Thursday Reads: The Latest on Harvey’s Aftermath

toi Arkema Plant, Crosby, TX

Good Afternoon!!

If you watched Rachel Maddow the past two nights, you know about the flooded chemical plant in Crosby, Texas that was expected to explode. Well it happened this morning.

The Washington Post: Chemicals ignite at flooded plant in Texas as Harvey’s devastation lingers.

CROSBY, Tex. — The remnants of Hurricane Harvey carried its wrath up the Mississippi Delta on Thursday, but not before hammering the Gulf Coast with more punishing cloudbursts and growing threats that included reports of “pops” and “chemical reactions” at a crippled chemical plant and the collapse of the drinking water system in a Texas city.

Authorities warned of the danger posed by the plant in Crosby, about 30 miles northeast of Houston. The French company operating the plant said explosions were possible, and William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called the potential for a chemical plume “incredibly dangerous.”

Still, officials offered differing accounts regarding what occurred at the Crosby plant, which makes organic peroxides for use in items such as counter tops and pipes. The plant’s operators, which had earlier Thursday reported explosions, later said they believe at least one valve “popped” there, though they noted it was impossible to know for sure since all employees had left the site.

The Environmental Protection Agency said that it dispatched personnel to the scene and did not immediately detect issues regarding toxic material.

Let’s hope that the EPA can still be trusted under Trump. According to Rachel’s report, Texas Governor Abbott made it illegal for people to know when and where toxic materials are being stored in the state. In case you missed it, here’s a bit of the report from last night. We covered the West, Texas explosion quite a bit here at Sky Dancing Blog.

From CNN:

A pair of blasts at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby sent plumes of smoke into the sky Thursday morning, and the company warned more blasts could follow.

“We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains,” Arkema said in a statement. “Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so.”

The twin blasts Thursday morning happened after organic peroxides overheated. The chemicals need to be kept cool, but after the plant lost power Sunday, the temperature rose, officials said.

That led to containers popping, including one container that caught fire — sending black smoke 30 to 40 feet into the air.

The thick black smoke “might be irritating to the eyes, skin and lungs,” Arkema officials said in a statement.

Fifteen Harris County sheriff’s deputies were hospitalized, but the smoke they inhaled was not believed to be toxic, the department said. By midmorning Thursday, all of the deputies had been released.

Reporter Matt Dempsy of the Houston Chronicle was on Rachel’s show last night, and his Twitter feed is helpful for following this story. More info in this Twitter thread:

Beaumont, Texas is now without water. HuffPost: Beaumont, Texas, In Crisis After City Loses Water Supply Indefinitely.

BEAUMONT ― Residents of this city in eastern Texas are desperate for clean water after the main municipal water pumps failed due to flooding.

Beaumont, which has a population of over 100,000 people, lost both its main and secondary water supplies on Wednesday. The storm caused the Neches River to overflow, which damaged the city’s water pumps, according to city officials. The city’s secondary water source, which is located at the Loeb wells in Hardin County, is also offline.

City officials said the outage is indefinite, pending inspection of the damaged pumps, which they are unable to do until the water recedes.

Read more details at the CNN link. MSNBC is currently showing a Beaumont hospital being evacuated because of the loss of water supply.

Here are a couple of stories that help explain the flooding in the Houston area.

Jay Casano at International Business Times via the National Memo: How Texas Republicans Rejected The Chance To Plan For Climate Change.

With rising sea levels and increased rainfall, experts agree, climate change made the flooding from Hurricane Harvey far worse than it would have been even a decade ago. The Texas legislature had multiple opportunities to create a “climate adaptation plan” that could have resulted in preparations, but the bills were killed every time. The sponsor of the legislation told International Business Times that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry made sure that the climate adaptation bills would not pass.

People begin lining up at a closed Wal-Mart store in Beaumont, TX at around 2:30 Thursday morning after hearing the water supply for the city had failed.

“When I filed that legislation, then-Governor Perry’s legislative staff told me that no legislation that had climate change in it would get out of committee,” former Texas state representative Lon Burnam told IBT. “They came to our office and said to stop filing these bills:  ‘We’ll never let it out of committee.’”

