Texas officials: Hurricane Harvey death toll at 82, ‘mass casualties have absolutely not happened’
Texas officials said Thursday that they believe at least 82 people died as a result of Hurricane Harvey and the intense flooding it brought to Houston and coastal areas, although it could take weeks to determine the exact death toll.
The picture could have been much bleaker, given the amount of flooding and that entire communities were cut off for days. Hospitals had to be evacuated as water rose into buildings that had never before flooded; some residents found themselves trapped in their homes while chest-deep floods took over their streets; and emergency responders along the Texas coast were overwhelmed, leading civilians with watercraft to rescue one another.
Some worried that when floodwaters receded, the number of deaths would mount, but that didn’t materialize.
“The mass casualties have absolutely not happened,” John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in an interview Thursday.
In a typical week in Harris County, which encompasses Houston and its 2.3 million residents, there are about 4,300 deaths, Hellerstedt said. “The deaths that are attributable to this disaster is a very small portion,” he said.State officials said Texas was prepared for the worst when the hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast, and they said those preparations appear to have paid off. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Thursday that crews continue to search house by house for victims but that “the risk to lives has now been reduced, if not completely eliminated.”
Receding waters reveal how much work remains to be done to rebuild and repair, Abbott said. The first task is clearing the 200 million cubic yards of debris — enough to fill the football stadium at Texas A&M University 125 times — left in Harvey’s wake.
The American Red Cross reported that 5,258 people spent Wednesday night in 28 shelters strewn across the Texas coast, mostly in Houston and Harris County — down from more than 30,000 at the height of the flooding. The sheltered population is declining, officials said, as Texans relocate to other types of temporary housing. About 21,000 households are living in 2,000 hotels in 33 states, according to Tony Robinson, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regional director.