Houston, the National Weather Service said, breaking the record for the greatest amount of measured single-storm rainfall for the continental U.S. (In Hawaii, cyclone Hiki set the national record of more than 52 inches in 1950.)

Houston and surrounding areas face the threat of more flooding from rivers and reservoirs. In Brazoria County, where a levee at Columbia Lakes breached Tuesday, the Brazos River remained at nearly 10 feet above its 43-foot flood stage.

In Harris County, flood control officials say "almost all watersheds have crested (not rising!)" Wednesday morning. But water that started coursing over the Addicks reservoir's spillway on Tuesday is still doing so today, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is still releasing nearly 14,000 cubic feet per second‬ from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs west of downtown Houston.

As NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reported, the Harris County Flood Control District says that some 4,000 homes have flooded because of the reservoir overflow.

There are also steep challenges for emergency and relief crews who are trying to help residents and evacuees relying on infrastructure that's been crippled.

But this storm has also shown the resilience of Texans — as evidenced by the sight Wednesday of a long line of people waiting outside a shelter at NRG Park that was opened by the Baker-Ripley community group. As Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said in a tweet, "These aren't the guests, they're the volunteers!"

In an update on the relief effort, FEMA Administrator Brock Long said that as of Tuesday night, 1,700 families were staying at more than 2,000 hotel and motel rooms across five states, via the Transitional Shelter Assistance Program.

Gov. Abbot told reporters today that 210,000 people have registered with FEMA for individual assistance, and more than $37 million has already been approved.

There was other good news Wednesday morning, when the National Weather Service office in Houston announced, "Our tropical storm warning, storm surge watch, and flash flood watch have all been canceled. Improving weather conditions to come!"

Federal and local agencies have saved more than 13,000 people from perilous floodwaters — and those rescue efforts are continuing, as some residents who tried to ride out the storm find themselves in need of aid and shelter.

Along the Texas/Louisiana border and north into western Kentucky, Harvey is expected to bring 3 to 6 inches of rain, the hurricane center says, warning of "isolated amounts up to 10 inches."

The National Hurricane Center predicts Harvey will move northeast from Louisiana. (National Hurricane Center, National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration)

As of 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, Harvey was moving north-northeast at about 8 mph. The NHC expects the storm's center to "move through southwestern and central Louisiana today and tonight, then move through northeastern Louisiana and northwestern Mississippi Thursday and Thursday night."

Slow-moving storms can bring more potential for destruction as they hang over an area. Harvey was barely moving when it devastated neighborhoods and communities in Texas.

The NHC says maximum sustained winds are currently about 40 mph, down from a high of 130 mph when Harvey made landfall in Texas several days ago as a Category 4 storm.

"Weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours as Harvey moves farther inland, and the cyclone is expected to weaken to a tropical depression tonight," the weather agency adds.

However, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned Tuesday that the storm "has tremendous potential to continue to drop heavy amounts of water, and to prevent people from going about their normal daily business in a safe manner."

New Orleans does not appear to be on the storm's primary path, but officials are still concerned about the potential for flooding — just as the city marked 12 years since Hurricane Katrina flooded and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and displaced even more people.

To make things worse for Louisiana's largest city, not all of the drainage pumps in New Orleans are working. "The city's pumping system has been under scrutiny since flooding earlier this month exposed infrastructure failures and unreported maintenance issues," NPR member station WWNO reports.

"People are just on edge" in New Orleans as they wait for the storm's impact, WWNO reporter Tegan Wendland told Morning Edition on Wednesday. "Every time it rains, people are left wondering if it's going to be a disaster."

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