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Officers find van with family of 6 drowned in Harvey floodwaters

Published: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 @ 3:03 PM
Updated: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 @ 3:03 PM

Authorities Find Van with Six Drowned Family Members

Update Aug. 30: Authorities have found a white van containing the bodies of six family members after their vehicle was caught in floodwaters.

Update 4:50 p.m. Aug. 28: The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said on Monday afternoon that it was not immediately able to confirm a report that a family of six was swept away by floodwaters and killed on Sunday.

Houston police Chief Art Acevedo earlier told The Associated Press that he had no information on the reported drowning, but he told the wire service that he is "really worried about how many bodies we're going to find" from Harvey's devastating flooding.

Original report: Family members told a Texas news station that six of their family members drowned Sunday afternoon as they tried to escape from floodwaters brought about by Hurricane Harvey.

>> Read more trending news

Three members of the unidentified family told KHOU that four children were in a van with their great-grandparents and great-uncle Sunday when it was swept up by the current of flood waters as the van crossed a bridge in Greens Bayou.

The news station reported that the van’s driver, the children’s great-uncle, was able to escape and cling onto a tree branch. He told the trapped children to escape from the van’s back door, but they were not able to, according to KHOU.

The news station said the victims were an 81-year-old woman, her 84-year-old husband, a 16-year-old girl, a 14-year-old boy, an 8-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl.

Authorities did not immediately verify the report, and no bodies have been recovered.

Houston police Chief Art Acevedo told The Associated Press that he had no information on the reported drowning, but he told the wire service that he is "really worried about how many bodies we're going to find" from Harvey's devastating flooding.

On Monday alone, authorities said they rescued hundreds of people from floodwaters in the Houston area.

Southeast Texas was battered by strong winds and torrential rains starting on Friday, when then-Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the Gulf Coast. It was downgraded to a tropical storm Saturday, but continued to dump rain over the area.

Missing woman was trapped in elevator as Harvey flooded Houston, sister says

Published: Thursday, August 31, 2017 @ 5:24 PM

Missing Woman – “I’m in an elevator. The water is rushing in. Please help me.”

Authorities in Houston are searching for a woman who was last heard from Sunday after she became trapped in an elevator as floodwaters inundated the city, according to multiple reports.

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Jill Renick, 48, checked into the Omni Houston Hotel with her dog Saturday before the city flooded, KHOU reported. She worked as the spa director for the hotel, at Riverway and South Post Oak Lane, according to KPRC.

“She couldn’t walk away,” Pam Eslinger, Renick’s sister, told KHOU. “The place was flooded. At final point there, it was 20 feet underwater in the lobby.”

She told the news station her sister’s last known conversation was with one of her co-workers, “saying, ‘I’m in an elevator. The water is rushing in. Please help me.’”

“(I) don’t know if she got out,” Eslinger told KHOU. “My thought is that she probably didn’t.”

Authorities have found Renick’s dog and car at the Omni Hotel, according to the Houston Chronicle, but there has been no sign of Renick.

"The unknown is absolutely killing us right now," Renick’s nephew, Austin Miller, told the Chronicle. "I haven't stopped thinking about it."

Authorities told KHOU that they were investigating reports of a body in the basement, although it wasn’t clear whether the body was Renick’s. Gary Norman, spokesman for Houston’s Office of Emergency Management, told the Chronicle on Wednesday that search efforts were hampered by the depth of the floodwater in the hotel, which was also contaminated with oil and gas.

“Of course, I’m hoping she’s still alive. I’m hoping that we find her soon,” Eslinger told KHOU. “As every minute ticks by, I’m still trying to keep the faith. I just want her back.”

In a statement released to KPRC, an Omni Hotel representative said the company’s employees are working with authorities in an effort to find Renick.

“We pray our associate will be located safe and unharmed,” the statement said. “In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers go out to our associate’s family during this difficult time.”

More than 30 people have been killed as a result of Harvey, which made landfall on the coast of Texas late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane.

Hurricane Harvey: Flooding and Aftermath

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Houston police Sgt. Steve Perez drowns in Harvey floodwaters

Published: Tuesday, August 29, 2017 @ 12:48 PM
Updated: Tuesday, August 29, 2017 @ 3:36 PM

Police Officer Drowns In Houston Floodwaters

A Houston police officer drowned Sunday morning when he was trapped by floodwaters brought to the region by Harvey, city officials confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

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Officials recovered the body of Sgt. Steve Perez, a 34-year veteran of the Houston Police Department, on Tuesday morning.

"He was a sweet, gentle public servant," police Chief Art Acevedo said Tuesday at an emotional news conference. "He wasn't just taken from the Houston Police Department ... he was taken from the people of Houston."

Acevedo said Perez left his home for work at 4 a.m. Sunday as heavy rain fell in Houston. Perez was assigned to the city's traffic enforcement division, but he was unable to find a path to the station. During a roll call on Monday, his colleagues realized that Perez was missing from work. Authorities called his wife, who said she had not seen her husband since 4 a.m. the previous day.

