Trump Visits Harvey Victims In Houston, As Volunteers Near & Far Send Their Support

HOUSTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — One week after Harvey roared into the Gulf Coast, residents of a Texas city struggled with no drinking water, fires continued to erupt at a stricken chemical plant and funerals began for some of the mounting toll of victims.

In Beaumont, Texas, home to almost 120,000, people waited in a line that stretched for more than a mile to get bottled water after the municipal system failed earlier this week.

Thick black smoke and towering orange flames shot up Friday after two trailers of highly unstable compounds blew up at Arkema, a flooded chemical plant in Crosby, the second fire there in two days.

A day later, firefighters in Houston battled a house fire in a flooded neighborhood. They had a tough time, because officials said the fire hydrant was under water.

Members of the Army National Guard joined a state task force as they helped families left stranded by Harvey in Pecan Grove, a neighborhood under mandatory evacuation orders.

And in Houston, friends and family gathered Friday evening to remember 42-year-old Benito Juarez Cavazos, one of 42 people whose deaths are attributed to Harvey. Cavazos came to Texas illegally from Mexico 28 years ago and was in the process of getting his green card.

“It’s very unfortunate that right when he finally had hopes of being able to maybe go to Mexico soon to go see his family it all went downhill,” his cousin, Maria Cavazos, said. “Sadly, he’s going back to Mexico, but in an unfortunate way.” 

President Donald Trump arrived in Houston Saturday morning for his second visit to the region devastated by Harvey. The president was joined by First Lady Melania Trump at the NRG Center, where he met with survivors of the deadly hurricane.

The Trumps spent time in an area of the shelter designated for children and posed for photographs and shook hands as they listened to people’s stories.

“As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing I think, even for the country to watch and for the world to watch,” he said.

Trump at one point leaned down and cupped a little boy’s face while they spoke and then gave him a high five. He lifted a girl up and gave her a kiss.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott accompanied them. Abbott and Trump stopped at a table piled high with toys and books to speak with a family.

National Guard troops at the center shouted to Trump, “we’re proud of you” and “you’re doing a fantastic job.”

The president was criticized for not visiting the victim during his first trip to Texas after Harvey made landfall. Following his stop in Texas, he flew to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where he toured the National Guard Armory.

Meanwhile, a day at the ballpark gave the Houston community a much-needed break and way to show support. The Houston Astros gave away thousands of tickets to people in area shelters and fans donated money and supplies.

“It’s in my heart, and we do things that’s really in our heart to do,” one fan told CBS News’ Danielle Nottingham.

Closer to home, the New York State Young Democrats held a candlelight vigil and donation drive at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn for the victims.

Some people who stopped by to donate told CBS2’s Jessica Borg them were affected by Superstorm Sandy and they couldn’t have gotten by without the help from strangers.

“It breaks my heart,” organizer Patrick Jordan, of Queens, said.

He collected supplies for the first responders and residents.

“Diapers, feminine care products, batteries, things like disposable cameras for taking pictures of damage right afterwards since everyone’s phones are destroyed,” Jordan said.

Queens resident Karen LeRoy said she lives paycheck-to-paycheck, but had to help.

“I figured I’d give my two last gallons of water out of my refrigerator,” she told Borg.

Brooklyn EMT James Wheaton donated $40, saying every little bit counts.

“Everyone’s got to do their part,” he said.

The group said it is working with the South Texas Human Rights Center. The cost of the hurricane cleanup so far is believed to be more than $75 billion.

On Friday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that ongoing releases of water from two reservoirs could keep thousands of homes flooded for up to 15 days. He told residents that if they stayed and later needed help, first responders’ resources could be further strained.

Residents of the still-flooded western part of Houston were asked to evacuate due to the releases from two reservoirs protecting downtown. The ongoing releases were expected to keep some homes flooded that had been filled with water earlier in the week. Homes that are not currently flooded probably will not be affected, officials said.

Some of the affected houses have several feet (meters) of water in them, and the water reaches to the rooftops of others, district meteorologist Jeff Lindner said.

Across southeast Texas, volunteers continue to help flood victims clean out their homes. Howard Holmes tells CBS2’s Don Champion the idea of starting over is already overwhelming.

“You can’t stop. You have to keep going because if you stop you lose that head of steam,” he said.

Even as more help arrives, floodwaters continue to threaten households.

Turner pleaded for more high-water vehicles and more search-and-rescue equipment as the nation’s fourth-largest city continued looking for any survivors or corpses that might have somehow escaped notice in flood-ravaged neighborhoods.

Search teams quickly worked their way down streets, sometimes not even knocking on doors if there were obvious signs that all was well — organized debris piles or full cans of trash on the curb, for instance, or neighbors confirming that the residents had evacuated.

Authorities considered it an initial search, though they did not say what subsequent searches would entail or when they would commence.

Turner also asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide more workers to process applications from thousands of people seeking government help. The mayor said he will request a preliminary aid package of $75 million for debris removal alone.

The storm had lost most of its tropical characteristics but remained a source of heavy rain that threatened to cause flooding as far north as Indiana.

By Friday evening, Harvey had dumped more than 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain in parts of Arkansas and Tennessee and more than 8 inches (20 centimeters) in spots in Alabama and Kentucky. Its remnants were expected to generate another 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 8 centimeters) over parts of Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia.

National Weather Service meteorologists expect Harvey to break up and merge with other weather systems over the Ohio Valley late Saturday or Sunday.

An estimated 156,000 dwellings were damaged by flooding in Harris County, or more than 10 percent of all structures in the county database, according to the flood control district for the county, which includes Houston. More than 450,000 people in the county have applied for assistance from FEMA.

Figures from the Texas Department of Public Safety indicated that nearly 87,000 homes had major or minor damage and at least 6,800 were destroyed.

The president has sent lawmakers an initial request for a $7.9 billion down payment toward Harvey relief and recovery efforts — a request expected to be swiftly approved by Congress, which returns to work Tuesday after its summer break.

Harvey initially came ashore Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days. The storm brought five straight days of rain totaling close to 52 inches (1.3 meters) in one location, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental U.S.

Far out over the Atlantic, Hurricane Irma was following a course that could bring it near the eastern Caribbean Sea by early next week. The Category 2 storm was moving northwest at nearly 13 mph (20 kph). No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.

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

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