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Residents warned to 'get out or die' as Harvey unleashes new waves of punishing rains and flooding

By Todd C. Frankel, Avi Selk, David A. Fahrenthold

August 30, 2017 at 10:02 PM

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As Harvey moved east on Aug. 29, a fire station on Keith Road in Lumberton, Tex. became a staging ground for rescue boats going house-to-house checking in on residents. (Jorge Ribas, Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

HOUSTON — The storm once known as Hurricane Harvey made its second landfall Wednesday, dumping record rains and spurring additional flooding in small Texas cities that lie east of now-devastated Houston.

Harvey, which had swung out into the Gulf of Mexico again, came ashore at dawn near the Texas-Louisiana border. Its rain bands preceded it, pounding Texas towns including Orange, Port Arthur and Beaumont with more than two feet of rain.

City officials said much of Port Arthur — a city of 55,000 — was under water. A shelter for flood victims flooded. One official estimated that water had entered one-third of the city’s buildings.

“We need boats. We need large trucks, and we need generators,” said Tiffany Hamilton, a former city councilwoman in Port Arthur who was helping coordinate relief efforts in a city that is also without electricity. “The entire city has been flooded.”

Related: [Houston’s floodwaters are receding, but they remain dangerously high in many areas]

About 80 miles to the west, the Houston area was just beginning to recover from the biggest rainstorm in the recorded history of the continental United States.

Nearly 35,000 people were in shelters. Thousands of homes were still submerged.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Wednesday that 20 people remained missing in the city. At one point, that figure had gone as high as 47, but Acevedo said 27 people have been found alive and removed from the list.

At least 37 people were dead, and that number was climbing as water receded, revealing the storm’s awful toll.

Harris County authorities finally located a van, containing six members of the same family, that had been washed off the road days earlier. All six were dead.

A few miles away, authorities discovered the bodies of two friends who had gone out in a boat Monday, trying to rescue neighbors. They lost control in the current, drifted toward the sparks of a downed power line. They jumped in.

Three other men, including two journalists from a British newspaper, suffered electrical burns but survived by clinging to a tree above the water.

By Wednesday afternoon, the remnants of Harvey had moved into Louisiana, and by the evening had weaken to a tropical depression.

Related: [‘No way to prevent it’: A Texas chemical plant could explode — and the town evacuates]

Louisiana officials, who had worried that Harvey might devastate their state as well, said the threat of flooding seemed to be lessening.

“Somewhere between being complacent and being panicked is the right place” to be, said Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). “That’s where we’re going to ask the people of Louisiana to settle.”

More than 50 inches of rain fell onto Houston over four days, turning the country’s fourth-largest city into a sea of muddy brown water, boats skimming along what had been neighborhood streets in search of survivors.

At the height of the flooding, between 25 and 30 percent of Harris County — home to 4.5 million people in Houston and its near suburbs — was flooded as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the county flood control district. That is an area as large as New York City and Chicago combined.

