Houston, USA flood disaster

An estimated 17,000 people have been evacuated in the Houstn, USA disaster area. (Photo by Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD)

By Kate Randall in the USA:

As Trump gloats over “success” of government response to Hurricane Harvey

Reservoir breaches in Houston threaten more death and destruction

30 August 2017

The Hurricane Harvey catastrophe deepened as a pair of 70-year-old reservoir dams began overflowing on Tuesday, adding to the rising floodwaters from the storm that have crippled the area after five consecutive days of rain. A new US record of rainfall for a tropical system has been set, measuring 51-plus inches.

President Trump visited Texas on Tuesday as the floodwaters continued to ravage the Houston metropolitan area and southeast regions of the state, in what the National Weather Service deemed an “unprecedented” event. The storm is expected to make a third landfall on the Texas/Louisiana border in the coming days.

An active rescue operation was still underway as the president and Melania Trump touched down in Corpus Christi, outside the area hard-hit by the storm. They headed to a local fire station where they were briefed on relief efforts by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long, Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and others.

While floodwaters continued to rise in nearby Houston, and stranded residents were still waiting for rescue by boat or helicopter, the atmosphere at the briefing was astonishingly complacent, taking on the air of Texas good old boys patting themselves on the back. Abbott, a longtime Trump supporter, traded praises with the president for the wonderful work they were doing. And Trump similarly complimented FEMA and the Coast Guard for their rescue work.

“We won’t say congratulations. We don’t wanna do that,” Trump said. “We don’t wanna congratulate. We’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished, but you have been terrific.” The surreal nature of this gathering of the political establishment could aptly be summed up by the phrase: “Trump gloats, while Houston floats.” Trump held a rally outside the firehouse that had the feel of a campaign stump speech, waving the Texas Lone Star flag, describing the storm as “epic,” and insuring the crowd that Texas would persevere.

About 200 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, in the Houston area, the disaster wrought by Harvey’s wrath continued to unfold. The two dams that began overflowing threatened downtown Houston. A levee at Columbia Lakes south of Houston was also breached, and Brazoria County authorities posted a message on Twitter telling people to “GET OUT NOW!!!”

On Monday, engineers had begun releasing water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, which are at record highs, to ease the strain on them, but it was not enough. The release of the water means that even more homes and streets will flood, and authorities said that some homes could be flooded for up to a month.

Authorities are still in “rescue” mode. More than 3,000 national and state guard troops have been deployed to assist in the rescue mission, and the Pentagon has said 30,000 National Guard troops could be mobilized. The Coast Guard has made an estimated 4,000 rescues, but there is no official count of those rescued by the hundreds of volunteers with canoes, paddleboards and other flat-bottom boats who have sprung into action to save their neighbors and strangers.

The official death toll stands at 30. But as the tragedy of Katrina showed, the full extent of fatalities will not be known until the floodwaters clear, which may be weeks or months. The Saldovar family of Houston reported the fate of six of their family members, including four children, who are feared dead after their van was swept away by floodwaters while crossing a bridge attempting to escape.

There is no way to know how many victims lie in their vehicles submerged underwater, or in their flooded homes. While the Houston authorities reported receiving as many as 1,000 emergency calls an hour for rescue as of Tuesday, there is no official tally of how many people may still be trapped in houses and mobile homes, attempting to survive for days without power, clean water and food. Numerous tragedies like that of the Saldovar family are likely to emerge in the coming days and weeks.

Houston authorities have estimated that 17,000 evacuees will be seeking emergency shelter. Already the George R. Brown Convention Center, which is supposed to shelter 5,000 people, is holding more than 10,000 people. FEMA head Long’s assurances that the center would not become “another Superdome”—referring to the New Orleans sports stadium that housed evacuees in deplorable conditions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005—cannot be taken as good coin when the convention center is packed at double capacity.

Hurricane Harvey portends a public health crisis as well. Medical staff have been trapped in hospitals with dwindling supplies of food and medicine, forcing more health care facilities to close and evacuate patients by boat. Memorial Sugar Land Hospital has had to evacuate patients temporarily.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Ben Taub Hospital has resumed plans to transfer its most critical patients to other facilities, road conditions permitting. The biggest risk is running out of supplies, including medicine, due to high water limiting access to the facility. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center cancelled outpatient services, appointments and surgeries through Tuesday.

The floodwaters not only displace people, but pose significant risks to health and safety. They can be full of contaminants. “Flood water mixes with everything below it,” Dr. Richard Bradley, chief of the division of emergency medical services at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Science Center at Houston, told Time magazine. “If it covers a field with pesticides, it picks up the pesticides. It can also carry animal waste from fields and forests.”

