Hurricane Harvey: Thousands flee flooded Texas towns

  • 02/09/2017

A week after Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas, rescuers are pressing on with their marathon search for survivors in large pockets of land that remain flooded by one of the costliest natural disasters to hit the United States.

The storm has displaced more than 1 million people, with 44 feared dead from flooding that paralysed Houston, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, a city of about 120,000 people.

The Neches River, which flows into Beaumont and nearby Port Arthur was forecast to crest on Friday, and rescuers continued to pull people from nearby towns.

Chemical maker Arkema SA said that a fire started on Thursday in a truck storing chemicals at a flooded plant east of Houston had burned itself out by Friday, but that more blasts were likely in eight other trucks storing the same chemicals in the coming days.

With three months remaining in the official Atlantic hurricane season, a new storm, Irma, had strengthened into a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir- Simpson scale, on Friday.

Harvey shut about a quarter of US refinery capacity and caused gasoline prices to spike to a two-year high ahead of the long Labor Day holiday weekend.

With the presence of waterborne contaminants a growing concern, the National Weather Service issued flood watches from Arkansas into Ohio on Friday as the remnants of the storm made their way through the US heartland.

The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has risen 17 US cents since the storm hit, hitting the highest since August 2015, according to motorists group AAA.

Several East Coast refineries have run out of gasoline, raising fears that travellers will face fuel shortages during the three-day holiday.

In major Texas cities including Dallas, there were long lines at gas stations, prompting state regulators to tell people they were sparking a panic and saying there were ample fuel supplies.

Moody's Analytics estimated the economic cost from Harvey for southeastern Texas at $US51 billion (NZ$71 billion) to $US75 billion (NZ$104 billion), ranking it among the costliest storms in US history.

The storm came on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1800 around New Orleans. President George W Bush's administration was roundly criticised for its botched early response to the storm.

President Donald Trump is due for a second visit to the region on Saturday.

Trump said on Friday he expects to soon make an initial funding request to the US Congress to help Texas and Louisiana recover from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

He is expected to ask for $US6 billion (NZ$8.3 billion).