epa06168742 Mindy Walker and her three year old son Connor Martinez are helped out of a boat after being rescued from their home along Cypress Creek at Kuykendal 15 miles northwest of downtown Houston, Texas, USA, 28 August 2017. The areas in and around Houston and south Texas are experiencing record floods after more than 24 inches of rain after Harvey made landfall in the south coast of Texas as a category 4 hurricane, the most powerful to affect the US since 2004. Harvey has weakened and been downgraded to a tropical storm and is expected to cause heavy rain for several days. EPA/MICHAEL WYKE
Alexendre Jorge evacuates Ethan Colman, 4, from a neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
A Houston fire department rescue boat is seen stranded near a car rental shop during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A truck driver walks past an abandoned truck while checking the depth of an underpass during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Flood victims walk through a shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
People wait outside a shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A family salvages items from their garage after floodwaters receded during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Ducks make their way through floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A home is surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Belinda Penn holds her dogs Winston and Baxter after being rescued from their home as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Joe Garcia carries his dog Heidi from his flooded home as he is rescued from rising floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A row of tractors are surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Cattle are stranded in a flooded pasture on Highway 71 in La Grange, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
People evacuate a neighborhood in west Houston inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Stranded vehicles sit where they got stuck in high water from Hurricane Harvey on Dairy Ashford Drive, August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey made landfall shortly after 11 p.m. Friday, just north of Port Aransas as a Category 4 storm and is being reported as the strongest hurricane to hit the United States since Wilma in 2005. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Firefighters put out a fire during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Local apartment residents cross high water on North Braeswood Blvd to escape the flooding from Hurricane Harvey August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
A Jeep drives through a neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Spc. Garth Parks, left, and Pfc. Taylor Garen, center, chat as Garen packs her alert bag at the Tyler Armed Forces Reserve Center in Tyler, Texas, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. Unit 136 military police battalion has deployed some members and equipment for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in Houston while the headquarters unit waits for their mission instructions. (Chelsea Purgahn/Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP)
Robert Dressell of Tyler and Adam Turner of Tyler pack the back of a pickup truck with fuel before leaving from WC Custom Boats in Noonday, Texas to head to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey Monday morning, Aug. 28, 2017. The group took six boats stocked with fuel and water headed to the Houston area to assist in Hurricane Harvey rescue efforts. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People walk down a flooded street as they evacuate their homes after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LA GRANGE, TX-AUGUST, 28: Residents of La Grange view the devastation to parts of the downtown flooded by the Colorado river rising by 54 feet because of rains caused by Hurricane Harvey. Residents from this area were evacuated yesterday and the river flooded the area early this morning
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People get off busses after being rescued as they seek shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, TX on Monday, Aug 28, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: A Coast Guard helicopter lowers someone in Houston, TX on Monday, Aug 28, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: A man sleeps as people seek shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, TX on Monday, Aug 28, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People move from helicopters to busses as they land on Highway 69 after being rescued in Houston, TX on Monday, Aug 28, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People move from helicopters to busses as they land on Highway 69 after being rescued in Houston, TX on Monday, Aug 28, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
A man helps a woman get covered up at the George R. Brown Convention Center that has been set up as a shelter for evacuees escaping the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Robert Salgado, center, sleep with relatives Jesse Alexander Leija, right, and Leliana Salgado on the floor at the George R. Brown Convention Center that has been set up as a shelter for evacuees escaping the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Sam Speights exits a window of his home that was destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Rockport, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
WESTLAKE, TX - AUGUST 29: Texas Army National Guard members help down families that were rescued from their flooded Pine Forest Village neighborhood due to high water from Hurricane Harvey August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
A woman is wheeled by first responders into the George R. Brown Convention Center that has been set up as a shelter for evacuees escaping the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
People wait in line for an HEB grocery store to open during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 29, 2017 in Deer Park, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: Volunteers in boats rescue people and their pets from their homes near interstate 45 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
