Posts Tagged ‘Houston’

Houston Police Arrest Armed Man In High-Rise Hotel New Year’s Eve Venue In What Could Have Been Las Vegas-Style Shooting

December 31, 2017
© AFP | Houston police were called to deal with a “drunk, belligerent suspect” 

WASHINGTON (AFP) – 

Police in Houston, Texas said Sunday they had arrested a belligerent man in possession of a number of guns at a high-rise hotel where a major New Year’s celebration is planned.

The arrest, coming as cities across the country and around the world were preparing New Year’s Eve celebrations, sparked fears of a repeat of the Oct. 31 mass shooting from a hotel room in Las Vegas, Nevada, that left 58 killed and hundreds wounded.

Houston police said they had yet to determine whether the man had any ill intent. They have yet to release his identity.

Police Lieutenant Gordon Macintosh said police were called to the Hyatt Regency Hotel shortly after midnight to deal with a “drunk, belligerent suspect.”

The first officers to respond had to call for backup when the man refused to comply with their orders, Macintosh said in a video interview carried on the Houston Chronicle website.

When police escorted the man back to his room, they found “several guns,” Macintosh said. Other news media described these as including an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a handgun, as well as a large quantity of ammunition.

The suspect was arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon as well as for trespassing, Macintosh said. But he said the man was so intoxicated that police were not immediately able to interview him.

The Hyatt says its New Year’s Eve party spans four floors, featuring live performances and the dropping of 50,000 balloons at midnight. A hotel employee said the party was still on despite the “disturbance.”

The Oct. 31 shooting from a high-rise hotel in Las Vegas by a heavily armed 64-year-old man, who killed himself as police closed in, was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

Police in other cities have said they are taking extraordinary security measures around the year-end celebrations, most prominently at Times Square in New York, where police said they would deploy rooftop observers and counter-snipers in more buildings than usual, as well as patrolling hotels.

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Intoxicated man found with small arsenal on top floor of Hyatt Regency downtown, police say

By Megan Kennedy – Content Editor

HOUSTON – A man has been arrested on multiple charges after police located a small arsenal of guns on the top floor of the Hyatt Regency on Louisiana Street downtown, Houston police said.

Police at the hotel called for backup around 1:30 a.m. Sunday after they attempted to arrest the man for being intoxicated and trespassing. When help arrived, police noticed ammunition laying around the man’s hotel room, Lt. Gordon Macintosh with Houston police said.

 

The man was arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon and trespassing. When investigators looked into his room further, they located an AR-15, a shotgun, a handgun and lots of ammunition, Macintosh said.

The Hyatt is preparing its own New Years Eve celebration at the hotel with a 50,000 balloon drop at the stroke of midnight, its website said.

The man’s white Chevrolet Silverado was located and towed to be searched and examined, Macintosh said.

Police are waiting to interview the man until he has sobered up, Macintosh said.

Situation from this morning at downtown hotel is contained. No specific threats to @HoustonTX@houstonpolice will be heavily deployed throughout the city to include SWAT react teams. Proud of officers & Hyatt. As always be vigilant & report suspicious a activity to authorities.

Investigators are working to learn more about this incident.

The Hyatt Regency Houston has released the following statement:

The safety and security of our guests and colleagues is our top priority, and consistent with the hotel’s prepared security plans, heightened measures are in place on New Year’s Eve. We are fully cooperating with authorities on an investigation, and further questions should be directed to the Houston Police Department.

https://www.click2houston.com/news/intoxicated-man-found-with-small-arsenal-on-top-floor-of-hyatt-regency-downtown-police-say

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U.S. Steelmakers Raise Their Bets on Energy, Construction

December 30, 2017

Steelmakers are betting on the U.S. again, building mills they hope will help them compete against cheap imports as demand rises. Others see expansion as a risky bet.

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Tenaris has started making pipe for oil and gas wells at its new mill in Bay City, Texas.Photo: Max Burkhalter for The Wall Street Journal

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By Bob Tita
The Wall Street Journal
December 30, 2017   7:00 a.m. ET

 

Steelmakers are betting on the U.S. again, building mills they hope will help them compete against cheap imports as demand rises.

Steel companies have complained for years that steel from China, South Korea, Vietnam, Turkey and elsewhere is being sold in the U.S. for less than the cost to make it.

While imports are still increasing, steel prices are also on the rise globally. And demand for U.S. steel is starting to rebound, thanks to rising oil prices and a strengthening manufacturing sector, steel executives say. Still, others see expansion as a risky bet.

Some steel companies say they can capture more customers with new plants that can make more steel at less cost than older plants, and can deliver it faster to customers. They’re also counting on additional U.S. tariffs to drive out cheap, foreign-made steel, creating more opportunities for domestic producers. Stiff tariffs imposed over the past 18 months have significantly slowed steel imports from China, according to Commerce Department reports.

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Nucor Corp. is building a $250 million steel mill in Sedalia, Mo. Startup Big River Steel LLC in Osceola, Ark., accelerated production early this year at one of the largest new steel sheet mills built in the U.S. in years. And Tenaris SA started making pipe for oil and gas wells at a new $1.8 billion mill near Houston this month.

