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Houston Mayor Says Parts Of The City Will Have High Water For Weeks


Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says reservoir releases will keep water flooding into some homes for up to two more weeks. He's urging people in the western part of the city to get out.


SYLVESTER TURNER: If you have water in your home today, the odds are you're going to continue to have water in your home over the next 10 to 15 days. And with that being the case and the stress and the strain that's been imposed on first responders, as well as your own public safety, I am asking you - I'm asking you to leave your homes.

SHAPIRO: The death toll continues to climb from the storm - now more than 30. And FEMA reported today that more than 364,000 people have registered for assistance. NPR's Wade Goodwyn joins us now. Hi, Wade.


SHAPIRO: So we just heard the Houston mayor there urge residents in parts of the city to leave because of high water that's not going away. But in many areas of Houston, residents and business owners are back in their properties. Cleanup is starting in earnest. What can you tell us about how that process is going in these early stages?

GOODWYN: That's right. In many places, the flooding's receded. The water's gone. And Harvey's left one of the world's largest messes. Today is the first official Harvey big trash day. The piles on the curb in Houston - you know, they're like giant sculptures at their not-so-finest, you know, primitive with that soggy, stinky je ne sais quoi.

SHAPIRO: Oh, yeah.

GOODWYN: A lot of people in T-shirts shirt and shorts ripping out their carpets, their padding, you know, all the wet clothes. They've got to go. You've got to hump all the furniture out to the street. It's a lot of backbreaking labor. And, you know, a lot of Houstonians who were not flooded are helping them.

I think this is where social media is so good. You know, somebody posts on Facebook that their mom needs help. And then four or five people who don't even know mom or really anyone in the family show up, and they get to work. You know, this is kind of like Houston at its best - you know, not afraid to work. Go ahead. Take a minute to cry. We'll get the carpet out of here. And there is going to be - you know, there's going to be plenty of crying this week. No doubt.

You can tell yourself until the cows come home it's only stuff. But, you know, 59 trips to the curb - and, frankly, everything you own is garbage. That stiff upper lip ain't going to be stiff so more. And here's the thing. Each situation is different. Like, in places like Rockport and Port Aransas, where Harvey came ashore, those towns - they're blasted. They looked like a bomb went off and flattened everything.

And these places are smaller. So there's not some big pool of labor to help. You know, so that's a feeling of helplessness of a whole different magnitude. If you're older - if you're in 60s or 70s - your friends are, too. You know, that's a whole other country. It's easy to look at the mess Harvey made your home and think, my life's ruined.

SHAPIRO: Just to pivot, Wade, I know that a lot of Texas refineries have had to shut down. And it's already affecting gas prices. The national average was up 18 cents this afternoon over last week. What is the situation with refineries right now?

GOODWYN: So the largest refinery in the country - it's the Saudi-owned Motiva - it's huge - in Port Arthur. Port Arthur got hammered by 47 inches of rain. It's offline completely now. And it alone produces more than 600,000 barrels a day. That's barrels, not gallons. The huge French refinery Total S.A. is also out. It's 225,000 barrels a day.

So in all, about a quarter of the national refining capacity is out of action. And in Texas, it sparked this belief that gasoline shortages are inevitable. So over the last two days, we've had this mass outbreak of bonehead, which has rewired all our brains. Now, suddenly, half a tank of gas is no longer plenty of gas but a crisis which we have to rectify immediately. So all of the state - you know, we went straight to the gas station and sat in a line for an hour or two.

You know, one of our railroad commissioners described it perfectly. He said, it was like the run on the Bailey Savings and Loan in "It's A Wonderful Life." The problem here is there's no George Bailey pleading with motorists to just put five gallons in. So everybody's Silverado an F-150's got a full tank, but the gas stations are out. But, you know, here's the thing to remember. These refineries are only expected to be offline for about two weeks. It's kind of like Houston. They got flooded. But it's not like these plants were destroyed by some massive storm surge.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Texas. Thanks, Wade.

GOODWYN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.