In this aerial photo, water is released from the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters rise from Tropical Storm Harvey on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Water from Addicks Reservoir flows into neighborhoods as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Residents evacuate their homes near the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Airplanes sit at a flooded airport near the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A Texas flag flies over floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in La Grange, Texas, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Highways around downtown Houston are empty as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey overflow from the bayous around the city Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: Volunteers in boats rescue people and their pets from their homes near interstate 45 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
US President Donald Trump(C) listens alongside Texas Governor Greg Abbott(L) and First Lady Melania Trump(R) during a firehouse briefing on Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 29, 2017. President Donald Trump flew into storm-ravaged Texas Tuesday in a show of solidarity and leadership in the face of the deadly devastation wrought by Harvey -- as the battered US Gulf Coast braces for even more torrential rain. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
REFILE - CLARIFYING LOCATION Isiah Courtney carries his dog Bruce through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Beaumont Place, Houston, Texas, U.S., on August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Volunteers line up to sign up to help with the shelter for victims of the flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey at a shelter opened at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Kingwood, TX-AUGUST, 29: Police and volunteers rescue residents flooded by the San Jacinto river in Kingwood, Texas. The boats are on a road that was passable yesterday.
Kingwood, TX-AUGUST, 29: Volunteer Dustin Langley, who lives two hours North of Houston and came down with a friend to volunteer, helps a family to their escape their flooded apartment in Kingwood, Texas. They placed them on their boat and took them to safety.
Kingwood, TX-AUGUST, 29: Volunteer Dustin Langley, who lives two hours North of Houston and came down with a friend to help, points to an apartment with stranded residents flooded by the San Jacinto river in Kingwood, Texas
People wait to help evacuees during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Hurricane Harvey has set what forecasters believe is a new rainfall record for the continental United States, officials said Tuesday. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: Larry Koser Jr. (L) and his son Matthew look for important papers and heirlooms inside Larry Koser Sr.'s house after it was flooded by heavy rains from Hurricane Harvey August 29, 2017 in the Bear Creek neighborhood of west Houston, Texas. The neighborhood flooded after water was release from nearby Addicks Reservoir. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
People wade through chest deep water down Pine Cliff Drive as Addicks Reservoir nears capacity due to near constant rain from Tropical Storm Harvey Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 in Houston. ( Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Local residents check the water level of the Barker Reservoir after the Army Corp of Engineers started to release water into the Clodine district as Hurricane Harvey caused heavy flooding in Houston, Texas, on August 29, 2017. Harvey has set what forecasters believe is a new rainfall record for the continental US, officials said Tuesday. Harvey, swirling for the past few days off Texas and Louisiana has dumped more than 49 inches (124.5 centimeters) of rain on the region. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTONMARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Volunteers and first responders work together to rescue residents from rising flood waters in Houston on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. Forecasters expect the storm to linger over the Gulf before heading back inland east of Houston sometime Wednesday. The system will then head north and lose its tropical strength. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)
Residents are rescued by a truck from floods caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in east Houston, Texas, U.S. August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: Glenda Montelongeo, Richard Martinez and his two sons are helped out of a boat after being rescued near Tidwell Road and Toll road 8 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: People are unloaded after being rescued by a large truck along Tidwell Road near Toll road 8 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: People are rescued by large trucks along Tidwell Road near Toll road 8 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Kingwood, TX-AUGUST, 29: Police and volunteers wait to help residents to shore who were saved by police and volunteers in boats from the flood caused by Hurricane Harvey in Kingwood, Texas
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: People are rescued by large trucks along Tidwell Road near Toll road 8 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: Downtown is seen from Highway 69 in North Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 29: People are rescued by large trucks along Tidwell Road near Toll road 8 in Houston, TX on Tuesday, Aug 29, 2017. Rising water from Hurricane now Tropical Storm Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday as the had to flee their homes in Houston. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Samaritans help push a boat with evacuees to high ground during a rain storm caused by Tropical Storm Harvey along Tidwell Road in east Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WESTLAKE, TX - AUGUST 29: Texas Army National Guard members Sergio Esquivel, left, and Ernest Barmore carry 81-year-old Ramona Bennett after she and other residents were rescued from their Pine Forest Village neighborhood due to high water from Hurricane Harvey August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Photo Gallery: Houston officials described a vast rescue effort and said about 3,500 people had been brought to safety.