“Our view is the energy sector will continue to expand here for the next 10 to 20 years and justify more manufacturing in the states,” said Paolo Rocca, chief executive of Luxembourg-based Tenaris.

Domestic steel shipments rose 5% in the first 10 months of 2017 compared with a year earlier and are on track to finish the year higher for the first time since 2014. At the same time, imports were also up 15% annually in the first 10 months of 2017, as imports shifted from China to other low-cost countries. Nucor said Dec. 19 that price pressure from imports has compressed its margins, and it forecast that its fourth-quarter earnings per share will be barely above last year’s and below analysts’ expectations.

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As Tenaris’s new mill in Bay City begins production, the company has nearby plants that remain mostly idle. Photo: Max Burkhalter for The Wall Street Journal

Some industry analysts say the new U.S. mills could exacerbate that pressure, swamping a still-fragile domestic market. As Tenaris’s new mill in Bay City, Texas, begins production, the company has nearby plants that remain mostly idle. Mills in the U.S. that supply well-site pipes are operating at about 60% of their maximum production, estimates market analytics firm Pipe Logix LLC.

“Building any more production capacity is just questionable,” said Seth Rosenfeld, a Jefferies analyst. “These companies’ actions don’t align with what they’ve been saying about the state of the steel market.”

But Pipe Logix also estimates that the number of oil and gas wells drilled in the U.S. increased by 60% this year over 2017, and steel executives expect more growth next year.

Tenaris hopes to benefit from that growth by doubling its U.S. pipe-making capacity to about 1 million tons annually. Tenaris plans to sell it directly to well drillers, eliminating independent distributors. Without the middlemen’s markup, Tenaris says it can beat its domestic rivals on price. It also expects continued U.S. tariff pressure on foreign competitors to drive down imports that now make about 70% of the U.S. well-pipe market.

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Tenaris hopes to benefit from an increase in U.S. oil and gas wells by doubling its domestic pipe-making capacity. Photo: Max Burkhalter for The Wall Street Journal

Tenaris is also pledging to provide engineering and technical support to customers and to take back pipe that drillers don’t use. “This is a way of working that requires a very intimate relationships with customers,” Mr. Rocca said.

Some U.S. steel companies also see opportunities in rebar, the reinforcing bar used to strengthen concrete in construction projects. Rebar imports are on pace to drop by 17% in 2017, according to Commerce Department, as duties and higher prices for the scrap steel used to make it decrease shipments.

Nucor’s new Missouri mill will allow the North Carolina-based company to produce rebar closer to where its customers use it in buildings, bridge piers and highways. Nucor said it chose a site near Kansas City because most of the rebar used in the region now is shipped in from elsewhere.

“The closer we are to that market, the more successful we could be,” CEO John Ferriola said.

Nucor also intends to buy scrap steel for its rebar near the new mill, which is scheduled to open in 2019. “That’s going to give us a cost advantage in serving that market,” Mr. Ferriola said.

The control room at the Tenaris plant in Bay City.Photo: Max Burkhalter for The Wall Street Journal

Texas-based Commercial Metals Co. , is building a similar regional rebar mill in Durant, Okla., after opening one in Mesa, Ariz., in 2009.

Big River, backed by Koch Industries Inc. and the Arkansas teacher’s retirement fund, designed its mill in northeast Arkansas to produce lightweight sheet steel for cars with an electric furnace, challenging established competitors that make steel for cars with coal-fired furnaces. The company says the mill can be adapted to produce different flat-rolled steel products, potentially leaving it less vulnerable to supply gluts than mills making just one or two products.

Write to Bob Tita at robert.tita@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-steelmakers-raise-their-bets-on-energy-construction-1514635200

US oil exports boom, putting infrastructure to the test

October 30, 2017

(Shutterstock)

NEW YORK/HOUSTON: Tankers carrying record levels of crude are leaving in droves from Texas and Louisiana ports, and more growth in the fledgling US oil export market may before long test the limits of infrastructure like pipelines, dock space and ship traffic.

