Hurricane Harvey in Texas, USA consequences

This video from the USA says about itself:

29 August 2017

Aerial footage highlights the extent of flooding damage caused by tropical storm Harvey in Houston.

By Patrick Martin in the USA:

Hurricane Harvey to be costliest US natural disaster

4 September 2017

With estimates of the total damage ranging from $180 billion on up, Hurricane Harvey may be the costliest disaster, in terms of economic damage, in US history.

Damage estimates are still preliminary, with large areas still inaccessible. The death toll stands at 50, but it is expected to rise considerably as homes in lower-elevation neighborhoods of Houston—mostly poor and working-class—and in the swamped cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur are reached by rescue and recovery teams.

The American Red Cross reported Sunday its highest total for storm refugees, 37,000 in emergency shelters across the Texas Gulf Coast and 2,000 more in Louisiana. Some 85,000 homes are still without electrical power, mainly in the southeast Texas region between Corpus Christi and Galveston, where Harvey first came ashore as a Category 3 hurricane.

The Texas Department of Public Safety raised its estimate of the total number of homes damaged by flooding and wind to over 200,000 Sunday, with much of Houston and all of Beaumont and Port Arthur still unaccounted for. Nearly 15,000 homes were classified as destroyed.

A staggering one million vehicles were destroyed or damaged, mainly by flooding, which destroys the complex electronic workings of most modern cars and trucks.

Only a small fraction of homeowners and businesses in Harris County, which includes Houston, have federal flood insurance policies, about 250,000 for 1.7 million homes or apartments and 100,000 business premises. For the region as a whole, it is estimated that at least 70 percent of the flood damage is uninsured.

The Houston Independent School District, seventh largest in the US, reported that at least 202 of its 284 schools had water inside, and only 115 had been deemed safe to reopen by September 11, when the school year is now scheduled to start. At least 75 schools had “major” or “extensive” damage, and 39 were still inaccessible due to flooding and had not been checked.

The damage from Harvey is likely to be more than the combined total of Hurricane Katrina ($110 billion) and Superstorm Sandy ($60 billion).

In the face of this catastrophe, the response from the institutions of the American ruling class is a combination of criminal negligence and indifference. The federal and state governments have left the bulk of the population to shift for itself, local governments across the region have virtually collapsed, and the giant corporations and other institutions of the ruling elite—universities, churches, foundations, etc.—have offered only token assistance.

President Trump traveled to the Gulf Coast for the second time in a week, in a choreographed show of “sympathy” for the victims of Harvey in Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana. As usual with Trump, every appearance was a display of sickening self-love and hollow and obviously phony populism.

After speaking with a small, vetted group of storm refugees at the NRG Center, one of several convention centers in downtown Houston housing victims of Harvey, Trump told reporters, “They’re really happy with what’s going on.” He added, referring to the government response to Harvey, “It’s something that’s been very well received. Even by you guys, it’s been very well received.”

This comment, a mixture of self-promotion and self-delusion, only underscores the unbridgeable social gulf between the billionaire president (along with the media) and the vast majority of the storm’s victims, working people who have lost nearly everything, and in some cases saw loved ones swept away by rushing waters.

The White House is requesting an initial $7.8 billion appropriation from Congress in emergency assistance to the storm-ravaged area, with a second request for $6.7 billion to follow shortly. The combined total, $14.5 billion, is less than 10 percent of the published estimates of damage, and less than a quarter of the recovery and relief funds approved after Superstorm Sandy in 2012-2013.

The Trump administration appears to be seizing on Hurricane Harvey to solve an immediate political dispute with Congress, following the cynical maxim of Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (now mayor of Chicago) to “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan sent Friday, called for the initial emergency funds for Hurricane Harvey to be packaged in a bill to raise the federal debt ceiling, which Treasury officials have said must be enacted by September 29 to avoid dislocating Wall Street and global financial markets.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared on Fox News Sunday to reiterate this demand, which is aimed mainly at the Freedom Caucus, a grouping of 40 ultra-right Republicans in the House of Representatives who have threatened to block any increase in the debt ceiling unless it is combined with major cuts in social spending.

Besides the impact on Wall Street, the Trump administration is concerned that a federal debt default could disrupt the overseas operations of the US military, which are dependent on foreign countries receiving US payment for supplies, refueling and other costs, as well as direct financial subsidies to client regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

The real attitude of the Trump administration towards the victims of natural disasters like Harvey is shown in the draft budget plan prepared by the White House, which cut nearly a billion dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as abolishing the Chemical Safety Board, which investigates disasters like the series of explosions at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, northeast of Houston.

