KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The Houston area is dealing with a disaster of epic proportions from Hurricane Harvey. And now as a tropical storm, Harvey continues to dump rain on the region. The situation on the ground remains treacherous. Residents are still being evacuated.
We start our coverage with NPR's John Burnett. He's in Houston and has been talking to residents looking for dry ground and to citizens launching their own search and rescue operations.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: The historic Houston flood of 2017 is deepening, and with it, there are more water rescues - at least 2000 so far. People who believed they would wait it out or that the water would go down are realizing they have to get out. On a downtown street in Houston, an elderly man pushes his wife in a wheelchair. Both wear trash bags for ponchos as they walk from an arena that was turned into a shelter. They are Mel and Barbara Mikan, rescued last night by a Bellaire Fire Department boat.
MEL MIKAN: And we had knee-deep water in our house, so we're here.
BARBARA MIKAN: We were at Crosspoint Church in Bellaire, and we had Metro Bus come and pick just about everybody up. Even the Army was out there with their big trucks. And they were bringing us to the Coliseum over here. Now we have a hotel, so that's where we're going now (laughter).
BURNETT: Oh, good. Where are you going?
B. MIKAN: DoubleTree.
BURNETT: Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference today that about 5,500 people have been brought to emergency shelters in the city. He stressed what's obvious to anyone driving the few passable streets. The city is still very much in a rescue mode.
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SYLVESTER TURNER: That's the major focus for the day. That's my directive - is that we want to focus on getting people where they are and getting them out of their homes or whatever their stressful situation may be.
BURNETT: All over Houston, you see what's being called the Texas Navy - private citizens pulling their fishing boats behind pickups. They're launching their vessels at the water's edge, which could be anywhere that a street becomes a bayou.
County Judge Ed Emmett put out an extraordinary call yesterday. He said the fire department, Coast Guard and police are overwhelmed. They need people to help their neighbors, and folks have responded. Ray Ortega, an oil field tool salesman, drove up from his home in Victoria, pulling a 23-foot fishing boat that he usually uses in the Gulf to go after speckled trout and redfish.
RAY ORTEGA: I've been able to rescue 10, 15 people at a time. Yesterday was a very good day for us. We rescued 53 people into the night.
BURNETT: Where are you going to go today?
ORTEGA: We're just trying to find somewhere we can launch this boat and save some people.
BURNETT: The Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will open floodgates and release water from two major reservoirs that are perilously full from the tropical deluge. This is expected to push Buffalo Bayou, which flows through the middle of Houston, even higher. Some worry that will cause the flooding to get even worse. That's why brothers Jay and Manuel Cano came out with their green rowboat to rescue a relative stranded in the flooded Denver Harbor neighborhood.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We got my wife's sister in there without no light or water since all this started. So we're going to see if we can talk her to get out.
BURNETT: And you've got a little jon boat here.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You brought oars, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, I brought oars. I brought a rope. OK, let me get this thing turned around.
BURNETT: One of the most maddening problems that Houston is facing is the vast acreage of the city that's gone under water. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to get around. Larry Hall, a juvenile probation officer with Harris County, drove down a street where the water came up to his bumpers, then turned around in frustration.
LARRY HALL: I live in Crosby, and I'm just trying to find my way home. I left my job over there in - off of Chimney Rock, off of 59, and I've been driving for the last three hours trying to figure out how to make it back in that direction.
BURNETT: Meanwhile, the National Weather Service reports that Harvey is expected to produce 15 to 25 inches of additional rainfall over the upper Texas coast and into southwestern Louisiana through Friday. Some isolated totals may exceed 4 feet of rain. John Burnett, NPR News, Houston.
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