"He was seeking to serve this city and all those who would come to our city," Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Authorities found his vehicle on Monday night. The Houston Chronicle, the first organization to report on Perez’s death, reported that his patrol car was found at Interstate 45 and the Hardy Toll road.

"It was too treacherous to go under (into the floodwaters) and look for him," Acevedo said, his voice cracking with emotion. He said officers kept watch over the area overnight. On Tuesday morning, a dive team was able to recover his body.

"In the darkness, Sgt. Perez drove under an underpass and drove into the water," Acevedo said.

"He was trying different routes, and took a wrong turn," an unidentified official told the Chronicle earlier Tuesday.

More than a dozen people have died in the days since Harvey slammed into the Texas coast on Friday, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Harvey made landfall in Rockport as a Category 4 hurricane with winds topping 130 mph. It was downgraded Saturday to a tropical storm.

VIDEO: Hurricane Harvey Aftermath

Weathered Whataburger sign becomes rallying cry for Texans on social media

Published: Monday, August 28, 2017 @ 2:30 PM



Rudy Gonzalez/American-Statesman Staff
(Rudy Gonzalez/American-Statesman Staff)

As Tropical Storm Harvey continued to wreak havoc on Texas Sunday, one photo of a battered, but still standing, Whataburger sign has come to take on a meaning of resilience to the thousands who shared the photo on social media. 

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Around 1 p.m. CDT, a Facebook user shared a Snapchat photo of a torn Whataburger sign with the caption “Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”

🙏🙏🙏

Posted by Brandon Artiga on Sunday, August 27, 2017

A quick perusal through the comments shows that the photo might have originated from another user on Snapchat, and is a photo of the Whataburger at 4545 Violet Road in Corpus Christi.

>> Houston braces for more flooding after Harvey: Live updates

According to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, the city wasn’t hit as hard by Harvey as other cities close by, but the impact of “downed trees and power lines, broken and twisted signs, debris in the roadway, widespread power outrages and some partially torn roofs” was still felt.

As of late Sunday night, the Whataburger sign photo had been shared on Facebook more than 25,000 times and had garnered almost 4,000 reactions.

>> 11 amazing and heartbreaking scenes from Houston flood

Many people equated the Whataburger orange and white with Texas pride, and others took it as a sign of the Texan spirit of resilience.

While the photo is meant to be lighthearted, Harvey is far from over. While the Austin metro area isn’t supposed to see much more rain in the next few days, the tropical storm is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico around Matagorda Bay by Monday evening before moving back toward to the southeast Texas coast on Tuesday into Wednesday.

VIDEO: Hurricane Harvey Aftermath

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5 things to know about Tropical Storm Harvey right now

Published: Sunday, August 27, 2017 @ 3:45 PM

VIDEO: Hurricane Harvey Aftermath

1. Five reported dead in Houston. The death count in Houston from Tropical Storm Harvey is at five, the Houston Chronicle is reporting. Among them is a mother and her child who died in floodwaters on Interstate 10. The city and its southern neighbors were pummeled by thunderstorms overnight Saturday with a foot-plus of rain canvassing all areas of the city.

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Gov. Greg Abbott told Fox News that damages will be in the billions of dollars statewide. No evacuations in Houston are in place, as Mayor Sylvester Turner said doing so would create a “nightmare.” “You don’t put 6.5 million people on the roads,” he said at a press conference. Officials have reported performing at least 1,000 high-water rescues with thousands more needed as homes were inundated by water.

2. Fayette County residents along river told to leave. Officials have expanded their evacuation order to all Fayette County residents living along thre Colorado River, amid projections that the river will crest at 49 feet overnight. The city has opened three shelters: Second Baptist Church on Von Minden Street, St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church on Walnut Street and VFW Post 5254 off the La Grange Texas Fairgrounds. Officials will be going door-to-door and making calls to inform residents of the evacuation order, which initially targeted only the La Grange residents near Water Street. The Colorado River has crested at 50 feet three times in La Grange, but not since 1935.

>> Related: Nursing home residents rescued in Texas after viral photo

3. About 50 roads are closed in Bastrop County. And people are discouraged from driving at all after the county got hit with 18 inches of rain in some areas. Two homes along the 500 block of Texas 95 north of Bastrop were under mandatory evacuation. Schools will be closed Monday for all districts in Bastrop County as well as the cities of Bastrop and Smithville. Smithville Mayor Scott Saunders said early Sunday that at least 25 homes have flooded in the city and multiple water rescues were ongoing. The Colorado River in Smithville reached 25 feet, five feet above the river’s flood stage.

4. Second Street closed in Austin. Falling glass from an apartment building prompted police to close Second Street between Colorado Street and Congress Avenue. Police said glass from the Ashton apartment high-rise building has blown out from “multiple floors.” This is a developing story.

>> Related: Good boy: Dog carrying bag of food through Hurricane Harvey goes viral

5. Westlake football game called off. Though almost a week away, Westlake has called off its season-opening football game against Katy. The official Twitter account of Katy’s football team retweeted the cancellation news from a Westlake fan account. The matchup between state powers was set to take place Friday at Westlake, but Katy High will be closed this upcoming week.