Celebrities / National

The Latest: Official confirms 2 more Harvey-related deaths

Kori’yana Lyons (left) and Phyllis Moore rest on their cots at the Salvation Army in Beaumont Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. The women were traveling to Houston from Gulfport, MS, to work with LGS Staffing in hurricane clean-up when they encountered the shut down of I-10 heading West. (Kim Brent/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)

HOUSTON (AP) — The Latest on Tropical Storm Harvey (all times local):

10 a.m.

A sheriff’s official north of Houston says two men died this week in separate drownings, bringing the number of confirmed Harvey-related deaths to 20.

Montgomery County sheriff’s Capt. Bryan Carlisle said Wednesday that 33-year-old Joshua Feuerstein of Conroe died when he disregarded a barricade and drove his pickup into standing water Monday.

Carlisle says witnesses saw the pickup’s reverse lights illuminate, indicating that Feuerstein was attempting to back out of the water. But the pickup was carried into deeper water. The witnesses swam to help, but Carlisle says he was already dead.

Separately, an unidentified man died as he tried to swim across a flooded roadway Monday.

Carlisle says people nearby saw the man sink under the fast-moving water. His body was found a day later in the same area.

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9:50 a.m.

Joel Osteen is defending the decision not to open his Houston megachurch as a shelter during the initial flooding from Harvey in the face of withering criticism on social media.

The televangelist maintained on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday that his Lakewood Church was inaccessible due to floodwaters during the early part of the storm. He says the 16,000-seat former basketball arena is prone to flooding and “the last thing we would do is put people in it right at the beginning.” He says the city didn’t ask the church to open as a shelter initially.

Osteen tells NBC’s “Today” show that a “false narrative” on social media was to blame for the backlash.

Lakewood Church began taking in Harvey evacuees Tuesday afternoon.

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9:45 a.m.

The elected official in charge of the county that includes Houston says Harvey could have damaged 30,000 to 40,000 homes.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told TV station KTRK on Wednesday that it’s just an estimate officials are discussing, but that it could be even more.

He says some homes have been damaged irreparably and that there will difficult months or even years ahead.

Emmett says one priority in trying restore some sense of normalcy is getting kids in the region back to school. He says it won’t be easy because so many people have been displaced.

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This item has been corrected to show Emmett spoke Wednesday, not Monday.

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9:35 a.m.

An official says it’s too early to say if the thousands of Houston-area homes flooded by Harvey’s torrential rains can be rebuilt.

Jeff Lindner of the Harris County Flood Control District says: “When water sits in a house for several weeks, the house begins to degrade.”

About 4,000 homes in the areas near the Addicks and Barker reservoirs have been flooded, some with 3 to 6 feet (90 to 180 centimeters) of water. Linder says some of those will remain flooded “for an extended period of time.”

He says it’s unclear what condition those properties will be in when those residents return.

Lindner says controlled water releases from the two reservoirs continue to flow into Buffalo Bayou, and that some homes in the area could be flooded again. But he expects no additional homes to take on water in the area.

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9:20 a.m.

Officials say nearly all Houston-area waterways inundated by Harvey’s record rainfall have crested, but that water levels continue to rise in two flood-control reservoirs.

Jeff Lindner of the Harris County Flood Control District says river levels are going down Wednesday “for the first time in several days.”

Army Corps of Engineers regional engineer Edmond Russo says water in the Barker and Addicks reservoirs in west Houston rose slightly overnight and is likely to crest Wednesday, but slightly below forecast levels.

The reservoirs have received 32 to 35 inches (81 to 89 centimeters) of rain since Harvey hit last weekend, but Russo says less than an inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain is forecast in the coming week.

Lindner says “we’re getting very close to the peak of both reservoirs.”

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8:55 a.m.

Motiva Enterprises has closed its refinery in Port Arthur, Texas — the biggest in the nation — because of floodwaters that are inundating the area east of Houston near the Louisiana border.

CNN reports that company officials Wednesday opted to temporarily cease operations as Harvey continues to batter coastal regions. The tropical storm has dropped a record amount of rain on Texas.

The company had just announced Tuesday that it had cut output to 40 percent. Motiva, which is owned by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia, said it was dealing with restrictions in the flow of crude oil coming in and products such as gasoline going out through pipelines and ports.

Refineries operated by Exxon, Shell and other companies have released pollutants as torrential rains damaged storage tanks and other industrial facilities on the Texas Coast.