Houston is the heart of the nation’s fossil fuels industry, making the discussion of climate change post-Hurricane Harvey particularly relevant. The Texas state government has been widely criticized for being beholden to oil industry interests. Campaign finance records bear out that claim: Over the last two election cycles, Texas state lawmakers have received more than $11.3 million from the oil and gas industry, including $2.3 million for Texas State House Speaker Joe Straus. Former Gov. Perry, now Donald Trump’s Secretary of Energy, received more than $1.6 million from the oil and gas industry during his very brief 2016 presidential run. As governor of Texas, he received more than $10 million across three elections, including $6 million in the 2010 race.

More at the link.

Bloomberg: Harvey Wasn’t Just Bad Weather. It Was Bad City Planning.

Houston has been wet since birth. In the 1840s, the German explorer Ferdinand von Roemer described the Brazos River prairie just outside the young town as an “endless swamp” that mired the wheels of his wagons. He reported that some people who’d intended to settle in Texas turned around and left after seeing the “sad picture.” But Houston never let itself be hampered by its hydrology. It spent billions patching together a mess of dams and drainage projects as it grew and grew. It’s the fourth-biggest city in the U.S., boasting one of the world’s largest medical centers, oil refineries, a stupendous livestock show and rodeo, highbrow culture, vibrant economic growth, and speakers of 145 languages. The consolidated metropolitan statistical area surrounding Houston and extending to Galveston is larger than the state of New Jersey.

Downtown Houston from the air.

Harvey is a devastating reminder to Houston that nature will have its due. The Category 4 hurricane that hung around as a stationary tropical storm punished greater Houston with rainfall measured in feet, not inches. No city could have withstood Harvey without serious harm, but Houston made itself more vulnerable than necessary. Paving over the saw-grass prairie reduced the ground’s capacity to absorb rainfall. Flood-control reservoirs were too small. Building codes were inadequate. Roads became rivers, so while hospitals were open, it was almost impossible to reach them by car.

Harvey’s damage was selective. It’s a minor event for the $19 trillion U.S. economy, since most of the economic activity that was interrupted will be made up later. It was a light hit for insurers, because few underwrite flood insurance and the wind damage they do cover was minimal; insurers’ stock prices barely fell. The refining and petrochemical industries lining the busy Houston Ship Channel also got off fairly lightly (this time), because they’ve invested heavily in storm defenses.

The impact on taxpayers is more serious, because Harvey is likely to generate tens of billions of dollars in emergency federal aid and claims on the money-losing National Flood Insurance Program….

Above all, Harvey is a humanitarian disaster. Ordinary Texans were defenseless against rising waters contaminated by sewage and dotted with floating colonies of fire ants. The confirmed death toll, 20 as of Aug. 30, is expected to rise as rescuers discover more bodies. Residents will return to damaged homes vulnerable to the spread of mold. Much of the damage, which could run to $100 billion or more by one estimate, is uninsured. “This will be the worst natural disaster in American history” in financial terms, Joel Myers, founder and president of AccuWeather, predicted in an Aug. 29 statement.

Mike Pence is in Texas today to fake empathy toward victims of Hurricane Harvey after Trump was unable to do so yesterday. The White House is busy trying to clean up the mess Trump made when he claimed to have seen the horror “first hand.” The Washington Post: Trump claimed he witnessed Harvey’s devastation ‘first hand.’ The White House basically admits he didn’t.

President Trump clearly and unmistakably exaggerated the “horror and devastation” he witnessed in Texas. The White House’s response? To pretend words don’t mean what they mean.

Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that he had seen this horror and devastation “first hand.”

But reporters quickly took issue with that….

A reporter asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about this later Wednesday, and her answer was … something:

He met with a number of state and local officials who are eating, sleeping, breathing the Harvey disaster. He talked exI tensively with the governor, who certainly is right in the midst of every bit of this, as well as the mayors from several of the local towns that were hit hardest. And detailed briefing information throughout the day yesterday talking to a lot of the people on the ground. That certainly is a firsthand account.

No, it’s not. That’s a *second*hand account — the very definition of one, in fact.

There’s much more news, especially about the Russia investigation, but you probably heard about that last night. I’ll post a couple of links in the comment thread just in case. What stories are you following today?