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In Beaumont, Texas, Harvey Remnants Still Wreak Havoc

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene reporting from Houston, Texas. We are following reports this morning of explosions at a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. That is about 30 miles to the east of where we are. It's northeast of downtown Houston. The Arkema plant lost refrigeration, making compounds at the facility extremely volatile. At least one deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Wow. This is a city just starting to assess the damage done by Hurricane Harvey.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SYLVESTER TURNER: We all know this has been a devastating storm. And there are going to be tremendous needs that have to be mad. And not all of those needs will be met by government; we will need partners.

CHANG: That's Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaking to reporters last night.

GREENE: Yeah. And Ailsa, I mean, it's a strange thing because floodwaters - you can see them - they are dropping in some areas but also rising in others. And there are concerns because some rivers are not expected to crest until Friday.

We should say, more than two dozen people are known to have died in this storm and its aftermath. But that number may grow as police and other recovery personnel begin to visit flooded-out areas.

CHANG: Harvey is now a tropical depression, and it is heading from Louisiana out toward the Mississippi and Tennessee valleys. It is still dumping substantial amounts of rain and creating new challenges for people in its path. To help assess the situation, NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from Beaumont, Texas, not far from the Louisiana border.

Hi, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

CHANG: Good morning. I want to first talk about what's happened in Crosby, the explosions at the chemical plant.

ELLIOTT: Right.

CHANG: What else can you tell us about that right now?

ELLIOTT: Well, right now, Highway 90 is closed off. People from a mile and a half radius had been evacuated in advance of this because they knew this fire was imminent when they lost their backup generators. The plant was flooded. These chemicals need to be cold. So they started reacting and burning. And there are plumes of fire. There were a couple of explosions. More are likely.

It's not safe to be on the site, so the plan is just to let the fire burn out. You know, FEMA Director Brock Long talked about it this morning, saying that the plume coming from that plant is extremely dangerous and that there are questions now about whether and when emergency officials will be able to get in there to assess the impact.

CHANG: You are about a hundred miles east of Houston. Right? What has it been like there since Harvey's latest landfall yesterday?

ELLIOTT: You know, it's very much in crisis mode here in Beaumont and also in Port Arthur, just to the south. I woke up today to no water service here in Beaumont. Both of the cities' water sources are out. The facilities are underwater. And they can't even get in to figure out what needs to happen to restart them. So they're in the process of trying to figure out what to do. FEMA says it's working with the Department of Defense to set up some water distribution centers throughout the city so that people can come and get water.

You know, before dawn this morning, people were lining up at the local Walmart to get supplies, water, of course, chief among them, but also the basics. You know, people who have had their homes completely flooded and left with nothing but the clothes on their back are trying to get in to get, you know, new underwear, clothing...

CHANG: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: ...Everything that you need just to get on, you know, day to day.

CHANG: And we've said you are also close to the Louisiana border. What have conditions there been like?

ELLIOTT: You know, not as devastating as here on the other side of the border in Texas - some localized flooding. But the governor there, John Bel Edwards, has been sending resources to help Texas. He actually set up a makeshift supply station on Interstate 10 where it was closed, so that he could help get buses for evacuation into Texas and other sources because right now, the search and rescue is the priority.

As I mentioned, down in Port Arthur, it's to the point where people are calling and not able to get help because the 911 system is so backed up.

CHANG: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: The mayor there, Derrick Freeman, went on his Facebook page. You know, his house was underwater. He talks about what is happening and promises that they're not going to abandon people. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF FACEBOOK LIVE VIDEO)

DERRICK FREEMAN: We got some water, y'all.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SLOSHING)

FREEMAN: Harvey wasn't playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SLOSHING)

FREEMAN: I know one thing, though. It's not going to defeat us. I know that for sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SLOSHING)

FREEMAN: If you're still in your home, we're coming.

ELLIOTT: So you see, just telling people - we're going to get to you. Now, the people who are getting evacuated by things like dump trucks, helicopters, airboats - there's not a lot of places for them to go. The shelters are stressed. A lot of people in Port Arthur are actually sheltering in a bowling alley.

CHANG: Oh, wow. I mean, there was also this really dire warning on Facebook from Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette. He was advising folks along the Neches River that there were going to be planned water releases and that people should evacuate or write their social security numbers in permanent marker on their arm so their bodies can be identified. Was that alarm - I mean, are people reacting with alarm to that Facebook post?

ELLIOTT: Well, the people who live there probably know they need to get out or die, as the guy said, because they live along the river. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was planning to open some floodgates and that meant that those communities that - you know, specific communities in that area needed to get out and be ready.

You know, that's going to be playing out over the next few days and maybe even up to a week. These rivers and bays and bayous are all cresting, and then they're going to cause flooding in different areas, further exacerbating the emergency that we're going through right now.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Debbie Elliott joining us from Beaumont, Texas. Thank you, Debbie.

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