While the public focuses on the rescue, safety and health of their loved ones, Houston’s police chief Art Acevedo made a threat against any would-be looters, saying that armed robbers had been apprehended Tuesday and taken into custody. Acevedo said he had spoken with the Harris County district attorney’s office to lobby that anyone suspected of looting be prosecuted and given the most severe punishment allowed by Texas law. The allegations of “looting” were used to justify a law-and-order crackdown by police and military personnel during Hurricane Katrina.

Later Tuesday at the Texas Emergency Command Center in Austin, the president met with FEMA along with Texas and Trump administration officials. Among them was Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, who explained that HHS’s responsibility in the crisis was to attend to public health, veterinary and mortuary services, making a grim allusion to the work of recovering and burying the expected casualties.

Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said his department’s role would be to insure loan guarantees for infrastructure recovery, to provide immediate foreclosure relief and mortgage insurance. He also said a key role for HUD was to disseminate information, as “the masses frequently become confused” in such situations.

The reality is that “the masses” are not confused, but infuriated under such situations when they find out they are not covered by insurance, or that their insurance is basically worthless. Only one in six Texans have flood insurance. And even for those who do have insurance, it doesn’t cover a flood caused by “Mother Nature,” such as a hurricane. Only a federal program covers flood disasters, and this program runs out at the end of September unless it is reauthorized by Congress.

Five years after Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast US, some 80 percent of homeowners have not received compensation from their insurers for flood damage.

HARVEY’S DEVASTATION CONTINUES Here’s what you need to know about the storm, which has broken the continental U.S. rainfall record, making landfall in Southwest Louisiana. This dramatic time-lapse shows the flood waters rising in Houston. And George W. Bush’s press secretary says Donald Trump’s response to Harvey was missing this one thing. [HuffPost]

When Rescues In This Texas City Stopped, Residents Cried Out For Help On Social Media. Flood waters in Texas continue to rise, creating conditions so severe that people trapped in their homes had no chance of being rescued overnight. Authorities said 911 lines in Port Arthur ― about 91 miles east of Houston ― were still overloaded as of early Wednesday, and that rescues had to be stopped overnight due to the conditions: here.

Joel Osteen Says Megachurch Didn’t Open Earlier Because Houston ‘Didn’t Ask’. Pastor Joel Osteen can’t seem to get his story straight about why he didn’t offer his 16,800-seat megachurch in Houston as a shelter sooner for those displaced by Hurricane Harvey: here.

Here’s how refugees are facing the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey — and giving back to the city that took them in.

Why Houston flooding always hits the poorest neighborhoods hardest.

This Texas mother died saving her 3-year-old from Harvey floods.

Melania Trump caught some flack for wearing stilettos en route to Texas, while Trump continued to plug campaign merchandise during the trip.

Best Buy has apologized for a store that was price-gouging during Harvey with $43 cases of water.

This video says about itself:

Harvey, Houston & the Science of Wetlands

29 August 2017

Why has Hurricane Harvey exacted such devastating flooding on the city of Houston? The city’s mistreatment of its wetlands may be part of the reason, as Watching the Hawks’ Tabetha Wallace explains.

By Niles Niemuth in the USA:

The Houston flood, the anarchy of the capitalist market and the case for socialist planning

30 August 2017

The disaster along the US Gulf Coast triggered by Hurricane Harvey continues to worsen as the storm moves east into Louisiana. Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, remains inundated by unprecedented levels of flooding. The reported death toll is 30 and rising, amid reports of dozens of residents gone missing. Five days after landfall, it is still not known how many people are in need of rescue.

Even as the level of death and destruction in southeast Texas mounts, there is a concerted effort to deny that anything could have been done to prepare for or limit the impact of the storm.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator William “Brock” Long proclaimed that the disaster was impossible to foresee. “You could not forecast this up. You could not dream this forecast up,” Long said Monday night. Uncritically quoting Long, the Washington Post published a front-page article with the headline: “Rescue officials say there was no way to prepare for deluge’s ferocity.”

In its editorial on Tuesday, the New York Times wrote that rescue efforts were going “about as well as could be expected.” It added that instead of “lamenting its failure to heed long-ago warnings,” the country should “look ahead.” Ominously, it suggested that, as in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, working class areas of Houston might be left to rot, declaring that officials will need to “make difficult decisions about whether to rebuild and how.”

Twelve years after Katrina, nothing has been done to strengthen flood control systems and build up the social infrastructure to limit the impact of major storms. Nor has anything been done to plan and prepare emergency and public safety measures to deal with a severe weather event. Repeated warnings and urgent recommendations, such as were contained in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2014 report, “Call for a National Flood Risk Management Strategy,” have gone entirely unheeded.

Robert Bea, an emeritus civil engineering professor at UC Berkeley and expert on hurricane risks on the Gulf Coast, told the Los Angeles Times that the official claim that Houston’s flood control system could protect the population from a 100-year storm was a “100-year lie.” The 100-year claim, he explained, is based on the city receiving a maximum of 13 inches of rain in 24 hours, something that has happened more than eight times in the last 27 years.

