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Floodwaters From Harvey Make It A Nightmare To Rescue People


And I'm David Greene on the ground this morning in Houston, Texas. We arrived here last night in these incredibly heavy bands of rain. There were tornado warnings on our car radio. Our mobile devices kept blaring these flash-flood warnings. Now, Harvey is no longer a hurricane, but it is still a tropical storm. And it's nearly stationary, which means the rain keeps coming, the flooding continues and forecasters say it still could get worse. There were dramatic rescues here yesterday of families stranded on top of their flooded homes. I just want to play some voices here that NPR producer Marisa Penaloza gathered at a shelter in Houston.

GERARDRICK HEARD: The whole apartment complex just flooded completely. Cars were underwater.

RAYMOND HOLDEN: They woke us up and the bayou had overflowed.

ANQUINETTE SIMIAN: I seen this through Ike, through Rita, Alicia and everything. There is no way that Houston should not be prepared at the shelters.

KAYLA CHILDRESS: I plan on going to school in two weeks. But with this flood going on, I don't know how I'm going to get to school now because I have no car.

GREENE: A lot of people in the city coming together to make it through this. That was Gerardrick Heard (ph), Raymond Holden (ph), Anquinette Simian (ph) and Kayla Childress (ph). And I want to bring in another voice here. NPR's Debbie Elliott is part of the team covering this storm, and she's about 80 miles to the east of where we are in Houston. She's in Beaumont, Texas.

Hi, Debbie.


GREENE: So tell me - we're learning more this morning about these dramatic rescue efforts. What exactly do we know at this point?

ELLIOTT: Well, they're still going to be going on today. You know, there are still people who are stranded. And as the storm is moving a little bit further toward the east, where I am, there are more issues cropping up and more people in harm's way. We heard for the first time this morning from the FEMA director, an update today on just what's happening, FEMA director Brock Long emphasizing that this response is still very much in the crisis mode. It's focused on trying to rescue people, both in Houston and elsewhere, as this moves - slowly, but as it moves. And here's what he says.


BROCK LONG: This is a life-safety, life-sustaining mission. We're trying to help bolster the efforts to do swift-water rescue, search and rescue over a huge county jurisdiction, over 30 to 50 counties possibly impacted in Texas. We're also going to see a tremendous amount of rainfall into the southwest Louisiana.

ELLIOTT: So you can hear in his voice there that the scope of this is just such a challenge. They're saying that something like 30,000 people at least right now are in need of shelter. And while he talked about bringing all the fire power of the federal government to help, he also acknowledged that helping Texas overcome this landmark disaster is far greater than FEMA, that citizens are going to have to be involved as well.

GREENE: Yeah, and we're already seeing citizens step up. I mean, all the stories of people just taking their fishing boats out and rescuing people throughout the Houston area. Debbie, you said that this storm is moving. It's not moving quickly, and that has been the problem. It's why it's dumped so much rain over Houston - but moving. We thought that it could keep affecting the Houston area. Are you saying it might be moving to the east a little more than we expected, and Louisiana could become the focus in the coming days?

ELLIOTT: Yes, but that's not going to happen immediately. You're not out of the woods in Houston yet at all. And, in fact, you've also got rivers and bayous that are going to be reaching crest stage later in the week in and around Houston. So the National Weather Service director also spoke at that briefing this morning and talked about, you know, the floodwaters are going to be slow to recede. They're going to persist.

So it's like this crisis that is not going to stop. It's going to continue. It's going to expand and include more areas. But, you know, toward the end of the week, you look at the weather app that I have on my phone...


ELLIOTT: ...And every single day a hundred-percent rain.

GREENE: Yeah, I saw that too. It's amazing. And not just every - but every hour of every day almost, it's just - it's a hundred-percent, a hundred-percent. And it's just never going to stop. And of course that is affecting people and their lives but also industry, right? I mean, the energy industry has a huge presence in this part of the country.

ELLIOTT: It does, and shipping industry as well. You know, there are - this quarter, say, from Lake Charles, La., stretching over to - through Houston and on into Corpus Christi is full of oil refineries, liquefied natural gas plants, petrochemical companies. Then there's all the offshore oil and gas production. You know, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Management says about 21 percent of all oil and a quarter of all natural gas production has been shut in because of Harvey. So that's going to affect gas prices, you know, and even just think about the trucks that normally drive up and down I-10 or - they're not able to do that anymore.

GREENE: NPR's Debbie Elliott, part of our team here covering this storm. She's hunkered down in Beaumont, Texas. Debbie, thanks a lot.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.