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US crude exports have boomed since the decades-old ban was lifted less than two years ago, with shipments recently hitting a record of 2 million barrels a day. But shippers and traders fear the rising trend is not sustainable, and if limits are hit, it could pressure the price of US oil.
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How much crude the United States can export is a mystery. Most terminal operators and companies will not disclose capacity, and federal agencies like the US Energy Department do not track it. Still, oil export infrastructure will probably need further investment in coming years. Bottlenecks would hit not only storage and loading capacity, but also factors such as pipeline connectivity and shipping traffic.
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Analysts believe operators will start to run into bottlenecks if exports rise to 3.5 million to 4 million barrels a day. RBC Capital analysts put the figure lower, around 3.2 million bpd.
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The United States has not come close to that yet. A total of the highest loading days across Houston, Port Arthur, Corpus Christi and St. James/New Orleans — the primary places where crude can be exported — comes to about 3.2 million bpd, according to Kpler, a cargo tracking service.
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But with total US crude production currently at 9.5 million barrels a day and expected to add 800,000 to 1 million bpd annually, export capacity could be tested before long. Over the past four weeks, exports averaged 1.7 million bpd, more than triple a year earlier.
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“Right now, there seems to be a little more wiggle room for export levels,” said Michael Cohen, head of energy markets research at Barclays.
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“Two to three years down the road, if US production continues to grow like current levels, the market will eventually signal that more infrastructure is needed. But I don’t think a lot of those plans are in place right now.”
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If exports do hit a bottleneck, it would put a ceiling on how much oil shippers get out of the country. Growing domestic oil production and limited export avenues could sink US crude prices.
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Shippers have booked vessels to go overseas in recent weeks because the premium for global benchmark Brent crude widened to as much as $7 a barrel over US crude , making exports more profitable for domestic producers.
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Export Plans
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Exports could hit 4 million bpd by 2022, an Enterprise Products Partners LP executive told an industry event in Singapore recently.
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Though some operators are already eyeing expansion plans, there are limitations, said Carlin Conner, chief executive at SemGroup Corp, which owns the Houston Fuel Oil Terminal. SemGroup has three docks for exporting crude and is building additional ones.
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“There aren’t very many terminals with the needed pipeline capabilities, tank farm capacity and proper docks to load the ships … Adding this is expensive and not done easily. So there are limitations to unfettered export access,” he said.
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For instance, exports are expected to start from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) in early 2018 at around one supertanker a month, according to two sources. The LOOP is potentially a key locale for exports. Its location 18 miles (29 km) offshore means it can handle larger vessels than other, shallower ship channels.
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While LOOP can load around 40,000 barrels per hour, operating at that capacity is not likely because that same pipe is used to offload imports, the sources added. LOOP did not respond to a request for comment.
In Houston, when looking at the top 30 loading days, crude exports averaged 700,000 bpd, Kpler added. That includes Enterprise’s Houston terminal, among the largest of the export facilities, that had 615,000 bpd.
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Other terminal operators are also developing additional facilities. NuStar Energy LP currently can load between 500,000 to 600,000 bpd at its two docks in Corpus Christi, which has about 1 million in capacity, according to a port spokesman. NuStar is developing a third dock, which should come online either late first quarter or early second quarter.
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In Houston, Magellan Midstream Partners LP is planning a new 45-foot draft Aframax dock for mid-2018. Aframax vessels can carry about 500,000 to 700,000 barrels of crude.

Shortage of Florida Insurance Adjusters Could Stall Recovery Efforts

September 14, 2017

Insurers are vying for adjusters after many of them headed to Texas after Hurricane Harvey

After Irma, Florida residents are lacking in many necessities. One of the more frustrating is the paucity of insurance adjusters, which is threatening to anger policyholders and potentially delay the state’s rebuilding efforts.

Many of the state’s adjusters are 1,000 miles away, working on claims made after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.

Insurers are scrambling to get more adjusters to Florida, creating a bidding war for those who are available. Some Florida home insurers have increased fees paid to adjusters by about 30%, insurers and adjusters say.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a state-run insurer of last resort, has boosted adjuster compensation by 18% to 20% and said it expects additional increases to keep up with rivals.

While higher fees for adjusters often only modestly impact the cost of a claim, the bigger worry is that damage to buildings will worsen from mold and other problems. In addition, claims that could have been resolved amicably may end up in costly litigation as homeowners get angry waiting.

“An insurance claim isn’t a bottle of wine,” said Randy Maniloff, an insurance-industry defense lawyer at Williams and White LLP.

Adjuster Lee Vorcheimer has been receiving calls from companies seeking to recruit him.
Adjuster Lee Vorcheimer has been receiving calls from companies seeking to recruit him.PHOTO: MATTHEW RIVA/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Insurance companies are vying for the nation’s independent claims adjusters, who total 57,200 as of July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. ​Florida also says it is easing the process of appointing insurance adjusters, which may help expand the number.

“Our Department has taken steps to make the adjuster-appointment process as simple ​[as] ​possible for insurance companies, and our team is processing appointments at a rapid-fire pace” in an effort “to ensure that Floridians get swift handling of their post-storm claims,” said a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Financial Services. In addition, many insurance companies employ adjusters full-time and a lot of those will be on the ground, among other types of adjusters who could be available.

Lee Vorcheimer, a longtime adjuster in south Florida, said that “every day for the last two weeks, there have been 10 or 15 emails” from independent-adjuster firms seeking to recruit him to travel to Texas or handle claims for local insurers. He has been offered bonuses, including money for temporary housing.

Independent insurance adjusters are paid according to the size of a claim they assess for a company. For Irma claims, they are earning from about $500 to about $30,000 for policyholder claims of $1,000 to $1 million, respectively, according to two fee schedules from private insurers reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Some adjusters can make $65,000 to $100,000 in the first month after a major hurricane, people in the industry say.

“When you have a hurricane like Harvey and a hurricane like Irma, everybody loves you,” said Mr. Vorcheimer, who settled on adjusting Irma claims for Tampa-based HCI GroupInc., in part because he likes their technology.

