Residents of Harris County, Texas, returning to an estimated 156,000 homes flooded by Harvey face dangers from mold, electrical hazards and deadly fumes and toxins in the receding water.
The death toll has risen to at least 42, with a house-by-house search for survivors continuing. President Trump, who has initially proposed $7.85 billion in federal disaster relief, traveled Saturday to visit recovery efforts in Houston and Louisiana.
More than 457,000 people have applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance by Friday.More than 121,000 survivors have already been approved for more than $83.4 million in assistance from FEMA.
The Red Cross and its partners sheltered 42,399 people in Texas, and another 1,487 in Louisiana, according to FEMA.
The National Flood Insurance Program received 63,000 claims by 2 p.m. Friday. Advance payments up to $10,000 are available, as officials gauge begin to gauge the damage.
And the Small Business Administration has received 2,118 disaster loan applications, primarily for homes. The agency has completed 451 property-damage inspections and fielded 5,221 calls.
An estimated 156,000 dwellings in Harris County —more than 10% of all structures — were damaged by flooding, according to the flood control district.
“We’re going to miss this place,” Silvia Casas said as she and her family surveyed the destruction in their neighborhood near Crosby.
Inside her house, a pile of furniture and splintered belongings sat in the middle of the floor.
Dangers remain as the water recedes.
Mold can cause coughing and asthma attacks when spores are inhaled, making it dangerous for people with chronic breathing conditions. Mold could start growing a day or two after flooding from the hurricane that arrived Aug. 25, more than a week ago.
Experts urge residents to dry out their homes as soon as possible. Waterlogged material such as carpet and drywall must be removed. Hard surfaces should be disinfected by scrubbing with a cup of bleach in every gallon of water.
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“That little spot of mold can grow in the home especially in the heat of the South,” said Parham Jaberi of the Louisiana Department of Health.
But this advice could be difficult in parts of Houston that are expected to remain flooded for two weeks, as Harris County releases water from the Addicks Reservoir.
Sagging ceilings, slippery floors and rough edges of debris each represent threats of wounds from cuts or punctures.
For anyone who does suffer an injury, such as a cut or puncture wound, the Texas Department of State Health Services is urging tetanus shots for anyone who hasn’t had one in 10 years.
At least one person died in Harvey’s aftermath by stepping on a live electrical wire in ankle-deep water.
Another risk is that carbon-monoxide fumes from generators could build up in homes without electricity, said Renee Funk of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Charcoal grills and camp stoves, if used indoors, could also produce dangerous fumes.
“Any sort of roof over a generator is actually a problem,” Funk said.
The flood water isn’t safe for children to play in. The water can have high levels of sewage or other hazardous substances, which cause flu-like ailments such as intestinal problems and headaches, the Environmental Protection Agency warns.
One of the chemical risks was illustrated by the explosions and fire at a Houston-area chemical plant in Crosby. Emergency officials evacuated about 5,000 people Tuesday from an area within 1.5 miles of the plant, as the area flooded.
Explosions echoed from the plant as floodwaters engulfed it and cut off its emergency generators. Orange flames and thick black smoke poured out Friday after two trailers on unstable compounds blew up, after the generators failed to refrigerate organic peroxides used to make plastics and paints.
Six more trailers are expected to catch fire “within a matter of days,” according to spokeswoman Janet Smith.
Daryl Roberts, the company’s vice president of manufacturing, technology and regulatory services in the Americas, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the floodwater inundating the plant would cause any toxins produced by the fire to quickly vaporize.
“I realize this is not a situation that we can help remedy overnight,” Arkema CEO Rich Rowe told reporters in a conference call Friday.