Trump has gloried in his executive actions dismantling what little remains of regulatory restrictions on the operations of the giant oil and chemical companies that dominate the Gulf Coast. According to one tabulation, there are 33 plants in the greater Houston area whose corporate owners have filed formal notices with the federal government that in “worst-case” scenarios, a disaster at the plant would endanger a nearby population of more than one million people. Arkema was only one of the 33.

The Environmental Protection Agency reported Sunday that more than 800 wastewater treatment plants are not fully operational in the wake of Harvey, while 166 water systems are operating under “boil-water” instructions to their customers. Another 50 have shut down entirely, including the water system for the entire city of Beaumont, with a population of 118,000.

Rather than redoubled monitoring of the dangers of toxic chemical leaks, the EPA was engaged Sunday in a bitter war of words with the Associated Press, after the AP reported that there were 13 toxic waste sites in southeast Texas, managed under the EPA’s “superfund” program, that had been inundated, raising the prospect of dioxin and other toxic chemicals leaking into the floodwaters.

The EPA denounced claims that it had not yet bothered to check on these sites, a full week after Harvey struck the region, claiming the AP “is cherry-picking facts.” However, these facts were unanswerably true, as the AP and other sources documented that 13 of the 41 superfund sites in the region were underwater.

The EPA admitted that it had not been able to physically visit the sites near Houston, because of floodwaters, and was relying on aerial monitoring to “confirm possible damage,” a completely inadequate method of determining whether there were breaches in the containment around any of the sites.

The EPA maintained that it was working with state authorities, but the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has suspended pollution reporting requirements for the duration of the hurricane disaster, and the TCEQ office in Houston is closed. The Trump administration budget would cut the superfund program by 30 percent.

Once the immediate danger of drowning is past, the main threat from floodwaters is the combination of chemicals and waste products they have accumulated. The federal Department of Health and Human Services reported that it had treated 420 of the 7,500 people housed at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, some of them for diarrhea or vomiting following contact with contaminated floodwater.

“The working class has organized to save the working class”. A Hurricane Harvey diary: Part 2. By Charles Abelard, 4 September 2017. This is the second installment of my diary of Hurricane Harvey. I began these notes in the evening of Tuesday, August 29, 2017, after the hurricane moved off to the east and Houston skies began to clear. This installment covers August 31 through September 1: here.

Texas Wind Turbines Went Right on Turning Under Harvey’s Impact, as Refineries Shut Down: here.

Older Victims of Hurricane Harvey May Need Special Attention: here.

Dumb and Dumber: Foregrounding Climate Justice from Harvey to Haiti’s Matthew: here.

15 thoughts on “Hurricane Harvey in Texas, USA consequences

  1. What frightens me the most is how many Houston voters who have been so affected still don’t understand what their elected representatives aren’t doing for them – how their votes are actively hurting them and their loved ones. I grew up in an area just as Conservative, and I used to feel crazy that I could see the way people were voting against their own self-interest (in addition to mine), but couldn’t convince them. As an adult, I’ve read everything I could find on the phenomenon just to convince myself I wasn’t the crazy one. I’m not, but knowing how many people directly affected by Harvey will still vote for the same people come midterm elections just paralyses me in fear sometimes. How can I ever convince these people to help others (the poor, the disabled, the LGBT, people of color, others who lost even more in Hurricane Harvey) if I can’t even convince themselves as it happens to them?


  2. Monday 4th September 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    Although the US president has praised first-responders to Hurricane Harvey, his budget will cut future federal cash for people to put their lives back together, says MARK GRUENBERG

    WHEN it comes to the federal role and federal aid responding to hurricanes and other natural disasters, President Donald Trump says one thing, but his budget — and his chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) — say quite another.

    As if that wasn’t enough, there’s another spanner in the works in determining how much money will be available to help future disaster victims: Trump’s Mexican border wall.

    With Hurricane Harvey still drowning the Texas Gulf Coast, and threatening Louisiana, too, Trump is praising first responders, Fema and the volunteers who are rushing to aid the tens of thousands of people driven from their homes.

    He also told a press conference last week that he’d ask members of Congress for emergency added appropriations — more money — to aid Harvey’s victims.

    But his budget proposed cutting future federal cash for people to put their lives back together and for state and local governments to help regions rebuild disaster-smashed and storm-wrecked infrastructure. And Trump wants the other levels of government to chip in more money for rebuilding, too.

    Congress may not agree with him on that. The only lawmakers to vote on Fema funds so far rejected Trump’s request for funding cuts.

    But in that same money Bill, they inserted the first $1.6 billion down payment to build his controversial wall along the US-Mexico border — a wall roundly condemned by Latinos, border landowners, and, most importantly, Senate Democrats, who could block it.

    Trump flew to Texas last Tuesday to inspect Harvey’s damage to Houston, Corpus Christi and nearby areas.

