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As Catastrophic Flooding Hits Houston, Fears Grow of Pollution from Oil Refineries & Superfund Sites

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 8/28/17

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A catastrophic storm has hit Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city and home to the largest refining and petrochemical complex in the United States. The crisis began on Friday when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas. It was the most powerful hurricane to strike the state in more than 50 years. Much of the damage has been caused by the massive rainfall, with parts of Texas already receiving 30 inches of rain. That could top 50 inches in the coming days. Entire highways in Houston are now underwater. The storm has caused five reported deaths, but the death toll is expected to rise. Thousands of people are still stranded in their homes, waiting to be rescued. Meanwhile, the city of Dallas prepares to turn its convention center into a mega-shelter to host 5,000 evacuees. The National Weather Service released a statement on Sunday saying, "This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced." We speak with Bryan Parras, an organizer for the "Beyond Dirty Fuels" campaign with the Sierra Club in Houston, Texas. He helped found the environmental justice group t.e.j.a.s.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, joined by Democracy Now!'s Renee Feltz, a Houston native.

RENEE FELTZ: Good morning, and thank you, Amy. And good morning to all of our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world, and potentially in Houston, underwater. A catastrophic storm has hit Houston, Texas, and the flooding is expected to only worsen in the coming days. Houston is the nation's fourth largest city and home to the largest refining and petrochemical complex in the United States.

The crisis began on Friday when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas. It was the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in more than 50 years. But much of the damage has been caused not by the wind or tides, but by the massive rainfall. Some parts of Texas have already received 30 inches of rain and could top 50 inches. Entire highways in Houston are now underwater.

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AMY GOODMAN: According to The Washington Post, the storm has already dumped more than nine trillion gallons of water, enough water to fill the Great Salt Lake in Salt Lake City twice. And meteorologists project another five to 10 trillion gallons of water could be dumped on the region in coming days, potentially making this the worst flooding disaster in U.S. history. To compound matters, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have begun releasing water from two large reservoirs which will increase flooding of homes downtown near Buffalo Bayou, parts of which are already flooded.

On Sunday, the National Weather Service released a statement saying, "This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown beyond anything experienced." And the damage has not only been in Houston. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, reports the storm has impacted 50 counties in Texas as well as parts of Louisiana. This is Brock Long, FEMA administrator, speaking this morning.

BROCK LONG: ...citizens to be involved. Texas, this is a landmark event. We have not seen an event like this. You could not draw this forecast up. You could not dream this forecast up. It has been a very challenging effort for the National Weather Service, who has been putting out great information. We have been telling people that this is coming. It's still ongoing. But you couldn't draw this situation up. The bottom line is that it is going to continue on. We need the whole community. Not only the federal government forces, but this is a whole community effort from all levels of government and it's going to require the citizens getting involved.

RENEE FELTZ: The storm has caused five reported deaths, but the death toll is expected to rise. Thousands of people are still stranded in their homes, waiting to be rescued, many by volunteers who brought their own boats to help. One rescue operation took place at a nursing home in Dickinson, Texas, after a photo went viral showing elderly residents sitting waist-deep in water. Many neighborhoods may be uninhabitable for weeks or longer.
The city of Dallas is preparing to turn its convention center into a mega shelter to host some 5,000 evacuees. Displaced residents have also been gathering at the Houston convention center.

UNKNOWN: I was in Magnolia Park at the transit center. And they pulled us off the bus in knee-high water. So, when the wind starts blowing -- I almost lost my dog. I pretty -- the bike went down the street. An HPD officer had seen what was happening and he came to our aid. If it wasn't for the HPD officer, we would have been swept away.

AMY GOODMAN: It is believed there are thousands of people at that Houston convention center. President Trump is expected to visit the region on Tuesday. We go now to Houston where we are joined by Bryan Parras, an organizer for the "Beyond Dirty Fuels" campaign with the Sierra Club in Houston, Texas. He helped found the environmental justice group Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, known as t.e.j.a.s. And joining us from San Diego, David Helvarg executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation group. Author of several books, including Rescue Warriors--The U.S. Coast Guard, America's Forgotten Heroes.

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But let's begin with Bryan, in Houston. We're speaking to you on Skype. We're very glad you can even communicate with us today. Talk about the extent of the damage. As we talk about Buffalo Bayou -- for people who don't live in Houston, i think it's hard for them to even understand the geography of Houston and what actually is taking place in this unprecedented both rainfall and flooding. The flooding only expected to get worse.

BRYAN PARRAS: Yeah. Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Renee. Well, Buffalo Bayou, let's start there. That is one of the -- the iconic bayou of Houston, Texas. And it crosses from the west side of Houston to the east side of Houston, and then becomes the Houston Ship Channel as it empties out into Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. But we have seen already extensive flooding along the bayous on the west side. And my concern is where I live on the east side, because of the many, many petrochemical facilities, storage tanks, and other hazardous sites that line that same bayou for 30 or 40 miles.

RENEE FELTZ: Bryan, thanks so much for joining us this morning there from Houston's East End. I wanted to ask you -- I know you from KPFT, where I was a news director for many years, including during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. And I know that you have been documenting for a long time the pollution that comes from these refineries in normal circumstances. You give a "toxic tour" of some of these refineries. And now, you have been shooting video of some of the releases that they may have been making since the storm began on Friday. You shot footage that showed some of this release on Friday, I believe. Maybe you can describe what you shot and describe what you're seeing. And is there a smell in the air from some of these releases?

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