As the floods caused by Harvey begin to recede, rescuers have combed flooded neighborhoods looking for possible new casualties.
Houston officials are beginning to focus on finding temporary shelter for homeless people and getting enough gas to fill up their cars, but also on the long-term recovery of the city, which will last for years and will require millions of dollars.
Late on Thursday, authorities raised the death toll caused by the storm to 39 and counting.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said more than 37,000 homes were seriously damaged and nearly 7,000 were destroyed. The figure does not include the tens of thousands of houses with minor damages.
About 325,000 people have already applied for federal emergency aid following Harvey’s passage.
More than $ 57 million in individual assistance has been paid out so far, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The agency is looking for a way to accommodate those who lost their homes in this disaster, while state-wide shelters open doors for 32,000 people, said Harris County Commissioner Tom Fargione.
Some of the evacuees began returning home from the George R. Brown Convention Center, which housed 10,000 people, 8,000 were still left late Thursday.
“The priority is to those who can not return to their homes just yet, so they will still have some form of temporary housing”, Fargione said.
The block-by-block search conducted by rescuers in tens of thousands of Houston homes began Thursday and is expected to end on Friday. The fire department responded to about 16,000 calls since the storm struck on Saturday, of which 7,600 were for flood rescues, department head Sam Pena said.
More than 200 firefighters, police and members of an urban search and rescue team combed the Meyerland neighborhood in search of survivors and corpses. They shouted “Fire Department,” slammed doors and peered through windows during their check-ups. The streets were dry, but filled with furniture, rugs, and rotting wood.
“We do not think we’re going to find more people, but we’re prepared to do so,” said Houston Fire Department district chief James Pennington.
They confirmed that the death toll is 39, although it is expected to increase. However, around noon, the temporary central command that was installed in the parking lot of a J.C. Penney had not received any more reports of body’s found in the searches, which could take up to two weeks.
Unlike Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, staff used GPS devices to search homes, instead of marking them outdoors with neon paint. That avoided warning potential thieves of empty houses.
Bursts at Houston’s Nkema Inc. plant also gave rise to flames ranging from 9 to 12 meters (30 to 40 feet) and a column of black smoke.
The fire was extinguished around noon, but emergency personnel remained at a distance because of the danger that eight other containers could also explode in the complex.
No serious injuries were reported.