HOUSTON (CBS/AP) — Authorities say they have confirmed six more deaths from Harvey, bringing the toll to at least 31.
Harris County – which is home to flood-ravaged Houston – confirmed the additional deaths Wednesday night and said they still needed to do autopsies on another eight people to see if their deaths were storm-related.
The deaths announced Wednesday included a man who stepped on live electrical wire in floodwaters and an evacuee who was found unresponsive on a charter bus. Most of the other deaths were drownings.
“Unfortunately, it seems that our worst thoughts are being realized,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said after the van was found in 10 feet of muddy water.
While conditions in Houston appeared to improve, the disaster took a turn for the worse east of the city, close to the Louisiana line.
Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, struggled with rising floodwaters and worked to evacuate residents after Harvey completed a U-turn in the Gulf of Mexico and rolled ashore early Wednesday for the second time in six days. It hit southwestern Louisiana as a tropical storm with heavy rain and winds of 45 mph.
For much of the rest of the Houston area, forecasters said the rain is pretty much over.
“We have good news,” said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District. “The water levels are going down.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city’s two major airports would be up and running again in the afternoon. Farther south, the ports of Corpus Christi and Brownsville reopened.
Nevertheless, many thousands of homes in and around the nation’s fourth-largest city still were under water from the record-breaking deluge of 4 feet of rain and could stay that way for days or weeks. Officials said 911 centers in the Houston area were still getting more than 1,000 calls an hour from people seeking help.
About 10,000 more National Guard troops are being deployed to Texas, bringing the total to 24,000, Gov. Greg Abbot said.
The scale of the catastrophe in Texas began to come into sharper focus: More than 1,000 homes were destroyed and close to 50,000 damaged, and over 32,000 people were in shelters across the state, emergency officials reported.
“This is going to be an incredibly large disaster,” Brock Long, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in Washington. “We’re not going to know the true cost for years to come. … But it’s going to be huge.”
FEMA has received 195,000 requests for help so far.
Maricedalia Osorio, who is living the U.S. without permission, was staying with her seven children at a shelter set up at Houston’s NRG Center. She went there only after Houston authorities assured her she would not be asked about her immigration status.
“They know that we have no house,” she said of her children, who were waiting in line to eat. “I said, ‘We are OK, we are together. We are going to get back everything.'”
Authorities expect the death toll to rise as the waters recede and bodies are found in cars and homes.
The confirmed deaths from the storm include a man who tried to swim across a flooded road, a former football and track coach in suburban Houston, and a woman who died after she and her young daughter were swept into a drainage canal in Beaumont. The child was rescued clinging to her dead mother, authorities said.
Harvey itself was “spinning down” and expected to weaken Wednesday into a tropical depression, meaning winds of 38 mph or less. Forecasters said the remnants will move from Louisiana into Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky in the next few days, with flooding possible there.
“Once we get this thing inland during the day, it’s the end of the beginning,” National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said. “Texas is going to get a chance to finally dry out as this system pulls out.”
When Harvey paid its return visit to land overnight, it hit near Cameron, Louisiana, about 45 miles from Port Arthur.
Port Arthur found itself increasingly isolated as floodwaters swamped most major roads out of the city and spilled into a storm shelter with about 100 people inside. Motiva Enterprises closed its Port Arthur refinery, the largest in the nation, because of flooding.
Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman posted on his Facebook page: “city is underwater right now but we are coming!” He urged residents to move to higher ground and avoid getting trapped in attics.
More than 500 people — along with dozens of dogs, cats, a lizard and a monkey — took shelter at the Max Bowl bowling alley in Port Arthur after firefighters popped the lock in the middle of the night, said the establishment’s general manager, Jeff Tolliver.
“The monkey was a little surprising, but we’re trying to help,” he said.
In Orange, Texas, about 30 miles east of Beaumont, residents of a retirement home surrounded by thigh-deep water were rescued by National Guardsmen and wildlife officers, who carried them from the second floor and put them aboard an airboat.
Harvey initially came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas on Friday, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days, inundating flood-prone Houston.
Harvey’s five straight days of rain totaled close to 52 inches, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental U.S.
On Wednesday night the National Hurricane Center downgraded Harvey to a tropical depression, but warns of continuing flooding in parts of Southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.
(TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)