Gov. Abbott: Houston needs $180B in federal Harvey aid

The governor said the destruction wrought by Harvey far exceeds both Superstorm Sandy and Katrina


By Jonathan Tilove
Austin-American Statesman

HOUSTON — Gov. Greg Abbott estimated Sunday that Texas will ultimately need between $150 billion and $180 billion in federal aid to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

In appearances on "Fox News Sunday" and CNN's "State of the Union," the governor said the destruction wrought by Harvey far exceeds, in geographic scope and in numbers of people and homes affected, both Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which he said cost the federal government $40 billion to $50 billion, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which he said cost more than $120 billion.

"I think this will cost well over $120 billion, probably $150 (billion) to $180 billion," Abbott said on Fox.

Of President Donald Trump's initial request for $7.9 billion in aid, Abbott said, "What the president has done is make an additional request before the end of this funding cycle to get things up and running."

Abbott said Trump has already made "specific commitments" to the state: "Basically he has told me, and he has acted upon what he has said, that whatever Texas needs, Texas is going to get."

On Sunday, nine days after Harvey ripped its way across Texas, areas of west Houston braced for more water -- not from the storm but from controlled releases to relieve swollen reservoirs. Crews urged residents whose homes had already taken on water to flee and said that they were shutting off power in some areas.

Authorities went door-to-door in some areas of Houston, after Mayor Sylvester Turner on Saturday ordered evacuations, warning residents that their homes could remain flooded for up to 15 days because of ongoing releases of water from two reservoirs protecting downtown.

About 4,700 dwellings are in the area affected by Turner's evacuation order, but hundreds have refused to leave.

Meanwhile, officials in Beaumont, population almost 120,000, worked to repair their water treatment plant, which failed after the swollen Neches River inundated the main intake system and backup pumps halted. The Army Corps of Engineers sent pumps, and an ExxonMobil team built and installed a temporary intake pipe to try to refill a city reservoir. Exxon has a refinery and chemical plants in Beaumont.

In Crosby, outside of Houston, authorities continued to monitor the Arkema plant, where three trailers of highly unstable compounds ignited in recent days, sending up thick black smoke and tall flames.

The Harris County fire marshal's office said in a statement about 3:30 p.m. Sunday that a decision was made with officials from Arkema Inc. to ignite the six remaining trailers with the compounds in them "through controlled means."

The Houston Chronicle reported that the operation was underway shortly after the announcement, which advised that a 1.5-mile evacuation zone around the plant is still in effect. The fire marshal's office said that the ignition was being done to "minimize the impacts to the community" and that "these measures do not pose any additional risk to the community."

Harvey is blamed for at least 44 deaths. Fire officials in the community of New Waverly, about 55 miles north of Houston, said a 6-month-old was missing and presumed dead after being ripped out of parents' arms and swept away by floodwaters, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Houston's school district said up to 12,000 students would be sent to different schools because of flood-damaged buildings. Twenty-two of the district's 245 schools had extensive damage that will keep them closed for months. Though school is set to start Sept. 11, more delays could come.

Harvey flooding is believed to have damaged at least 156,000 dwellings in Harris County, which includes the nation's fourth-largest city.

Asked about rebuilding in areas prone to flooding during Sunday's TV interviews, Abbott said: "It would be insane for us to rebuild on property that has been flooded multiple times. I think everyone is probably in agreement that there are better strategies that need to be employed."

Of the impact of flooding on 13 Superfund sites, Abbott said: "The EPA is monitoring that. The EPA is going to get on top of that.

"We're working with the EPA to make sure we can contain any of these chemicals from harming anybody in the Greater Houston area or any place," he said.

Abbott said those concerns shouldn't inhibit Texans who are already involved in cleaning up and restoring their homes and businesses, but people should take precautions and "wear gloves, wear masks, wear clothing," so their skin doesn't come in contact with contaminated water.

Abbott invited viewers to help in that effort by contributing to RebuildTX.org.

Michael and Susan Dell launched the fund, in cooperation with the state of Texas, on Friday with an initial contribution of $18 million and a commitment to donate another dollar for every $2 contributed over the Labor Day weekend up to another $18 million, with a goal of raising $100 million altogether.

In Central Texas on Sunday, some gas stations were still waiting to be restocked with gasoline after drivers rushed to buy fuel Thursday, Friday and Saturday, fearing a decrease in supply caused by the temporary closures of some refineries in the path of Hurricane Harvey. The panic only made worse what had been expected to be a manageable decrease in supply.

And in Bastrop, 14 people, including six children, who had evacuated Houston after Tropical Storm Harvey, were treated Saturday night for carbon monoxide poisoning after they were exposed to the gas at a residence.

Copyright 2017 Austin-American Statesman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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