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Thousands flee Texas towns flooded by Harvey; gas prices spike

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Evacuees take shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

ORANGE, Texas/HOUSTON - A week after Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas, rescuers pressed their marathon search for survivors on Friday in large pockets of land that remained flooded by one of the costliest natural disasters to hit the United States.

The storm has displaced more than 1 million people with 44 feared dead from flooding that paralyzed Houston, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, a city of about 120,000 people.

Arkema SA said that a fire started on Thursday in a truck storing chemicals at a flooded plant 25 miles (40 km) east of Houston had burned itself out by Friday, but that more blasts were likely in eight other trucks storing the same chemicals in the coming days. Police are enforcing 1.5-mile (2.4-km) exclusion zone around the Crosby, Texas facility.

With three months remaining in the official Atlantic hurricane season, a new storm, Irma, had strengthened into a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, on Friday. It remained hundreds of miles from land but was forecast to possibly hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and neighboring Haiti by the middle of next week.

Harvey shut about a quarter of U.S. refinery capacity, much of which is clustered along the Gulf Coast, and caused gasoline prices to spike to a two-year high ahead of the long Labor Day holiday weekend.

With the presence of water-borne contaminants a growing concern, the National Weather Service issued flood watches from Arkansas into Ohio on Friday as the remnants of the storm made their way through the U.S. heartland.

The Neches River, which flows into Beaumont and nearby Port Arthur, had been measured at 19.5 feet (6 m), almost five times flood level late on Thursday. The river was forecast to crest on Friday.

On the highway leading into nearby Orange, Texas, new cars and trucks at a Toyota dealership sat in floodwater midway up their tires. The day before the water at been at hood level.

Inside the county’s convention center, at least 60 people were waiting to be bused to shelters in Louisiana, said Sheriff Keith Merritt. Some had been rescued from their homes overnight, while others had been taken to the center from pickup points around the county.

“We’ve been traveling all night,” said Bessie Johnson, who said she had been rescued from her flooded home in Orange by men in military uniforms. She was due to board a bus to take her to a new shelter in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Harvey roared ashore a week ago as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in half a century. It dumped unprecedented amounts of rain and left devastation across more than 300 miles (482 km) of the state’s coast.

GASOLINE PRICES SPIKE

The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has risen 17 cents since the storm hit, hitting $2.519 as of Friday morning, the highest since August 2015, according to motorists group AAA. Oil prices have slipped over the week in response.

Several East Coast refineries have run out of gasoline to deliver, raising fears that travelers will face fuel shortages during the three-day holiday.

In major Texas cities including Dallas, there were long lines at gas stations, prompting state regulators to tell people they were sparking a panic and saying there were ample fuel supplies.

The storm came on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,800 around New Orleans. Then-U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration was roundly criticized for its botched early response to the storm.

Signaling that he did not want to be seen as repeating those mistakes, President Donald Trump plans a second visit to the storm-hit region on Saturday.

“Texas is healing fast thanks to all of the great men & women who have been working so hard. But still so much to do. Will be back tomorrow!” Trump said on Twitter on Friday.

Moody’s Analytics estimated the economic cost from Harvey for southeastern Texas at $51 billion to $75 billion, ranking it among the costliest storms in U.S. history.

At least 44 people were dead or feared dead in six counties including and around Houston, officials said. Another 19 remained missing.

Tens of thousands crowded in evacuation centers across the region.

As signs of normal life returned to Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, there were concerns about health risks from bacteria and pollutants in floodwater.

As of Friday morning, some 162,541 customers remained without power in Texas, along with 10,508 in Louisiana, according to the Department of Energy.

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Muslim Global: Thousands flee Texas towns flooded by Harvey; gas prices spike
Thousands flee Texas towns flooded by Harvey; gas prices spike
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