On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said more than 210,000 people in his state had applied for assistance from FEMA.

The number of people who have registered for federal assistance is expected to go up, William “Brock” Long, the FEMA administrator, said during a news briefing. It will take “many, many years” before the full scope of Harvey’s impact is clear, Long said.

“We expect a many-year recovery in Texas, and the federal government is in this for the long haul,” Elaine Duke, the acting Homeland Security secretary, said at the same briefing Wednesday.

Related: [Two volunteer rescuers killed in Harvey floodwaters after bringing families to safety]

President Trump has pledged swift federal aid in response to Harvey’s devastation. Abbott said that given the sheer number of people and geographic area impacted, he expects the federal government’s aid package “should be far in excess” of the roughly $120 billion in funds allotted for Gulf Coast recovery after Katrina.

Trump could request a package of emergency funding to deal with the damage caused by Harvey as soon as next week, a senior administration official said, reshuffling the political agenda as the White House scrambles to deal with devastation left by the storm.

The funding package is expected to only be a partial down payment and serve in part to backstop depleted reserves that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had on hand to respond to disasters.

No final decision on the funding request has been made and it could fluctuate based on conversations with lawmakers. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) said the aid package request could be as much as $200 billion.

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A timelapse video captures the flooding in Houston since Harvey struck on Aug. 25. (Exavier Blanchard)

Tens of thousands of Houston-area residents were living in shelters as they waited out the floodwaters. After the George R. Brown Convention Center took on nearly 10,000 evacuees, a county official asked to use the NRG Center south of downtown.

“They called up our CEO yesterday, and said: ‘Hey, we need you to do the shelter,’” said Frederick Goodall, director marketing for the nonprofit Baker-Ripley, which is overseeing the new center.

That call was Tuesday morning. By the same time Wednesday, the NRG Center was lined with cots and thousands of volunteers. By the afternoon, 900 people had been bussed in from other shelters, and nearly twice that many were expected to arrive by the end of day. Six days after the storm made landfall, residents were still unsure how long they would be out of their homes or what they would find when the waters recede.

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Evacuees and volunteers at Purple Heart Recreational Center's ad hoc shelter described the conditions Aug. 29 in Lake Charles, La., where Tropical Storm Harvey continues its downpour. (Tom Moore, Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Some of Houston’s bayous began to retreat inside their banks — although Buffalo Bayou, Houston’s main river, was still rising in some sections because of the release of water from upstream reservoirs.

“The watersheds are falling, and while most of them remain well over their levels, and some remain at record levels, the water levels are going down,” said Jeff Linder, of the Harris County Flood Control District. But he cautioned that some homes already under water may “degrade.”

Across Texas, the storm shut down 11 oil refineries and curtailed production at nine others, while causing damage leading to at least 45 releases of harmful chemicals. In Crosby, Tex., a chemical plant was in critical condition after flooding disabled its refrigeration system and two backup power generators, raising the likelihood that the volatile chemicals usually kept at cool temperatures on the site would warm up and catch fire or explode.

Related: [The terrifying science behind floating fire ant colonies — and how to destroy them]

Arkema, a French-based maker of organic peroxides used in plastics, pharmaceuticals and construction materials, evacuated all the personnel from the plant. Harris County police were scrambling to keep people at a distance; local media said the evacuation zone had a 1.5 mile radius.

“We have lost critical refrigeration of the materials on site that could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire,” Rowe said. “The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it.”

Elsewhere, it was the first day of the rest of Houston’s history, where millions of lives had been reshaped and burdened by the flood’s destruction.

Cleanup doesn’t begin to describe what’s next.

Power was out. Debris littered the city. When a house caught fire in West Houston, firefighters couldn’t get water pressure to fill their hoses. Instead, they turned to the water around them and used a jet boat engine: They pointed the back of the boat toward the house, fired up the engine, and sprayed a massive water stream toward the blaze.

On highways that allowed for some traffic, large pickup trucks — some outfitted with monster truck-style tires — hauling boats made up the majority of those who dared to travel. Grocery stores, doughnut shops and Mexican-food restaurants reopened.

Related: [‘Worst fears have been realized’: Family found dead in van swept away by Harvey flood]

For those lucky enough not to be in a shelter, it was a day to take stock of what Harvey left behind.

“I feel like I’m dreaming,” said Julie Steptoe, who ventured Wednesday morning to an intersection in Kingwood, north of Houston. Never taking her eyes off the water that engulfed the area, she continued: “I don’t know what to think. I’m hoping it turns out okay for everyone.”