    The slow-moving hurricane/tropical storm is now making landfall in southwest Louisiana, where waters are already rising.

    At least 40 inches of rain, plus high winds, flooded Texan sewer systems, low-lying homes and land, especially in Houston and Galveston, which are barely above sea level. Thirty people have died.

    And Harvey shut down much of the nation’s oil industry, notably refineries concentrated in the Houston-Galveston ship channel and drilling platforms off the Texas-Louisiana coast. Government and industry officials say US refining capacity is already down 12 per cent.

    The impact of the deluge quickly overwhelmed Texas officials, even with outside help of Fema and other states. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked residents to shelter in place until they could be rescued. He said trying to evacuate the entire 6.3-million-person metropolitan area would be impossible.

    As in other disasters, Fema rushed in to help co-ordinate the response. On-site officials, notably Texan Governor Greg Abbott, say the agency has done a good job so far.

    But Fema’s Trump-appointed director, Brock Long, told Bloomberg News in a recent interview that states and cities must shoulder more of the rebuilding costs in future years.

    “I don’t think the taxpayer should reward risk going forward,” Long, a veteran disaster relief official, said.

    And he specifically targeted the federal flood insurance programme, which subsidises homeowners’ insurance in flood-prone high-risk areas — and has been criticised for letting homeowners rebuild and rebuild in chronic flood plains. The flood insurance programme expires on September 30.

    Only 119,000 Houston homeowners have federal flood insurance, down 11 per cent from the year before. And in Houston, like the rest of the country, they’re a minority.

    President Trump in Texas last week treated a meeting with flood victims like a campaign rally, exclaiming: “What a crowd, what a turnout.”

    Reporters heard no mention of the dead, dying or displaced Texans.

    Trump wanted to cut the federal budget for disaster relief — the aid that goes to families in distress from Harvey and similar disasters — from $7.017 billion in the year ending September 30 to $6.793bn in the new fiscal year, which starts on October 1.

    He wanted to cut grants to governments to battle the impact of disasters from $2.762bn in the current fiscal year to $1.901bn in the new fiscal year.

    His budget notes Fema has an “unobligated balance” — budgetese for unspent leftover money — from this year of $815 million. The budget was crafted before Harvey hit, however.

    A Trump administration budget summary said the total cut in state and local disaster aid would be $697m.

    More importantly, it added disaster grants “must provide more-measurable results” and “ensure the federal government is not supplanting other stakeholders’ responsibilities” — in other words, not taking over for state and local governments.

    “For that reason, the budget proposes establishing a 25 per cent grant match” from state and local governments “for grants that currently require no match.”

    The aim, Long told Bloomberg, is to force state and local governments to plan in advance to avoid the risk and damage of flooding by better zoning and land-use planning.

    The Democratic Obama administration’s Fema chief pushed the same idea, but it met resistance from homeowners and died last year.

    The Republican-run House Appropriations Committee is the sole group of politicians to vote so far on Trump’s disaster spending request, and it rejected his cuts, keeping both disaster programmes at current spending levels.

    Within Fema’s overall disaster spending, they also rejected his demand to kill all $177.5m for flood plain mapping and $120m for the Emergency Food and Shelter Programme.

    But the committee approved, in the same money bill, the cash for Trump’s Mexican wall. That forced its Democrats to oppose the whole funding bill, which passed on a 30-22 party-line vote.

    The wall, needless to say, is unpopular in Congress, which rejected it in their money bill to keep the government going through the end of this fiscal year.

    Yet Trump again threatened, in a press conference on August 28, to shut the entire government down if he doesn’t get the money for it, starting on October 1.

    The radical right congressional Freedom Caucus, which forced Congress to cut other programmes to pay for aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey, may try the same tactic again.

    Nevertheless, lawmakers from the two north-eastern states will vote to aid Harvey’s victims. But they remember the Freedom Caucus’s moves — and the fact that most Texas Republican representatives opposed aiding the Sandy victims.

    “I won’t abandon Texas the way Ted Cruz did New York,” Rep Peter King (R-NY) tweeted. “One bad turn doesn’t deserve another.”

    When Trump released his budget in March, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the border wall “ineffective,” adding that it “would not increase safety and is profoundly expensive.”

    Schumer’s Democrats, if they stick together, have enough votes to maintain a filibuster against any money bill with the border wall.

    And letting flood insurance “lapse during hurricane season would be irresponsible,” Schumer added last week.

    Meanwhile, Ruben Garza, director of Steelworkers District 13 — which includes the oil company workers of Texas and Louisiana — asked other USW locals to voluntarily help.

    “We will, as in the past, help out as much as we can and in the coming days try to see what the needs of the members and their families are,” his letter on the union’s website said.,-but-sought-disaster-aid-cuts#.Wa3F6sZpwdU


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