Trump Calls On Congress To Approve $7.9 Billion For Harvey Relief

HOUSTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Donald Trump has sent lawmakers an initial request for a $7.9 billion down payment toward Harvey relief and recovery efforts.

The request, expected to be swiftly approved by Congress, would add $7.4 billion to rapidly dwindling Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster aid coffers and $450 million to finance disaster loans for small businesses. 

Meanwhile Friday night, tractor-trailers filled with organic peroxide at a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas ignited, sending a fiery column of black smoke into the air. It was the second time the plant caught fire this week.

Several feet of flood waters damaged equipment at the site, causing explosions that officials said were to be expected. But the fire was too large and too dangerous for crews to battle and was left to burn itself out.

No one was injured, but the blaze prompted concerns about the air quality and further explosions kept first responders far away.

“We had an intense combustion of the materials in one of the trailers that we have been talking about for several days now, and that fire subsequently spread to a second trailer,” Harris County Fire Marshal Assistant Chief of Emergency Operations Bob Royall said.

Officials said additional explosions are likely.

The fire in Crosby was just one piece of Harvey’s aftermath. 

As floodwaters receded and rescuers searched waterlogged neighborhoods for more potential victims, Houston officials began turning their attention to finding temporary housing for those in shelters and getting enough gasoline for people to fill up cars.

Harris County FEMA director Tom Fargione said the agency was looking for ways to house people who lost their homes to Harvey, with 32,000 people reported in shelters across Texas. Some evacuees had begun returning to their homes. The George R. Brown Convention Center, where 10,000 people took shelter, housed 8,000 evacuees late Thursday.

As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, there have been some 156,000 homes damaged. CBS News’ reported the death toll had risen to 40 Friday night.

The priority is to get those who weren’t able to return to their homes into some form of temporary housing, Fargione said.

“Right now, nothing is off the table. This is a tremendous disaster in terms of size and scope.”

The block-by-block search of tens of thousands of Houston homes that rescuers began Thursday is expected to be completed by Friday. Fire Chief Sam Pena said his department had responded to nearly 16,000 calls since the storm hit Saturday, over 7,600 of them for water rescues.

Although it has been downgraded to a tropical depression, Harvey is still expected to dump heavy rain on parts of Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky through Friday. Forecast totals ranged from 4 to 8 inches, with some places possibly getting up to a foot.

As the water receded in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, where officials expected the floodwaters to be almost entirely gone by late Friday or early Saturday, the greatest threat of damage shifted to a region near the Texas-Louisiana state line.

Some residents in Beaumont, Texas, began to get anxious after the city of nearly 120,000 lost water service when its main pump station was overwhelmed by the swollen Neches River. Officials said they were having difficulty bringing in enough bottled water to set up distribution stations because of flooded roads.

With no drinking water and little food people in Beaumont are getting out of the flood-ravaged town any way they can.

“I have no water. I’m just trying to get some water because I have a son that’s have sickle cell. So I wanted to make sure he was hydrated,” Julia King said.

Baptist Hospital in Beaumont continued to evacuate patients for a second day.

“We still have 11 NICU babies, which means the neo natal intensive care unit. We also have two additional babies that were born yesterday, so we all just know babies come when they want to,” Mary Poole said.

Overnight, evacuees boarded C-130 military planes while others like Corey Morris are waiting to board buses.

“They say we are going to Dallas or San Antonio, anywhere to help,” Morris said.

In nearby Port Arthur, the Coast Guard used baskets and harnesses to pull people out of a neighborhood with chest-deep water. Many residents of second-floor apartments decided to stay.

Harvey dumped more than two feet of rain in Port Arthur, much more than resident David Lovra expected.

“We didn’t think it would be this devastating. I never thought my area would actually be really flooded, like flooded to the point where you actually had to swim out,” Lovra said.

In Houston, the mayor told residents whose homes were still flooded to evacuate, because reservoir releases will keep water flowing into them for 10 to 15 days.

“I simply do not feel comfortable with you remaining in your homes with water and I have to take into account the stress imposed on our first responders,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

In other areas of the city, the cleanup was underway. For many, the contents of their homes were left piled high in garbage bags.

“You basically have to sort through your life and decide what you need to throw away and what you need to try and save,” homeowner Howard Holmes said.

Economists said the storm shut down everything from plastics plants to oil refineries to the Houston port — the second-busiest in the nation — which could affect the nation’s economy. 

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams there would be no tit-for-tat delay in providing relief for Harvey, as there was in Sandy.

“We’re going to do the right thing. Two wrongs don’t make a right and we’re going to come to the aid of these folks in the gulf coast even though the senators from that area gave us a hard time and delayed the aid to us,” Blumenthal said.

Nearly five years ago, many Texas Republicans dragged their heels and delayed Hurricane Sandy aid for nearly three months, Adams reported.

Blumenthal expects an initial $6 billion will be approved early next week.

Blumenthal believes it will take more than $100 billion to rebuild after Harvey.

“We’re one country, and we’re all affected economically whether in the price of gasoline or the economic ripple effect or simply because it’s the right thing to do,” Blumenthal said.

Dell Computer founder and CEO Michael Dell pledges $36-million to the relief effort as well.

With widespread reports of gas shortages, the head of the Texas agency that regulates the oil and gas industry urged drivers to wait three or four days to fill up their tanks. Panic buying is causing a run on gas and empty fuel pumps, Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton said.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry said he would release 500,000 barrels of crude oil from an emergency stockpile in a bid to prevent gasoline prices from spiking.

President Donald Trump announced that Sunday will be a national day of prayer in the wake of Harvey. The president visited Houston earlier this week and will return again Saturday to further survey the damage.

Vice President Mike Pence visited Rockport, where he pledged the federal government’s support during a visit Thursday.

Health experts warned that sewage in the floodwater could make people sick and that mosquito populations could explode in the coming weeks because stagnant water offers abundant breeding grounds.

Harvey initially came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas Aug. 25, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days, inundating flood-prone Houston.

The storm brought five straight days of rain totaling close to 52 inches, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental U.S.

Forecasters say the storm will finally dissipate Saturday evening around Ohio.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

More From CBS New York

CELEBRATING 50 YEARS
Get Our Morning Briefs
Bloomberg WCBS Tri-State Business Index

Watch & Listen LIVE