In Katy, people offered gifts to the “Cajun Navy” volunteers from Louisiana, who had been conducting rescues in the area west of the city. What gifts does one gift after a flood? Chewing tobacco. Bottles of water. Packs of dry socks.

Neighbors then turned to start the enormous task of removing water and waterlogged debris.

At the Ehlert house, China chests filled with Christmas village ornaments, computers, sweaters and silverware were stacked in the center of the living room. A grandfather clock was flooded. Floral wallpaper was peeling. Neighbors were lugging out trash and soggy drywall and insulation.

“Our neighborhood army is here — pizza and tools,” said Don Ehlert, 69, who lives in the house with his wife and two grandchildren who are 5 and 12. After a call for help on a social media app, 50 people had shown up. Ehlert had never met most of them.

“This is what America is all about,” said Don’s wife, Cheri.

Related: [Harvey’s death toll rises amid stories of harrowing attempts to escape rising waters]

Nearby, Linda Oliver watched from a waterlogged golf course as helicopters continued to pluck up her neighbors. She’d left her home and car behind when she was rescued. They were probably underwater.

“I’m certainly just happy to be safe,” she said.

But she was thinking about what came after “safe.”

“I don’t think I ever will recover financially from this,” Oliver said.

Further east, in Port Arthur and Beaumont, the rain was so bad that it sounded like hail on windows. Hamilton, the former councilwoman in Port Arthur, said that in the rain, emergency lines were overwhelmed, and friends called friends for help.

Hamilton said one of her friends got a call about 2 a.m. from an elderly woman.

“She and her husband were both in the water and he was in a wheelchair, and she said she was struggling to hold his head above water,” said Hamilton, who was finally able to relay the information to emergency workers about 10 a.m. Hamilton does not know if anyone was ever able to reach the couple.

In nearby Orange, the water began rising at 3 a.m. Wednesday, covering first the streets, then the small residential lawns. And by morning it was rising with speed, pushing into homes and submerging to the rooflines of cars, trapping hundreds of people in their homes.

“It was unbelievable,” said Robin Clark, who was ferried, along with her wheelchair-bound mom and three dogs, out of her home on a volunteer’s john boat.

Dozens of rescued residents stood in a pelting rain outside a Market Basket supermarket.

They were saved. But being saved was just the start.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Keeleigh Amodeo, 15, who was waiting with her sister and mother.

Meanwhile, North of Beaumont, Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette wrote a blunt warning to constituents after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened floodgates on the swollen Neches River. Blanchette warned residents living near the river, south of B.A. Steinhagen Lake, to evacuate.

“Anyone who chooses to not heed this directive cannont expect to be rescued and should write their social security numbers in permanent marker on their arm so their bodies can be identified. The loss of life and property is certain,” Blanchette wrote on the county’s Facebook page.

“GET OUT OR DIE!”

Selk reported from Houston and Fahrenthold reported from Washington. Dalton Bennett, Tim Craig and Kevin Sullivan in Houston; Emily Wax in Katy, Tex.; Alex Horton in Crosby, Tex.; Ashley Cusick in New Orleans; Leslie Fain in Lake Charles, La.; and Mark Berman, Steven Mufson, Ed O’Keefe, Damian Paletta, Mike DeBonis, Wesley Lowery, Katie Zezima, Dave Clarke and Jason Samenow in Washington contributed to this report.

Related: [Disaster relief agencies ready to help Harvey victims, but they can’t get in]

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Hundreds of families found shelter at Wedgewood Elementary School in Friendswood, Tex., after Tropical Storm Harvey's floodwaters forced them out of their homes. (Zoeann Murphy, Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

Todd C. Frankel is a reporter covering people and policy.

Avi Selk is an American-Canadian nomad. He reported for the Dallas Morning News from 2009 until December 2016, when he joined the general assignment desk.

David A. Fahrenthold is a reporter covering the Trump family and their business interests. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered Congress, the federal bureaucracy, the environment, and the D.C. police.

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