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Assessing The Damage In Texas

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Relief efforts continue in Texas and neighboring states that were slammed by Hurricane Harvey. A new fire erupted at a chemical plant near Houston last night. And some communities along the coast are still seeking mandatory evacuations. Here's Governor Abbott of Texas speaking at a press conference yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GREG ABBOTT: There still remain areas that are deadly dangerous, such as in the Beaumont area. In the Beaumont area, the Neches River continues to rise. It is about seven feet above the record. This flooding poses an ongoing threat to Beaumont and the surrounding area.

SIMON: Brian Mann is in Beaumont. Brian, thanks so much for joining us.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Tell us about about your drive in.

MANN: Yeah. It was pretty stunning, Scott. I saw cars and trucks backed up on Highway 90 for miles, people just fleeing their homes trying to get out of Beaumont and some of these surrounding towns. I talked to Gregory Blood through the window of his car, and he said things just got bad for his family when Beaumont lost its drinking water system to the rising river.

GREGORY BLOOD: We ain't had no water.

MANN: Did you see a lot of people from your neighborhood leaving?

BLOOD: Oh, yeah. Everybody talking about leaving. We on the north side. We think we going to get flooded out.

MANN: Did people say to you that you really should go?

BLOOD: That's right. And they said they going to let the levees go, so we need to get out.

SIMON: Brian, tell us about some of the small towns between Houston and Beaumont that have been hard hit and very hard to reach right now.

MANN: Yeah. I drove through a lot of these small towns yesterday, Scott, following caravans of cars and trucks, pushing through flooded roads. I saw cars flooded off the sides of the road. It's definitely still dangerous out here. And people are struggling. I met Nikki and Brett Staner at their flooded home just outside a little place called Nome, Texas.

NIKKI STANER: My dad's a rice farmer. And we've been in this area for, like, over hundreds of years, right? And he gave me this land because in his lifetime, it had never flooded. So it did this time (laughter).

MANN: People are saying some pretty scary things about the crud that's in this water. In terms of getting the house back up and using it, do you worry about what's in there now?

BRETT STANER: Yeah. We're going to clean it the best we can, you know.

N. STANER: You don't know how other people's sewers might have acted or, you know, any chemicals that are on the farms, you know.

B. STANER: All the cars in the water. I mean, you've got to think about all - when things get flooded, all the tanks that turn over. You know, you have a lot of problems, so who knows?

MANN: And I - given what you guys thought about this, I don't suppose you have flood insurance?

N. STANER: No, we do not. But it's OK, you know. We're blessed.

SIMON: Brett and Nikki Staner there feeling blessed. Now, Brian, I guess you have to imagine the same story in - what? - tens of thousands of other lives.

MANN: Yeah, that's right. And they really are among the lucky ones. A lot of people are still on the road today. They're couch surfing, sleeping in shelters, staying with friends and family. I met people yesterday who just had no idea of where they were going to go next.

SIMON: President Trump returns today, obviously a lot of talk about government response. A lot of that has to be totaled up. We still don't know how many people died. A lot of echoes of Hurricane Katrina, but so far, it looks like local and federal officials were really amazingly competent.

MANN: Yeah. People here I've talked to are under a huge amount of pressure. They're scared, still struggling. But even with that, they tell me they feel like the government and the civilian response have been strong. I saw law enforcement and emergency crews everywhere as I came in.

That's not to say there aren't muddles and bottlenecks. I mean, the size of this impact zone is just too massive for everything to be smooth. But yeah, there's definitely a sense that this is sort of controlled chaos, I guess. Local state and federal agencies are doing the best they can. Absolutely nothing like that sense of free fall we got after Hurricane Katrina.

SIMON: Brian Mann in Beaumont, where, by the way, today, officials say that the Neches River is still rising. It's already 7 feet above record levels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.