The deadly storm named Harvey finally weakened to tropical depression status Wednesday evening and all coastal watches and warnings were canceled, but the scope of its devastation showed no signs of receding.
Harvey was still a tropical storm when it made landfall again at about 5 a.m. ET near Cameron, Louisiana, on Wednesday. By 8 p.m. ET, its maximum sustained winds had dropped to 35 mph, and gradual weakening was expected to continue as it crept through central Louisiana overnight into northeastern Louisiana and northwestern Mississippi by Thursday night, the National Weather Service said.
Galveston and Harris County authorities reported seven more deaths linked to the storm Wednesday night, bringing the statewide total to at least 28. The victims include include a Houston family of six who perished when their van was swept away by floodwaters. Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane when it first made landfall late Friday.
Latest on the storm
But with as much as 8 more inches of rain expected as the system moves farther inland, authorities say they dread finding out how many more remain under the several feet of water that is expected to continue submerging southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana for weeks.
“We know in these kind of events that, sadly, the death toll goes up historically,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Tuesday. “I’m really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find.”
Beyond the sheer loss of life, “the damage will be horrendous,” Joel Myers, founder and president of AccuWeather, told NBC News.
“With this storm being so extraordinary, it’s going to take weeks and months for parts of Houston to recover,” Myers said.
The military said Wednesday that two Navy ships and nearly 700 Marines were being sent to the region. Texas has already activated its entire National Guard, and crews from around the country have arrived to help.
More than 32,000 residents remain in Texas shelters, authorities said. As many as 40,000 homes may have been damaged in Houston and Harris County alone, County Judge Ed Emmett said. Almost 210,000 people have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said.
Beaumont and Port Arthur, about 85 miles east-northeast of Houston, were watery wastelands on Wednesday as 30 inches of rain unloosed mammoth flash floods. The Robert A. Bowers Civic Center in Port Arthur, where many residents had taken shelter, was flooded.
“Many Texans in and around Beaumont [and] Port Arthur are fighting for their lives against an incredible amount of water,” Bill Karins, a meteorologist for NBC News, said Wednesday. “This is just as bad, if not worse, than flooding in Houston.”
In Crosby, about 20 miles northeast of Houston, a flooded Arkema chemical plant is likely to explode in the next few days because refrigerators and backup generators were knocked out, the company warned. The lack of electricity and the high water “leave us with no way to prevent it,” said Richard Rowe, chief executive of the company’s North America operations.
Other industrial facilities, notably some of the many oil refineries that dot the Gulf coast, may have released as much as 2 million pounds of potentially hazardous airborne pollutants in the Houston area, according to regulatory filings submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“By industry’s own estimates, we’ve seen months’ worth of harmful pollution released in less than a week,” said Elena Craft, a senior health scientist at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund.
And Harvey’s might will continue to be felt for many months, perhaps years, in the state that contributes 9 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. With an economy of $503 billion, Houston, the nation’s fourth-biggest city, accounts for 3 percent of U.S. GDP all by itself.
The storm shut down the nation’s largest refinery operations, halting about 20 percent of the country’s daily supply of fuel. Gasoline prices in some parts of the country are already rising.
Economists consulted by NBC News gave estimates of total financial losses from Harvey ranging from $48 billion to $75 billion.
“At the end of the day, this is likely to be the largest natural disaster by property damage in history,” said former Houston Mayor Bill White, who was in office when thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina fled for Houston in 2005.
Assessing the mammoth recovery effort, FEMA Administrator Brock Long said Sunday: “It’s going to be years.”