By JEFF AMY and MATT SEDENSKY
HOUSTON — As floodwaters receded and rescuers searched waterlogged neighborhoods for more potential victims, Houston officials began turning their attention to finding temporary housing for those in shelters and getting enough gasoline for people to fill up cars — but also to the city’s long-term recovery, which will take years and billions of dollars.
Authorities raised the death toll from the storm to 39 late Thursday. And the latest statewide damage surveys revealed the staggering extent of the destruction.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said more than 37,000 homes were heavily damaged and nearly 7,000 were destroyed, figures that did not include the tens of thousands of homes with minor damage. About 325,000 people have already sought federal emergency aid in the wake of Harvey. More than $57 million in individual assistance has already been paid out, FEMA officials said.
Harris County FEMA director Tom Fargione said the agency was looking for ways to house people who lost their homes to Harvey, with 32,000 people reported in shelters across Texas. Some evacuees had begun returning to their homes — the George R. Brown Convention Center, where 10,000 people took shelter, housed 8,000 evacuees late Thursday.
The priority is to get those who weren’t able to return to their homes into some form of temporary housing, Fargione said.
“Right now, nothing is off the table. This is a tremendous disaster in terms of size and scope.”
The block-by-block search of tens of thousands of Houston homes that rescuers began Thursday is expected to be completed by Friday. Fire Chief Sam Pena said his department had responded to nearly 16,000 calls since the storm hit Saturday, over 7,600 of them for water rescues.
Elsewhere, the loss of power at a flood-crippled chemical plant set off explosions and a fire, and the city of Beaumont, near the Texas-Louisiana line, lost its public water supply. The remnants of the storm pushed deeper inland, raising the risk of flooding as far north as Kentucky.
More than 200 firefighters, police officers and members of an urban search-and-rescue team fanned out across the Meyerland neighborhood looking for survivors or bodies. They yelled “Fire department!” as they pounded with closed fists on doors, peered through windows and checked with neighbors.
“We don’t think we’re going to find any humans, but we’re prepared if we do,” said District Chief James Pennington of the…