This week, Mr. Vorcheimer began inspections as early as 7:30 a.m., looking at up to 15 properties a day. In Broward County on Monday, he found trees on roofs, missing shingles, rain damage, and blown-over pool screens and fences. Damage ranged up to about $65,000, he said. He hauled ladders from his pickup truck and climbed on every roof. He finished his day just after 7 p.m.

Lee Vorcheimer processes insurance adjustment claims after Irma.
Lee Vorcheimer processes insurance adjustment claims after Irma. PHOTO: MATTHEW RIVA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Vorcheimer, 51 years old, got into adjusting in 2005 after selling a bakery and a neighbor recruited him to help with Hurricane Wilma claims. His wife, Cheryl, handles administrative matters for the business, Perfect Reliable Independent Claim Services Inc.​. Like many other adjusters, the couple uses a 45-foot recreational vehicle when traveling to inspect long-distance claims. The couple is living there temporarily as their home in Pompano Beach has no power.

Though Irma didn’t strike Miami, the state’s largest city, as feared, damages from the storm could be large enough to displace Sandy as the nation’s third most-expensive hurricane ever. That 2012 storm left $20 billion in losses, in today’s dollars, mostly in the northeast. On Wednesday, catastrophe-risk modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. estimated Irma’s U.S. damage at $18 billion.

The adjuster issues are especially acute in Florida because its home-insurance market is heavily dependent on small and midsize insurers. Over the past 25 years, many of the brand-name national insurers have shrunk their presence in the state to reduce their exposure to hurricanes.

Smaller insurance companies typically rely heavily on independent adjusters, said Joseph Burtone, an insurance analyst with ratings firm A.M. Best. The smaller insurers “have to figure out a way to handle that the best they can,” he said. “It will be a challenge.”

By comparison, the national insurers employ fleets of adjusters and can send people to Florida from other states. Many big names, such as American International Group Inc. and ​Liberty Mutual Insurance, also contract with independent-adjuster firms as needed when disasters occur. Chubb Ltd. said it relies predominantly on its own staff.

On Tuesday, Tim Barziza, a Texas-based “claim leader” for Chubb, was on the last leg of a drive to Miami to oversee a command center there. It is one of several such centers Chubb has set up across the state for taking care of well-to-do policyholders’ homes, fine art, boats and vehicles, as well as business clients.

Roughly 400 Chubb employees are expected to handle claims and adjusting, either in the state or from call centers. Chubb adjusters are arriving “from all corners of the U.S.,” Mr. Barziza said, taking a break from driving and watching as utility-truck convoys and vehicles with children, dogs and suitcases returned home. By Wednesday, Chubb had received just over 1,000 Irma claims, the overwhelming majority tied to home policies.

In addition to private insurers, many Florida claims will be processed by Citizens, which at about 450,000 policyholders is one of the state’s biggest insurers. It expects about 150,000 claims, a spokesman said. As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, about 7,000 had arrived.

“A stale claim is an expensive claim,” said John Rollins, an executive with Cabrillo Coastal General Insurance Agency LLC in Gainesville, Fla., and a former chief risk officer of Citizens. “The key in a situation like this is getting to the policyholder and getting some money in their hands so they can begin the recovery process.”

As Florida’s market gets stretched, insurance executives said the fee increases being paid to adjusters in Florida are spilling over to Texas.

“There’s a tug of war for adjusters” between the two states, said James Warren, who works as an adjuster for Crawford & Co., which handles claims for insurance companies.

Some adjusters who would ordinarily stay for two months or longer to adjust claims for a hurricane like Harvey are already heading to Florida, he said.

Mr. Warren is currently adjusting Harvey claims in south Texas, and opted not to go to Florida because he wants to stay close to his home in the Lone Star state.

“Right now, anyone with a license to adjust claims can get a job and some company will try them out,” Mr. Warren said. “They’re paying more for adjusters to work Irma than they’ve ever paid insurance adjusters ever.”

Mr. Warren’s firm, Crawford, is running an orientation program in Atlanta to get hundreds of longtime adjusters up to speed on protocols of clients with claims to adjust in Florida. The firm is moving adjusters from Canada and the U.K. to Florida as well, said Chief Executive Harsha Agadi.

This week, HCI, the Tampa-based insurer, signed up adjusters from Massachusetts to augment its Florida team. “Everybody is pressing into service everybody and anybody they can get,” CEO Paresh Patel said.

Typically, insurers have contingency plans for hurricanes, “but we watched all of our contingency resources go to Houston” after Harvey, he said.

Write to Leslie Scism at leslie.scism@wsj.com and Nicole Friedman at nicole.friedman@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/florida-is-short-on-insurance-adjusters-and-that-could-stall-recovery-efforts-1505381401

Economic cost of Harvey, Irma could be $290 bn

September 11, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Members of the Olson family remove debris and damaged items from their father’s home in the Twin Oaks Estate after Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding in Houston, Texas

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The combined economic cost of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could reach $290 billion, equivalent to 1.5 percent of the US gross domestic product, US forecaster AccuWeather said in a report Sunday.”We believe the damage estimate from Irma to be about $100 billion, among the costliest hurricanes of all time,” said the firm’s CEO and founder Joel Myers.