The reason why these warnings have been ignored is not hard to fathom. They have been resolutely opposed by corporate interests, including the real estate industry, Wall Street and Big Oil. Their ability, operating through bribed politicians of both parties, to veto and block elementary measures to protect the American people, exemplifies the complete subordination of all social needs under capitalism to the selfish drive of a corporate-financial oligarchy to accumulate ever greater levels of personal wealth and profit.

Texas, and the city of Houston in particular, have been hailed as exemplars of the “success” of completely deregulated, free market capitalism. The home of the Bush dynasty and a center of the oil and gas behemoths, Houston is the largest city in the country without any zoning laws to regulate urban development. There are no serious limits on real estate speculators and developers, who have systematically ignored warnings by engineers and scientists on the consequences of paving over wetlands and prairie lands, which soak up heavy rains, with impermeable concrete.

The city’s urban sprawl now covers some 600 square miles. Thousands of new homes have been built in flood plains since 2010. City planners know that Houston lies in a highly flood-prone region, but have done nothing to stop the destruction of the natural barriers that once limited flooding. The thousands of workers who have lost their livelihoods from Hurricane Harvey are the victims of the criminal negligence of government officials who do the bidding of avaricious property developers, oil magnates and bankers.

There was ample warning of a flood catastrophe. There was the near miss in 2008 with Hurricane Ike, which slammed into Galveston. Three rain storms since 2015 caused major flooding outside of areas deemed by FEMA to be at high risk. Longstanding discussions of extending and fortifying infrastructure to protect Houston and other coastal cities from storm surge have never gone beyond the planning stage. The city’s antiquated and inadequate flood control infrastructure, built decades ago, has collapsed.

President Donald Trump’s visit to Texas on Tuesday exemplified the callous indifference of the American ruling elite toward the plight of working class victims of its greed and neglect, along with an astonishing degree of ignorance as to what masses of people are thinking.

At a staged event at the crisis management center in Corpus Christi, Trump, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and FEMA Administrator Long congratulated one another on their marvelous response to the flood disaster. They presented the obscene spectacle of chaos and incompetence on the part of the authorities, which is evoking shock and outrage across the country and around the world, as a model of compassion and efficiency.

Abbott, a longtime political asset of the oil industry, slavishly praised Trump, the representative of the real estate interests that have ruthlessly plundered Houston and led it to its present fate.

Behind the scenes, discussions are already underway about how to take advantage of the crisis, as in post-Katrina New Orleans, to go even further in ripping up regulations, privatizing public assets and slashing wages.

It is critical that working people and youth begin to draw the necessary political conclusions from this latest so-called “natural disaster”. The catastrophe unfolding in Texas is not, after all, the first such event. The past 12 years alone have seen a succession of events that exposed the staggering levels of social inequality and poverty that pervade American society, along with the indifference and criminality of the ruling corporate oligarchy: Katrina in 2005, BP Oil in 2010, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and now Houston.

All of these disasters are, in fact, social crimes. They demonstrate the incompatibility of modern complex societies with an outmoded and irrational economic system based on the anarchy of the capitalist market and the drive of financial oligarchs for more and more personal wealth. Thousands of people in Houston are losing everything, many their very lives, so that billionaire gangsters like Trump can buy bigger mansions and yachts and keep bribing the political hacks who defend their wealth and power.

These tragic events demonstrate in the negative the urgent need for the reorganization of economic and social life on the basis of rational planning, science, public ownership and control, and the democratic participation of the broad masses, both in the US and internationally.

The outpouring of solidarity and the organization of rescue efforts by ordinary people from Houston and around the country testify to the potential for the development of such a society. What stands in the way? It is the barbaric oligarchy that exerts a stranglehold on the wealth and productive forces of society. The chief lesson of Hurricane Harvey is that this obstacle must be removed from the scene of history. The only social force that can achieve this is the working class.

1 thought on “Houston, USA flood disaster

  1. Houston is a low-lying city near the Gulf of Mexico coast and residents have long warned that authorities have done little to prepare for floods — establishing campaign group Residents Against Flooding, which filed lawsuits against the city for the way it had approved development projects without proper facilities for water runoff or other protections.

    The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has pointed to rising sea levels and increased frequency of tropical storms as a result of carbon dioxide emissions.

    But President Donald Trump stands accused of “deliberately destroying safeguards that protect our air and water, all for the sake of allowing corporate polluters to profit at our expense,” according to Tom Steyer of NextGen Climate.

    Mr Trump has slashed EPA budgets and rescinded executive orders that instruct state and federal authorities to take climate change into account in planning and approving projects.



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