Internal emails and damaging photographs detail evidence that huge chemical plants in Brazoria County intentionally diverted floodwaters into neighborhoods in Sweeny during Hurricane Harvey.
Documents obtained by Dolcefino Consulting show the massive Phillips 66 plant placed Tiger Dams around the plant, blocked culverts along Highway 35 with chunks of concrete and threw large containers into Linville Bayou, ignoring warnings that what they were doing was illegal.
A 2017 email from the general manager of the Phillips plant reveals the Old Ocean Volunteer Fire Department blamed the “increased flooding of residents in Old Ocean” on intentionally blocked culverts.
The president of West Brazoria County Drainage District #11 warned Phillips officials that what they were doing was illegal, inundating the community with water. An email shows the head of Phillips Corporate Strategy thought the plan was “great.”
The Sweeny Refinery General Manager during the hurricane was David Erfert. Erfert admitted in a sworn deposition that the plant didn’t notify the drainage district, the Army Corps of Engineers or the Coast Guard.
Hundreds of Sweeny residents have filed a lawsuit against Phillips 66 and Chevron Phillips Chemical next door after the storm, but three and a half years later the chemical plants haven’t paid for the damages to homes and pastureland.
“It is the same thing you hear over and over. Production and profit over people,” said Jason Gibson, the Houston attorney battling the chemical plants in court.
Damaging photographs show Phillips employees pumping oily water out of the plant and into surrounding neighborhoods. Phillips told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that no contaminated water escaped the plant.
“They just basically said we’re going to keep the plant running for revenue, and at the end of the day we’re going to flood the community,” said Sweeny resident Marc Smyth.
The Phillips plant is the second largest taxpayer in Brazoria County. Brazoria County officials have refused to talk to Dolcefino Consulting. So have the Phillips 66 officials.
“This is a story of arrogance,” said Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “Three and a half years after the hurricane, we know Phillips made a conscious decision that changed the lives of people in Sweeny. It is shocking that they are trying to avoid responsibility.”
Emails show the plan to permanently change the flow of water around the two Sweeny plants began long before the hurricane, when the plants joined to build an elevated rail line along Linville Bayou.
An email sent from the general manager of Phillips to the plant manager of CP Chem next door three weeks after Hurricane Harvey admitted, “there are many issues with the drainage through the Sityard and how it affects drainage outside and inside the plant.”
The new photographs and emails raise growing questions about possible contamination of the neighborhood surrounding the plants.
Sweeny ranch owner Mark Smyth told Dolcefino Consulting he could smell the hydrocarbons in the water.
“Absolutely you could smell it, you could smell it for months afterward,” Smyth said.
Residents in the Caribbean islands have made last-minute preparations for Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade, with officials warning of its “potentially catastrophic” effects.
Irma, a category 5 hurricane, the highest possible level, has sustained wind speeds reaching 185mph.
The hurricane is starting to hit the Leeward Islands and will move on towards Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
In the US, Florida’s Key West area has ordered a mandatory evacuation.
Visitors will be required to leave on September 6, with residents due to follow in the evening, and the international airport will halt all flights.
Martin Senterfitt, the emergency operations centre director in Monroe County in Florida, said: “We’re emphatically telling people you must evacuate. You cannot afford to stay on an island with a category five hurricane coming at you.”
Closer to the storm, thousands of people have been evacuated from at-risk areas. Residents have flocked to shops for food, water, and emergency supplies, and in several locations goods were already in short supply.
Airports have closed on several islands, popular holiday destinations, and authorities have urged people to go to public shelters.
President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, mobilizing federal disaster relief efforts for those areas.
In Puerto Rico, a 75-year-old man died during preparations for the storm, which has been described by Governor Ricardo Rossello as “something without precedent”.
Storm surges, life-threatening winds and torrential rainfall are expected along the Leeward Islands, which include Antigua, Barbuda and Anguilla.
Parts of Texas and Louisiana are dealing with the damage done by Hurricane Harvey last month. But it is not yet clear what impact Hurricane Irma might have on the US mainland.
The mainland has not been hit by two category 4 hurricanes in one season since the storms were first recorded in 1851.
A third tropical storm, Jose, has formed further out in the Atlantic behind Irma, and is expected to become a hurricane later on in the week.
Hurricane Harvey has been blamed for at least 47 deaths, and about 43,000 people are currently housed in shelters.
President Trump and his wife visited Texas earlier in the week but stayed clear of the disaster zone, saying they did not want to divert resources from rescue work.
However, the president was criticized for not meeting victims of the flooding and for focusing largely on the logistics of the government response.
Visiting Texas again on September 2, President Trump and the first lady made a point of meeting flood survivors and volunteers in Houston. They took part in food distribution at a shelter, handing out packed lunches, and posed for photographs with victims when they requested it.
During a tour of a shelter, President Trump said: “I think people appreciate what’s been done. It’s been done very efficiently, very well, and that’s what we want. We’ve very happy with the way things are going. A lot of love. There’s a lot of love.”
