Trump to visit Texas and Louisiana as states struggle with Harvey’s aftermath

At least 44 feared dead in worst natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina

Rescue mission: US airmen search for trapped residents of the Texas city of Beaumont. Photograph: Christopher Lee/New York Times

Rescue mission: US airmen search for trapped residents of the Texas city of Beaumont. Photograph: Christopher Lee/New York Times

 

The US president, Donald Trump, will visit the southern states of Texas and Louisiana on Saturday, as the city of Houston continued to struggle under the effects of Tropical Storm Harvey and heavy rain moved northeast into Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.

More than a week after what began as Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the US gulf coast, areas of Houston remained under water and residents in the city of Beaumont, near the Louisiana border, were still without running water.

At least 44 people are feared to have died as a result of the storm, which is the worst natural disaster to hit the United States since Hurricane Katrina, 12 years ago.

The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, warned that the recovery would be a “multiyear project”. About 75 trillion litres of rain have fallen on the Houston area in the past week.

Concern remained about possible explosions in chemical plants across the region after the Arkema chemical plant, 50km east of Houston, experienced a series of blasts in the early hours of Thursday morning.

As the hub of the American petrochemical and oil-refining industry, southern Texas has been severely affected by Harvey, which has now been downgraded again, to a tropical depression. Activity at about a third of US oil plants has been impaired, pushing petrol prices to two-year highs that have already been reflected at filling stations.

There are fears that more chemical plants and refineries, many of which are flooded, could suffer further damage in the coming days, potentially releasing noxious emissions. Residents within a 2.5km radius of the Arkema plant were evacuated on Thursday after smoke was seen rising from the facility on Thursday afternoon.

Trump to ask Congress for $6bn in aid

More than 100,000 homes have been affected by the record-breaking flooding in southeastern Texas and the southwestern corner of Louisiana, according to federal officials. But with many of those buildings believed to be without flood insurance, much of the compensation needed is expected to come from the federal government.

Mr Trump is expected to ask the US Congress for $5.9 billion (€5 billion) in aid for the stricken region when the assembly returns to session next week, a not insignificant request as lawmakers prepare to debate budgetary decisions ahead of the September 30th deadline for avoiding a default.

Vice-President Mike Pence, who visited the flood-hit region on Thursday, said that 311,000 people had so far applied for federal help. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency said 90,000 people had been approved for assistance.

As officials in Houston warned residents not to return to their homes until they were safe, and firefighters searched for trapped residents, much of Beaumont, 120km east, remained under water.

With the storm expected to peter out over Ohio this weekend, concern began to grow about Hurricane Irma – designated a category-three storm by the National Hurricane Centre – which strengthened across the eastern Atlantic. It is expected to intensify over the weekend.