Special Briefing: The Devastation of Hurricane Harvey

Special Briefing: The Devastation of Hurricane Harvey

Rescue workers and volunteers help Houston residents make their way out of a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rainwater following Hurricane Harvey on August 29, 2017.

SourceScott Olson/Getty

Why you should care

The epic storm shows no mercy.

This is the first of OZY’s Special Briefings, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

How bad is Hurricane Harvey?

America has never seen a storm like Harvey. Meteorologists are running out of superlatives to describe the worst rainstorm in U.S. history, which has already dropped more than 50 inches of rain — 11 trillion total gallons of water — on the Gulf Coast of Texas since its landfall on Friday.

What is it like in Houston?

Houston, the fourth-most-populous American city, with a sprawling metro area that is roughly the size of Connecticut, is drowning in heavy rain and flooding. Cars are buried underwater; many homes have water up to their roofs; reservoirs and rivers are overflowing their banks. Coast Guard helicopters and a massive operation of volunteers in boats have been rescuing those trapped in their homes. More than 32,000 people have been evacuated to 230 shelters, and it is believed that Harvey has caused at least 30 deaths so far.

Gettyimages 840756000

Volunteers in boats rescue people and their pets from homes near Interstate 45 in Houston, Texas, on August 29, 2017.

Source Jabin Botsford/Getty

Will it get worse?

The rescue stage of the response to Harvey is still ongoing, and the waters have only just begun to subside. Still, high sea levels in the Gulf of Mexico could slow down receding waters. And with the storm having moved on to Louisiana, still more areas of the Gulf could see dangerous flooding.

WHAT TO KNOW

A failure to evacuate?

As thousands of Houstonians face the decision of whether to abandon their homes, local officials are under fire for not calling for a mandatory evacuation before the storm. Sometimes the chaos of a large-scale evacuation can make matters worse: During Hurricane Rita in 2005, 60 people died in Houston as a result of roads being overwhelmed by evacuees.

Don’t mess with Texas

In the face of Harvey, an army of everyday Texans has mobilized, using fishing boats, Jet Skis and other recreational vehicles to rescue their neighbors. Local responders — and the Cajun Navy, a volunteer rescue group that formed during Hurricane Katrina — are also taking advantage of social media and other technology to target rescue efforts and direct food and supplies more effectively. You can donate to efforts here.

“We want to do it better”

So says U.S. President Donald Trump about the federal government’s relief effort. But the president is already being criticized by some for not showing enough compassion for Harvey’s victims during a tour of Texas on Tuesday, instead commenting on the size of the crowd that had gathered to hear him speak. Former FEMA director Michael (“heckuva job”) Brown has urged Trump to learn from the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and use his bully pulpit to ensure that FEMA gets adequate support from other federal agencies.

US President Donald Trump holds the state flag of Texas

President Donald Trump holds the Texas state flag outside of the Annaville Fire House after attending a briefing on Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas, on August 29, 2017.

Source Jim Watson/Getty

Water or ICE?

One large group of Houston residents remains reluctant to ask authorities for help. With a new Texas law set to take effect that permits federal agents to check the immigration status of anyone they detain, Houston’s population of undocumented immigrants, estimated at 575,000, is having to weigh fears of deportation against fears of rising water, despite local authorities’ attempts to reassure them.

The coming economic impact

One disaster economist estimates that Harvey’s economic toll “will likely exceed Katrina.” The Gulf Coast is a global hub for the oil and gas industry, and nearly every major refinery there has shut down in Harvey’s wake, resulting in a drop of about 3.9 million barrels a day of refinery capacity. Gas prices at the pump remain steady, but experts say they could rise in the coming weeks as the diminished output is felt.

WHAT TO READ

Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like, by Eric Holthaus in POLITICO

“But there’s an uncomfortable point that, so far, everyone is skating around: We knew this would happen, decades ago. We knew this would happen, and we didn’t care.”

How Harvey Exposes America’s Dangerously Dilapidated Infrastructure, by Ryan Cooper in The Week

“Climate disasters like Harvey illustrate an undeniable fact: American infrastructure is living on borrowed time.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Houston, Before and After Harvey

Heroic Rescues in the Middle of Harvey’s Devastation

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATER COOLER

Harvey will cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, but ongoing federal relief efforts could also reduce the potential for an upcoming government shutdown. Researchers at Goldman Sachs have lowered the chance of a shutdown to 35 percent (from 50 percent before the disaster), given the new incentives for lawmakers to resolve current impasses over spending.

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