Harvey, which battered Texas and parts of Louisiana in late August, will be “the costliest weather disaster in US history at $190 billion or one full percentage point of GDP” which stands at $19 trillion.

The report said it arrived at the figure by calculating disruptions to business, increased unemployment rates for significant periods of time, damage to transport and infrastructure, crop loss including a 25 percent drop of orange crop, increased costs of fuels including gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel, household damages and loss of valuable documentation.

Only a fraction of the losses would be covered by insurance, said Myers.

Irma struck the Florida Keys archipelago earlier Sunday and is now bearing north, bearing down on the city of Tampa on the west coast of the Florida peninsula.

Harvey made landfall in Texas in late August, causing severe damage to property and paralyzing the country’s fourth-largest city, Houston, with major flooding.

Exxon Working Toward Restarting Baytown Refinery, the Second-Largest in the U.S.

September 4, 2017

Company says units at its other Texas-coast refinery, in Beaumont, remain shut down

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Large storage tanks situated in retention ponds are surrounded by rainwater left behind by Tropical Storm Harvey at Exxon Mobil’s refinery in Baytown, Texas, on Aug. 30, 2017. PHOTO: TOM FOX/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM 0.31% said it is working toward restarting its Houston-area Baytown refinery—the nation’s second-largest oil refinery—after a shutdown due to Tropical Storm Harvey, but said another of its coastal Texas refineries remains closed.

Exxon’s two processing plants were among nearly a dozen refineries forced to halt operations due to Harvey, which wreaked havoc on three of the U.S.’s main refining hubs along the Texas coastline—Corpus Christi, Houston and the Port Arthur/Beaumont region. The closures have taken around 20% of U.S. refining capacity offline and have caused gasoline prices to soar, both at the wholesale and retail levels, amid concerns many of the refineries may be damaged and stay shut for weeks.

”Our initial assessment of Exxon Mobil’s Baytown complex revealed the need for only minor repairs,” the company said in a statement late Saturday. “We are making good progress on restart activities.”

It said the specific timing for returning to normal operations at the 560,000-barrel-a-day Baytown plant will depend largely on the availability and condition of transportation infrastructure. “We are working with the Port of Houston to expedite vessels through the Houston Ship Channel and we are coordinating with railroads to help facilitate necessary repairs,” it said.

As for Exxon’s other Texas-coast refinery, its 362,000-barrel-a-day Beaumont plant east of Houston, it said “units at the Beaumont refinery remain shut down,” without providing further details.

The announcements by Exxon comes as Phillips 66 said it is hoping to re-start its 247,000-barrel-a-day Sweeny refinery, located in Old Ocean near Houston. “We are currently assessing the condition of our impacted facilities and making repairs and other preparations to begin the process of resuming operations,” it said Saturday. Also, four of the main refineries in the Corpus Christi region, plants owned by Valero Energy Corp , Venezuela’s Citgo, and Kansas-based Flint Hills Resources, have also announced restart efforts.

The nation’s largest refinery, the 603,000-barrel-a-day Saudi Arabian Oil Co’s Motiva Port Arthur facility, remains shut and the company’s most recent statement last week said it has no timeline for a restart. But it noted “unprecedented flooding” in the city of Port Arthur, where the refinery is located, 90 miles east of Houston.

Write to Dan Molinski at Dan.Molinski@wsj.com

Donald Trump visits Harvey victims as environmentalists berate urban sprawl

September 3, 2017

Houston’s flood devastation should be a “wake up” call to better plan its urban sprawl, environmentalists have said as President Trump again visits the region. He’s boosted federal funding for the hurricane clean-up.

USA Präsident Trump besucht erneut Überschwemmungsgebiete (Getty Images/AFP/N. Kamm)

US President Trump visited flood victims in flood-soaked Houston, Texas, and Lake Charles in Louisiana Saturday as experts reiterated calls that local authorities rethink construction that leaves ground impervious.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) climate-change expert Joel Scata said Houston and its surrounding Harris County had been impacted hard by Hurricane Harvey because of shortfalls in urban planning.

“I am hoping that Harvey will be a wake-up call for how the US in general handles development,” said Scata. “We don’t have zoning restrictions in place so you don’t have the best planning.”

Researchers at Texas A&M [Agricultural and Mechanical] University said rapid urbanization of swamp lands since 1995 had drastically reduced the ability of local soils to absorb rainwater.

Harvey dumped an unprecedented 56 trillion liters, or 1.3 meters (51 inches) of rain over five days, inundating an estimated 136,000 buildings and led to the deaths of at least 44 people.

Boats ply Houston's Tidwell Road during the flooding (picture-alliance/AP Photo/D.J.Philips)Harvey was a ‘wake up’ call to mitigate urban sprawl, say experts

The storm’s remnants have reached Ohio where it is forecast to merge with other weather systems on Sunday.

Back to school?

Up to 12,000 students would have to attend classes elsewhere when school resumed on September 11, Houston’s school district Superintendent Richard Carranza announced Saturday while surveying damage as floodwaters receded.