The president and his wife then traveled to Lake Charles, Louisiana, which also suffered flash floods, before flying back to Washington.
Amid the destruction, stories have been shared of people opening their homes and businesses to others, and forming human chains to save people from treacherous rising waters.
However, many are also now returning to destroyed homes without the insurance to fix them.
Experts estimate that only about 20% of those in Houston’s worst hit areas have flood insurance.
President Trump has asked Congress for $7.8 billion as an initial payment to help with recovery efforts following the flooding in both Texas and Louisiana, which has also hit production at America’s main petrol and oil refining centre.
On September 2, the White House said that the president had authorized an increase in the level of federal funding available for debris removal and emergency protective measures.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said the state may need more than $125 billion in aid.
The president has declared Sunday, September 3, a “National Day of Prayer” for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Administration officials say there will be further requests for funds when the full impact of Hurricane Harvey becomes known.
Hurricane Harvey dumped an estimated 20 trillion gallons of rain on the Houston area.
Governor Greg Abbott has warned that the recovery program will be a “multi-year project”.
“This is going to be a massive, massive clean-up process,” he told ABC News.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned that floodwater can contain bacteria and other contaminants from overflowing sewers. It said the biggest threat to public health was access to safe drinking water.
Authorities in flood-hit Orange County, east of Beaumont, imposed a curfew on September 2 to give its residents “peace of mind”, officials said. Looting in Houston earlier in the week led to a curfew being implemented.
Thousands of homes and businesses remain without power, and many schools are expected to remain closed on September 4.
The White House has announced it will ask the Congress for emergency funding to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
President Donald Trump is expected to propose an initial $5.9 billion. Texas authorities say the state might need more than $125 billion.
At least 39 people have died in the storm and its aftermath. East of Houston, floodwaters are still rising.
Visiting Texas, VP Mike Pence promised federal help to “rebuild bigger and better than ever before”.
Mike Pence said 311,000 people had registered for disaster assistance. It is not yet clear how quickly funds might reach victims.
Visiting the battered town of Rockport, Mike Pence paid tribute to the people of Texas: “The resilience of the people of Texas has been inspiring.”
He added: “The American people are with you. We are here today, we will be here tomorrow and we will be here every day until this city and this state and this region rebuild bigger and better than ever before.”
The White House also said President Trump would donate $1 million of his own money to the relief effort.
Firefighters in Houston have been carrying out door-to-door searches for survivors and bodies in an operation that could take up to two weeks.
Rescue operations are still continuing further east, where floodwaters are still rising.
Hundreds of thousands of residents who were evacuated or chose to leave are being warned not to return home until they are told it is safe to do so.
Earlier, a senior White House aide said about 100,000 homes, not all of which were fully insured, had been affected by the storm and the flooding that accompanied it.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said its teams had rescued more than 3,800 people, and more than 90,000 had already been approved for disaster assistance.
FEMA also warned that residents were being targeted by scams. There are reports of criminals impersonating inspectors and immigration officials.
Others were receiving fraudulent calls about flood insurance claiming a premium must be paid or coverage would be lost.
Energy suppliers in southern Texas were forced to shut down refineries and close off pipelines, sending petrol prices higher across the US. Many have restarted operations, but it could take weeks before production is back to normal.
Residents returning to their homes are also facing challenges.
The Environmental Protection Agency is warning residents that floodwater can contain bacteria and other contaminants from overflowing sewers. It said the biggest threat to public health was access to safe drinking water.
One chemical plant in Crosby, near Houston, caught fire on August 31, and more fires are expected in the coming days.
Chemicals stored at the flooded Arkema plant are no longer being refrigerated, making them combustible.
Residents have been evacuated from the plant in a 1.5 mile radius, and smoke was seen rising from the site on August 31.
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are expected to return to Texas on September 2.
The president visited Texas earlier in the week but limited his visit to Corpus Christi, which avoided the worst of the flooding, over fears his presence could divert resources from rescue efforts.
Storm Harvey has been downgraded to a tropical depression and is expected to dissipate in Ohio on Saturday evening.
Several inches of rainfall are expected in Tennessee and Kentucky over the next two days, and flood warnings remain in effect in parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and Louisiana.
Houston, America’s fourth most populous city, has implemented a night-time curfew to prevent looting from abandoned homes as authorities and volunteers battle to rescue stranded people and provide shelter for those made homeless by the rising waters.
The curfew runs from 00:00-05:00 local time for an indefinite period. Relief volunteers, first responders, and those going to and from work are exempt.
According to the National Weather Service, the rainfall in Texas set a new record for the continental US. A rain gauge in Cedar Bayou recorded nearly 52in of rain since August 25.
President Donald Trump visited Texas on August 29 to survey the damage brought by Harvey.
He arrived in Corpus Christi, where Hurricane Harvey first made landfall last week, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump.
