KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Harvey has gone from a hurricane to a tropical depression. But on day seven, it is still spreading its misery in southeast Texas. The city of Beaumont near the Louisiana line has lost its water supply, and a hospital is evacuating its patients to Houston. And outside Houston, there's a fire at a chemical plant that's expected to spread. So far at least 29 people have been confirmed dead, though that number is expected to grow.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn is with us now to talk about all this. Hello, Wade.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Hello.
MCEVERS: So first tell us about Beaumont.
GOODWYN: Yeah. The reports are grim. They've gotten more than 47 inches of rain, 26 just on Tuesday. The port authority city manager said the entire city is underwater. You know, there's more than 400,000 people in this region. Next door in Beaumont, there's no water coming out of the taps. And it's out for the foreseeable future? So that means Baptist Hospital in Beaumont is evacuating its patients to hospitals in Houston and shutting down emergency services. And the city's main evacuation center itself had to be evacuated because it flooded, too.
Nearly all the roads in and out of Port Arthur are reported to be impassable. So the city needs air support and rescue. And last night, the water got so high that it forced the Army Corps of Engineers to open the floodgates at the Angelina-Neches River Dam, and that in turn prompted the county judge to send out a warning that said, get out, or die in all caps. You can bet that got everybody's attention.
GOODWYN: But you know, under the circumstances, you know, that's easier said than done, and that's the conundrum with this kind of fast-rising water. You can stay and drown, or you can drown trying to escape.
MCEVERS: Let's talk about this chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. How did Harvey lead to a fire there, and what's the situation now?
GOODWYN: So it's a French company which manufactures these unstable chemical compounds that have to be refrigerated, or they'll catch fire. And the plant went underwater. They lost primary power. They had backup generators, but those went out, too. And after that, they said they were helpless. And this morning, 2 of those 9 containers where these chemicals were being refrigerated caught fire. And there's really every expectation that the other seven are going to, too.
There's been some conflicting reports as to how toxic, you know, this plume of smoke is. A top-ranking FEMA administrator called it, quote, "incredibly dangerous." The local officials have said that smoke's not toxic. The EPA said it flew a surveillance aircraft over the site, and their judgment is that it didn't pose a danger for now - but for now. I think that's an important qualifier. It appears there is still some cause for concern as this fire expands.
MCEVERS: And we should of course talk about Houston. What's the situation there like today?
GOODWYN: Well, I would say for the first time that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but it's not much bigger than a penlight. Harvey, you know - it's moved on. It's now torturing Louisiana and Mississippi. Back in Houston, there are still homes that are not yet flooded but are going to be. So there's that. And you know, that's bad. But in many other sections of the city, the water is receding, and there's our tunnel light.
But now we have all these rescued families. More than 30,000 people are already in shelters across the state. And you know, finally some of the roads are starting to materialize out of the water. More and more of these folks are going to be bussed out. You know, they're going to Austin. They're going to San Antonio. They're going to Dallas. All these cities have large shelters standing by, and there are thousands and thousands of volunteers waiting for them.
You know, Houston was the main evacuation location for Katrina. And I wonder how many former New Orleanians are now Hurricane Harvey evacuees 12 years later, you know? That prospect is appalling.
MCEVERS: NPR's Wade Goodwyn, thank you.
GOODWYN: You're quite welcome.
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