Nearly a third, or 75, of the district’s schools had suffered major or extensive damage and would not be ready to reopen for months, Carranza said.

Another 115 schools examined could be cleaned and would be ready to go. Damage was spread equally throughout the low-lying city, he said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, meanwhile, ordered evacuations of some 300 people remaining western city areas still inundated by water being released from reservoirs.

In a semblance of normalcy Saturday, the Houston Astros baseball team returned to their home stadium, where a moment of silence was held for at least 44 people killed during the storm.

Congress to foot bill for clean-up

From Washington, the White House said in a statement that Trump had authorized a boost in the federal share of funding for hurricane aftermath debris removal and emergency protective measures from 75 percent to 90 percent.

The president had on Friday asked Congress for a $7.9-billion (6.6 million-euro) down payment – expected to be approved – toward Harvey relief and recovery efforts. The private meteorological agency AccuWeather estimated that Harvey’s costs will exceed $190 billion, or about 1 percent of US gross domestic product.

Trump visits victims

Trump, who two weeks ago rescinded flood safety policy for federal infrastructure,  on Saturday visited a Houston shelter, alongside Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and chatted with displaced residents, including children – defying criticism from his first visit last Tuesday when he failed to meet with victims.

Trump on Saturday helped pass out relief supplies provided by Feed the Children and Red Cross, remarking to a volunteer coordinator: “I like doing this,” and noting to first lady Melanie Trump, “This is good exercise.”

“Is he going to help? Can he help,” asked Devon Harris, 37, a construction worker sheltering at Houston’s NRG convention center. “I’ve lost my home. My job is gone. My tools are gone. My car is gone. My life is gone. What is Trump going to do?”

President visits neighboring Louisiana

Arriving later at Lake Charles, Louisiana, where Harvey also dumped heavy rain, Trump told reporters that he hoped his request for immediate aid would be quickly approved by Congress when it returned from its five-week recess on Tuesday.

As water levels receded, numerous residents of Beaumont, a city of 120,000 east of Houston remained without piped water and waited in long vehicle queues to receive cases of bottled water.

Residents were urged to boil water before consumption.

Engineers are trying to restore service after two intakes of Beaumont’s main water system were left damaged by the swollen Neches River.

Several hundred frustrated residents of Katy, a subdivision west of Houston, waved signs Saturday, demanding to be told when they would be able to return to their homes, which were still swamped because of reservoir releases of storm water.

The Associated Press quoted many as accusing authorities of sacrificing their homes to save others. Homeowner Sheetal Parwal, said her home was now a swamp and the family had less than when it immigrated from India 10 years ago.

Dioxin leaks from dump sites?

Focus also remained on more than a dozen petrochemical waste dumps outlying Houston, known as Superfund sites, designated as being among America’s most contaminated places.

At Crosby, northeast of Houston and near the San Jacinto River, Associated Press said a small neighborhood between two Superfund sites had virtually disappeared.

Only a single house from among a dozen was still standing. A sinkhole the size of a swimming pole had opened up and swallowed two cars. Creosote odor filled the air, AP reported.

A resident with dog on the leash walk through knee-high floodwaters (Reuters/J. Bachmann)Are the floodwaters contaminated?

Another site east of Houston – the San Jacinto Waste Pits near the town of Highlands – had been covered by floodwaters so intense that an adjacent Interstate highway bridge had been closed in case it collapsed.

AP cited a federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report of September last year which found that the riverbank site contained deposits of old paper mill waste containing dioxins and other long-lasting toxins that could become “highly mobile in a severe storm.”

The EPA assessment said intense flooding could damage the site’s protective cap, resulting in the “release of contaminants from the Site.”

“If floodwaters have spread the chemicals in the waste pits then dangerous chemicals like dioxin could be spread around the wider Houston area, warned Kara Cook-Schultz of the consumer health and safety advocacy group TexPIRG.

ipj/sms (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP)

http://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-visits-harvey-victims-as-environmentalists-berate-urban-sprawl/a-40342595

In devastated Houston, ‘nobody hates anybody’ as people come together

September 2, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Elodie CUZIN | Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association members remove flood damaged drywall from a home in the Westbury neighborhood of southwest Houston, Texas

HOUSTON (AFP) – The traffic jams are back on the vast highways lacing through the heart of Houston, and the sun is shining again.

Many Houstonians are still trying to salvage what they can from their flooded homes. But one word captures the mood in the most racially diverse US city: solidarity.

“Come on in!” calls Sarah Osborne without a moment’s hesitation, as she opens the door to her red brick home, a US flag planted on a tree near the entrance.

Standing before her — hammers in hand, dust masks around their neck — are four young men who introduce themselves as members of Ahmadiyya, of the Ahmadi sect, the oldest Muslim-American organization in the United States.

Since Hurricane Harvey struck Texas a week ago unleashing a deluge that flooded Houston, youths from the organization — which has some 700 members in Houston and 5,000 throughout the country — have gathered to help storm victims.

Wearing a work apron over his jeans, a cap and fluo sneakers, the dynamic Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association spokesman Rahman Nasir says that his members have rescued some 20 families by boat. As the flood waters recede they have also helped clear debris from 20 to 30 homes.

