44 feared killed, a million displaced by Harvey

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Explosions and water-borne bacteria are some concerns in aftermath of hurricane

PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS: A week after Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas, no let-up in rescue efforts was expected yesterday as large pockets of land remained under water after one of the worst and costliest natural disasters to hit the United States.

The storm has displaced over a million people, with 44 feared dead, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, a city of about 120,000 people.

Chemical plant Arkema SA and officials warned of the risk of more explosions and fires there - on Thursday, blasts rocked the facility, about 40km east of Houston, after it was engulfed by floodwater.

The Neches River, which flows into Beaumont and nearby Port Arthur, was forecast for a record crest yesterday. The flooding and loss of drinking water forced the evacuation of a hospital on Thursday.

"Beaumont is basically an island," Mayor Becky Adams said.

The city, situated about 130km east of Houston, was able to receive only one major supply of drinking water on Thursday.

Harvey roared ashore on Aug 25 as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in 50 years.

It was downgraded to a tropical depression as it headed inland on Thursday, dumping unprecedented quantities of rain and leaving devastation across more than 480km in the south-east corner of the state.

Moody's Analytics estimated the economic cost from Harvey for south-eastern Texas at US$51 billion (S$69 billion) to $75 billion, ranking it among the costliest storms in US history. Much of the damage has been to the Houston, the US energy hub.

At least 44 people were dead or feared dead in six counties including and around Houston. Another 19 remain missing.

Some 779,000 Texans have been told to leave their homes, and another 980,000 fled voluntarily amid dangers of new flooding from swollen rivers and reservoirs, according to Department of Homeland Security acting secretary Elaine Duke.


Tens of thousands are in crowded evacuation centres across the region.

As floods began to recede in Houston, firefighters on Thursday began conducting a search to rescue stranded survivors and recover bodies as some residents began to return to their homes.

Seventy per cent of Harris County, which encompasses Houston and has a population of about 4.6 million people, was covered with 45cm or more of water, county officials said.

As signs of normal life returned to the city - the nation's fourth most populous - there are also concerns about health risks from bacteria and pollutants in the floodwater.

Flooding has shut some of the nation's largest oil refineries and hit US energy infrastructure, which is centred along the Gulf Coast, sending gasoline prices climbing and disrupting global fuel supplies.

Average US retail fuel prices surged by more than 10 cents a gallon, or 4.54 litres, from a week ago, motorists' group AAA said.

Power outages decreased from over 300,000 to about 160,000 homes and business in Texas and Louisiana as of yesterday morning, data showed.

Many in Houston were shocked at what they found when they returned home.

Ms Anita Williams, 52, was lined up at a shelter to register for emergency aid, having surveyed the damage to her one-storey home on Wednesday.

"It is not my house anymore," she said. "My deep freezer was in my living room." - REUTERS