President Trump said he wanted the relief effort to stand as an example of how to respond to a storm.
“We want to do it better than ever before.
“This storm, it’s epic what happened. But you know what, it happened in Texas and Texas can handle anything.”
President Trump will not be visiting Houston.
According to the White House, the president did not want his visit to disrupt the emergency response.
President Trump has declared a federal state of emergency in both Texas and Louisiana. The move releases emergency government funding and other assistance.
Harvey was the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years when it made landfall at Corpus Christi, 220 miles south-west of Houston. The storm is expected to continue dumping huge amounts of rain in the coming days over already flood-hit areas.
Harvey made landfall as a category-four hurricane on August 25. It was later downgraded to a tropical storm.
Up to 2,000 people have been rescued in and around Houston, the fourth-largest city in the US, where about 6.6 million people live in the metropolitan area.
An inundated care home in Dickinson, about 30 miles south east of Houston, has now been evacuated by helicopter after an image of several elderly women sitting in a lounge in waist-deep water went viral on social media.
The US National Weather Service (NWS) says conditions are “unprecedented”. A “flash flood emergency” is in force across the Houston area, with travel near impossible.
Thousands of homes are without electricity. Many schools are closed – as are the two main airports, with runways completely flooded.
Forecasts say that up to 40in of rain could fall in some areas of the middle and upper Texas coast, the hurricane center (NHC) warned. Such precipitation could trigger flooding in low-lying areas and near water outlets and rivers.
The National Weather Service cautioned that the storm was so severe that many areas could be uninhabitable for months.
Harvey has now mostly moved inland, officials say, with several places already reported to have received well over 10in of rain.
However, coastal areas will also be flooded by storm surges during high tide, the NHC said.
Meteorologist Wendy Wong told the Houston Chronicle that at least seven tornadoes stemming from the hurricane had struck the Houston area between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.
The tornadoes destroyed buildings and homes and are likely to continue throughout Sunday and Monday.
Earlier, Hurricane Harvey made a double landfall: north-east of the city of Corpus Christi initially late on Friday local time, then just north of Rockport a few hours later.
When Harvey struck close to Corpus Christi it had winds of up to 130mph, but by noon its sustained winds had dropped to 70mph – therefore becoming a tropical storm.
It was moving at an extremely low speed – 2mph.
The port of Corpus Christi – which closed on August 24 in preparation for the storm – only received “minor damage”. Its navigation channel is due to reopen after a survey is completed by engineers.
Texas City also expects to open its port within 48 hours.
Utility companies say nearly 300,000 customers have been without electricity.
President Donald Trump has freed up federal aid for the worst-affected areas and Governor Greg Abbott praised the administration for “stepping up”.
In a teleconference with cabinet members, President Trump “emphasized his expectations that all departments and agencies stay fully engaged and positioned to support his number one priority of saving lives”, the White House said.
At least 18 people have been rescued from vessels in distress by Coast Guard helicopters. ABC News has tweeted a video of four people being rescued off the coast of Port Aransas.
Rockport, normally home to about 10,000 people, appears to have been the hardest hit town.
Port Aransas, a city on Mustang Island, near Corpus Christi, is also reported to have extensive damage. Local media reports say a search and rescue operation is under way at a trailer park.
Harvey is the first major storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. It is forecast to meander across south-east Texas until Wednesday.
President Trump is likely to visit Texas early next week, the White House said.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Harvey is the strongest storm to hit the US since Charley in August 2004 and the most powerful to hit Texas since Hurricane Carla in 1961, which killed 34 people.
President Trump has approved a federal aid for the worst-affected areas and praised emergency services in a tweet: “You are doing a great job – the world is watching! Be safe.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott warned of record flooding in multiple regions after Harvey made a double landfall: north-east of the city of Corpus Christi initially, then just north of Rockport a few hours later.
Rockport, normally home to about 10,000 people, appears to have been the hardest hit. Emergency services there say a number of buildings have suffered structural damage.
Images posted on social media show collapsed trees and houses.
They say Hurricane Harvey could remain in the area, dumping rain until the middle of next week.
On top of that, the central Texas coast is likely to see a significant storm surge – this happens when low pressure at sea “lifts” tides to a level higher than normal, up to 12ft in this case, and high winds then blow the water in land.
Image source Wikimedia
The NHC said it expected “catastrophic flooding” across the coast and in some inland areas throughout south-east Texas.
Energy companies have been evacuating staff from offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
Texan oil refineries on land are also shutting down in preparation for the storm. As a result, US fuel prices have reached a three-week high.
Joe McComb, mayor of Corpus Christi, a coastal city of more than 300,000 people, urged householders to take the warnings seriously and evacuate low-lying areas.
“I hope people will listen to forecasters when they say <<beware of flash floods>>,” he said.
“Flash floods can come quickly, and they can be deadly.”
According to the NHC, the wind speed is currently almost 110mph, though gusts are even stronger.
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