At Sarah and Robert Osborne’s house the youths use their hammers to tap open the bottom of the walls and pull out waterlogged drywall. With a wheelbarrow, they dump loads of debris onto the pavement in Houston’s Westbury neighborhood.

Ruined furniture, soggy carpet and cracked mirrors litter the neighborhood lawns — scenes repeated everywhere as neighbors, friends and previously unknown volunteers help carry out household items, either to dry in the sun or to be removed as trash.

– Texas stigma –

“That’s the spirit of this city, everybody is just helping everybody,” says Sarah Osborne. “People just help each other. That doesn’t matter, the color of your skin, or where you’re from, or what your religion is, or whatever.”

Her husband Robert adds: “There’s a stigma in Texas that we’re racists, we’re white, that we’re anti-Muslims or anti-homosexuals or just anti-everything, we’re Bible-thumping, shot-gun blasting — and it couldn’t be further from the truth about Houston, because our city is so diverse.”

Census figures show that Houston is the most racially diverse city in the United States, more even than New York and Los Angeles.

Nasir, a 23-year-old student who grew up in Houston, agrees with Robert.

“If we were to believe the news, I would get a slammed door in my face. But in reality people welcome us and welcome our service,” he said.

Beyond the expressions of solidarity, the trauma of sudden loss is also evident in this neighborhood.

Moved upon seeing her child’s artwork still attached to a cupboard about to be thrown out, Kelsey Johnson confides she wants to leave the house she shares with her husband DeAndre and their two children.

“How it hit Houston as a whole, I think is pretty overwhelming to a lot of people,” said Tom Cosgrove, 32, a property manager who arrived Friday morning from Austin, the state capital, to help his aunt.

“Driving around this neighborhood you can just see how many people get devastated, and honestly there are probably still people in their homes who just don’t know what to do yet,” he said.

Behind him, his aunt, 54-year-old Lisa Plack, is scrubbing metal dishes in a tub near wet chairs and sofas that are drying out on the lawn.

“We’re seriously exhausted,” she said. “But the way people come together, it’s very satisfying. Just the community spirit.”

“You hear nothing but bad press, you hear nothing but, you know, this group hates this group, and then you find out: nobody hates anybody. Everybody comes together.”

by Elodie CUZIN

Trump to Visit Victims of Unprecedented Floods in Texas and Louisiana

September 2, 2017

HOUSTON — President Donald Trump travels to Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana on Saturday to meet victims of catastrophic storm Harvey, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history that is presenting a test of his administration.

While Trump visits, attention will also be focused on Minute Maid Park, where baseball’s Houston Astros play their first home games since Harvey devastated the fourth-most populous U.S. city. The Saturday doubleheader with the New York Mets is expected to be wrought with emotion and punctuated with moments to honor the dozens who died as a result of Harvey.

The storm, one of the costliest to hit the United States, has displaced more than 1 million people, with 50 feared dead from flooding that paralyzed Houston, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, a city of 120,000 people.

Image result for harvey, houston, photos

Interstate 10 at Market is shown blocked by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston.

Hurricane Harvey came ashore last Friday as the strongest storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years. Much of the damage took place in the Houston metropolitan area, which has an economy about the same size as Argentina’s.

Seventy percent of Harris County, which encompasses Houston, at one point was covered with 18 inches (45 cm) or more of water, county officials said.

For graphic on Harvey’s energy impact, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2xzso1S

For graphic on hurricane costs, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2vGkbHS

For graphic on storms in the North Atlantic, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2gcckz5

Trump first visited the Gulf region on Tuesday, but stayed clear of the disaster zone, saying he did not want to hamper rescue efforts. Instead, he met with state and local leaders, and first responders.

He was criticized, however, for not meeting with victims of the worst storm to hit Texas in 50 years, and for largely focusing on the logistics of the government response rather than the suffering of residents.

The White House said Trump will first travel to Houston to meet with flood survivors and volunteers who assisted in relief efforts and then move on to Lake Charles, another area hammered by the storm.

The Trump administration in a letter to Congress asked for a $7.85 billion appropriation for response and initial recovery efforts. White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert has said aid funding requests would come in stages as more became known about the impact of the storm.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said that his state may need more than $125 billion.

The storm, which lingered around the Gulf of Mexico Coast for days, dumped record amounts of rain and left devastation across more than 300 miles (480 km) of the state’s coast.

As water receded, many returned to survey the damage and left hundreds of thousands wondering how they can recover.

In Orange, Texas, about 125 miles (200 kms) east of Houston, Sam Dougharty, 36, returned on Friday where waist-high water remained in his backyard and barn.

His family’s house smelled like raw sewage and was still flooded to the ankles. A calf and a heifer from their herd of 15 were dead. The chickens were sagging on the top two roosts of their coop.

“We never had water here. This is family land. My aunt’s owned it for 40 years and never had water here,” he said.

FROM THE SHELTER TO THE STADIUM

Harvey came on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,800 around New Orleans. Then-U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration was roundly criticized for its botched early response to the storm.

