HOUSTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The death toll was climbing in Texas Wednesday in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey, and Gov. Greg Abbott warned that the worst was not yet over.
As Sonia Moghe reported, the death toll from Harvey was up to 27 late Wednesday. A family of six was reportedly found in their van.
They had been rumored to have been swept away during the storm. Four children and two adults were found in the van.
“The water took ’em. The water took ’em. They went into a ditch,” a relative said. “My uncle got out. The National Guard came and tried to get the door open and couldn’t.”
The death toll is expected to rise.
But that has not kept search crews from scouring the floodwaters for survivors.
Meanwhile, federal officials said that over 30,000 people are in more than 230 shelters from areas hit hard by Harvey.
Thousands have been rescued so far – and they include the most vulnerable, the disabled, the elderly, children and babies.
“No one has even kept count,” said Judge Ed Emmett of Harris County, Texas Emergency Management. “The count is not the important thing. It’s getting people out of the dangerous situation.”
But speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said more people still need to be rescued.
“So the operation right now is very clear: We’re still in life-saving, life-sustaining mode,” Long said.
Harvey came ashore again early Wednesday morning, this time about five miles west of Cameron, Louisiana near the Texas border.
“While we continue to monitor the storm as it heads towards Louisiana, we remain concerned about Houston where catastrophic flooding is likely to persist,” Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said. “This particular storm was unprecedented in terms of volume of rain and that’s what we’re focusing on now.”
Dangerous rescue operations continued Wednesday in flood-ravaged Houston, while cities nearby felt the full brunt of Harvey after the storm made landfall again.
Flooding swallowed nearly all of Port Arthur as well as Beaumont Wednesday.
In a Facebook post, Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman wrote, “Our whole city is underwater right now but we are coming!”
High above Port Arthur, rescuers located people trapped in the rising waters. A U.S. Navy search and rescue crew pulled residents from at least three feet of chilly water.
In one nursing home in Port Arthur, more than 70 patients were trapped, CBS News’ Danielle Nottingham reported.
“Some of the nurses said the patients were in the water for 24 hours,” said Port Authority police Officer Mike Hebert.
The only way in our out of the nursing home is now by boat. A volunteer flotilla transported patients – many of them bedridden – out of the nursing home.
Those in wheelchairs were airlifted from a field.
“Just amazing to see them come together – to see all the boats that showed up – and people that came,” a volunteer said. “This is what it’s all about.”
Also in Port Arthur, rescue teams were fighting a fire in flood waters. CBS affiliate KFDM said the fire spread to several houses and the neighborhood was being evacuated.
Nearby in Beaumont, terrifying scenes were seen across the city – with some people having to climb trees to escape the flooding.
Before coming back ashore, Harvey slammed the Beaumont area overnight with lightning, wind and what the National Weather Service called “catastrophic and life threatening flooding.”
In Orange, Texas, volunteer Kenny Begnaud came in from Louisiana with his boat to help find stranded residents.
“People in need — you got to come. You got to do it,” he said.
He was able to fetch Janet Garcia and her family, who had water come into their apartment beginning Tuesday night.
“It’s such a relief after so much water,” Garcia said. “We feel safe now going to land.”
Begnaud said it is easy while he is helping people, and it is only afterward when he considers what they have lost that it all starts to sink in.
New York first responders were also on the scene making rescues in Texas Wednesday. New York Task Force 1 – a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue team made up of NYPD, FDNY, and EMS members – conducted search and rescue operations in the Brazoria County towns of Sweeney, West Columbia, Sandy Point, and Holiday Lakes.
They assisted with at least six evacuations and one rescue of a 78-year-old man who was in a submerged tractor, according to the NYPD.
And back in Houston, thousands were in shelters.
“We want to work as quickly as we can to transition people out of the shelters and into their normal lives,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Many more were still waiting to be rescued as emergency crews and volunteers raced against time to reach those still trapped in their homes.
And on a flooded interstate, a group of people formed a human chain to pull a victim to safety.
Abbott said more help was on the way.
“I last announced that we had 12,000 National Guard members activated. That number has now been increased to 14,000,” he said. “Bottom line, we are now up to our highest level of the number of Texas National Guard members who are deployed.”
The National Guard will also be managing the evacuees like 7-year-old Jesus, who has cerebral palsy and hasn’t eaten in a day.
“His machines got wet. His medicine got wet. So he already had three seizures,” said Jesus’ cousin, Linda Rojas. “All we can do is wait. All we can do is wait.”
A citywide overnight curfew remained in effect in Houston Wednesday, after what the mayor called a successful night.
“It was effective,” Turner said. “People were very cooperative last night.”
National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said Wednesday that Harvey is “spinning down,” and while it is still a tropical storm with 45 mph winds, “it should be a depression sometime tonight.”
“After two landfalls in less than a week and record shattering rainfall, Harvey is finally starting to lose some steam,” Duke said.
Harvey first made landfall Friday in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm then lingered over the Houston-area for days before meandering back into the Gulf of Mexico.
Abbott said Wednesday that an additional 10,000 National Guard troops will be coming in, mostly from other states, to assist with rescue and recovery efforts.
“They have made more than 8,500 rescues, more than 26,000 evacuations and more than 1,400 shelter in place and welfare checks,” he said.
Where to house all the displaced has become the latest issue. Two additional shelters, the Toyota Center and NRG Park, opened to house displaced residents.
Michelle Lavan and her family had no cots to sleep on when they arrived at the city’s main shelter, which was operating at double capacity.
“Houston wasn’t prepared, the governor wasn’t prepared,” she said. “The mayor wasn’t prepared.”
Louisiana’s governor also offered to take in Harvey victims from Texas and televangelist Joel Osteen opened his Houston megachurch, a 16,000-seat former arena, after critics blasted him on social media for not acting to help families displaced by the storm.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)