TX/LA – As the fiercest hurricane to hit the USA in more than a decade, rising floodwaters from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground Sunday in Houston, overwhelming rescuers who fielded countless desperate calls for help.
Five days after roaring ashore near Houston — leaving behind disastrous flooding and a mounting death toll that had reached at least 22 people — Harvey made landfall before dawn near tiny Cameron, La., after drifting back out into the Gulf of Mexico as it steamrolled up the coast.
The full toll of Harvey’s destruction remained unclear in Houston and across Texas and Louisiana, as officials warned that the danger was far from over, saying that flooding would remain and that more than 30,000 people would be forced from their homes. Two reservoirs were opened to release water to relieve the stress the downpour has caused in the region, which has seen as much rain in a few days as it averages in an entire year.
The National Weather Service predicted that parts of Texas could receive nearly 50 inches of rain, the largest recorded total in the state’s history. It also warned that Harvey’s relentless downpours were expected to continue until late in the week and that flooding could become much more severe.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is leaning forward in its preparations to support Texas and Louisiana in responding to Hurricane Harvey. HHS has already deployed assets to both states that are ready to provide medical care and public health support as needed.
A public health emergency has been declared in Texas, giving the HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Medicare beneficiaries and their health care providers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs.
Storm and flood cleanup activities can be hazardous. Workers and volunteers involved with flood cleanup should be aware of the potential dangers involved, and the proper safety precautions. Work-related hazards that could be encountered include: electrical hazards, Carbon Monoxide, musculoskeletal hazards, heat stress, motor vehicles, hazardous materials, fire, confined spaces and falls
HHS has called in 460 National Disaster Medical System staff, including community doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel from around the country, to be in place ahead of the storm and ready to respond when and where needed. The HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response moved six Disaster Medical Assistance Teams into the Dallas area along with Incident Response Coordination Teams to support the medical teams in Texas and Louisiana. Additional medical care teams are on alert to be called in as needed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has moved two 250-bed Federal Medical Stations to Baton Rouge, ready to be deployed anywhere in the state, and additional Federal Medical Stations are available in Dallas for patient care in Texas. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health has mobilized U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers to staff the Federal Medical Stations and meet other public health or medical needs in impacted communities.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration activated the Disaster Distress Helpline, a toll-free call center, to aid people in coping with the behavioral health effects of the storm and help people in impacted areas connect with local behavioral health professionals.
HHS also provided data to public health authorities in Texas and Louisiana to assist them in reaching citizens who rely on electrically powered medical equipment at home. Power outages become life-or-death situations for people with these medical conditions.
HHS remains in regular contact with Texas and Louisiana health officials to maintain awareness of the local situation and stands ready to augment its support to the states as the situation unfolds.
The Department is committed to meeting the medical and public health needs of communities across Texas and Louisiana impacted by Hurricane Harvey in the immediate aftermath of the storm and as affected areas recover. Information on health safety tips during and after the hurricane will be provided by the Office of the Assistance Secretary for Preparedness and Response and will be available at www.phe.gov/harvey.