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8:45 a.m.

Best Buy says it is “deeply sorry” following accusations of price gouging after a photo posted online showed cases of water for sale at one of the electronic retailer’s Houston-area stores for more than $42.

The photo , which was widely shared on Twitter, appeared to have been taken by a Houston resident.

Best Buy says the sale was “clearly a mistake on the part of a few employees at a single store.” The company explained in a statement that it doesn’t have pricing for cases of water in its system and employees priced the water “by multiplying the cost of one bottle by the number of bottles in a case.”

The company says it’s “deeply sorry that we gave anyone even the momentary impression that we were trying to take advantage of the situation.”

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8:15 a.m.

An emergency management official east of Houston says the area bordering Louisiana is virtually isolated because primary roads are flooded and water levels are rising.

Marcus McLellan, spokesman for the Jefferson County emergency management office in Beaumont, said Wednesday that Interstate 10 is flooded, as are several highways and many secondary roads.

I-10 from Houston to New Orleans is one of the most heavily traveled roads in the country, normally carrying tens of thousands of vehicles each day.

McLellan says he’s stationed at the emergency operations center in downtown Beaumont and to leave the area he’d have to travel east on secondary roads toward Louisiana, which is receiving the brunt of Tropical Storm Harvey.

Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames on Wednesday told NBC’s Today show that every body of water around the city is overflowing and that the rain continues to fall.

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7 a.m.

A shelter near Houston for at least 100 displaced people has been overrun by Harvey floodwaters, forcing weary evacuees to retreat to bleacher seats.

Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy Marcus McLellan said Wednesday that the Bowers Civic Center in Port Arthur was inundated overnight due to overwhelming rainfall and a nearby overflowing canal.

Cots and belongings have been abandoned on the civic center floor, which is under about a foot (30 centimeters) of water.

McLellan says it’s not clear where the evacuees will go. Some have been at the civic center since Monday.

He says he’s not sure if a Salvation Army shelter in Beaumont has space, and the Beaumont Civic Center can hold 600 people but it’s already at capacity. Beaumont is just northwest of Port Arthur.

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4 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Harvey is back on land after coming ashore early Wednesday just west of Cameron, Louisiana. The tropical storm is expected to weaken and continue to the north.

The storm returned to land about 5 miles (8 kilometers) west of Cameron with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph).

Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said Tuesday that when Harvey came back to shore, “it’s the end of the beginning.”

Harvey is forecast to drop substantial amounts of rain on Louisiana before moving on to Arkansas, Tennessee and parts of Missouri, which could also see flooding.

Feltgen said there’s still a lot of residents in multiple states “who are going to feel the impacts of the storm.”

Harvey first made landfall Friday in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane.

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2 a.m.

The National Weather Service has issued flash flood emergencies for parts of Southeast Texas, including Beaumont and Port Arthur.

KFDM-TV reports the situation in Port Arthur is dire as homes were expected to fill with rising floodwaters and residents unsure of how to evacuate the city.

Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens tells the station that county resources cannot get to Port Arthur because of the flooding and some residents have gone into survival mode.

Mayor Derrick Freeman said on his Facebook page that the “city is underwater right now but we are coming!” He also urged residents to get to higher ground, but avoid becoming trapped in attics.

Deputy Marcus McLellan says city’s 911 system has been inundated with calls, which are bouncing to other law enforcement agencies. McLellan says the sheriff’s office is working to relay those calls to the proper authorities in Port Arthur.

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1:15 a.m.

After five days of torrential rain, the latest weather forecast predicts less than an inch of rain and perhaps even sunshine for the Houston area.

However, the dangers remain far from over. Authorities and family members have reported at least 18 deaths from Harvey, while law enforcement agencies say more than 13,000 people have been rescued in the Houston area and surrounding parts of Southeast Texas.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also implemented a curfew of midnight to 5 a.m. in an apparent response to scattered reports of looting. Police Chief Art Acevedo said violators would be searched and arrested.

Two additional shelters — the Toyota Center and NRG Park — opened to house displaced residents. Louisiana’s governor also offered to take in Harvey victims from Texas, and televangelist Joel Osteen opened his Houston megachurch, a 16,000-seat former arena, after critics blasted him on social media for not acting to help families displaced by the storm.

Harvey is expected to come inland Wednesday near the Texas-Louisiana border.

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