Some of the tens of thousands of people forced into shelters by Harvey will attend the Astros game where Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner will throw out the first pitch and a moment of silence in planned for those who perished.

Sports have helped other cities rebound from catastrophe, such as when the New York Mets played the first baseball game in their damaged city 10 days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or when the New Orleans Saints returned to the Superdome in 2006 for football a year after Hurricane Katrina.

In the Harris County town of Clear Creek, the nearly 50 inches (127 cm) of rain that fell there equated to a once in a 40,000 year event, Jeff Lindor, meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District, said.

Some 440,000 Texans have already applied for federal financial disaster assistance, and some $79 million has been approved so far, Abbott said.

The storm shut about a fourth of U.S. refinery capacity, much of which is clustered along the Gulf Coast, and caused gasoline prices to spike to a two-year high ahead of the long Labor Day holiday weekend.

The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has risen 17 cents since the storm struck, hitting $2.519 as of Friday morning, according to motorists group AAA.

Meanwhile a new storm, Irma, had strengthened on Friday into a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It remained hundreds of miles from land but was forecast to possibly hit Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti by the middle of next week.

For graphic on Harvey’s energy impact, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2xzso1S

For graphic on hurricane costs, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2vGkbHS

For graphic on storms in the North Atlantic, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2gcckz5

(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis, Ernest Scheyder, Ruthy Munoz, Peter Henderson and Andy Sullivan in Houston, Steve Holland in Washington, David Gaffen in New York, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

The American Spirit Is Alive in Texas — Give Texas everything it needs, and do it right quick.

September 1, 2017

Give Texas what it needs. It has endured a disaster without precedent. Washington must move quickly, generously. There should be no “The relief bill must be offset by cuts in federal spending.” There should be no larding it up or loading it down with extraneous measures. This is an emergency.

This is no time to threaten government shutdowns. It’s no time to be dilating on debt ceilings. This is the time to know as never before that everything that holds us together as a nation must be strengthened wherever possible, and whatever sinks us in rancor avoided and shunned.

Give Texas everything it needs, and do it right quick.

Most Americans, including Texans, don’t have more than a few hundred dollars in available savings. Most live close to the edge, paycheck to paycheck. Most homeowners in Houston don’t have flood insurance. When they’re lucky enough to get out of the shelter, they’ll return to houses that are half-ruined—wet, moldy, dank, with no usable furniture—and with kids coming down with colds and stomach ailments from stress or from standing water that holds bacteria and viruses. It will be misery for months. When the trauma is over, there’ll be plenty of time for debate. Do we need to hold more in reserve for national disasters? Do local zoning laws need rethinking? All worthy questions—for later.

There is such a thing as tact. It has to do with a sense of touch—an ability to apprehend another’s position or circumstances, and doing or saying the right thing. There is, believe it or not, such a thing as political tact. It too involves knowing the positions of others, and knowing what time it is.

Politicians, don’t use this disaster to score points or rub your ideology in somebody’s face or make your donors smile by being small, not big.

Give Texas what it needs. Keep the government up and running. Don’t even consider doing otherwise.

Now another subject, which ties back to Houston. A lot of people this week were saying, “You should see that Mattis speech.” A frequent answer was: “I did. I play it over and over.”

A week or so ago, probably in Jordan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had an impromptu meeting with what looked like a few dozen U.S. troops. Someone taped it. This is what Mr. Mattis said: “Hold the line.”

“For those of you I haven’t met, my name’s Mattis,” he began. “Thanks for being out here, OK? I know at times you wonder if any of us know . . . but believe me, I know you’re far from home every one of you, I know you could all be going to college you young people, or you could be back on the block. [We’re] just grateful. . . .

“The only way this great big experiment you and I call America is gonna survive is if we’ve got tough hombres like you. . . . We don’t frickin’ scare, that’s the bottom line.

“You’re a great example for our country right now. It’s got some problems—you know it and I know it. It’s got problems that we don’t have in the military. And you just hold the line, my fine young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines. You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it, of being friendly to one another. That’s what Americans owe to one another—we’re so doggone lucky to be Americans.”

He ended: “I flunked retirement, OK? Only reason I came back was to serve alongside young people like you, who are so selfless and frankly so rambunctious.”

This was the voice of true moral authority, authority earned through personal sacrifice. Speeches like that come only from love.

But it was particularly poignant that Mattis’s speech, with its refrain—“Hold the line”—spread so far and fast this week.

And so, to selfless and frankly rambunctious Texas:

If you gave just a few minutes to the news, you saw it all—the generosity and courage, the sense of community, of people who really care about each other. You saw the pontoons and air mattresses and bass boats and rowboats and pool floats in which people were rescued. No one knows how many were saved or how many saved them. Every disaster at some point becomes a jumble, and people stopped counting. But surely tens of thousands were saved.

We all saw it, often live, on television and the internet because of excellent reporters and crews:

A mother with little children was marooned, the water in her home rising dangerously. “I didn’t know who to call. I didn’t know if it was going to be too late.” Suddenly, there were men outside the house coming for her. “It was just an angel,” she said as she wept from the back of their boat.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo honored Steve Perez, the 60-year-old cop who drowned in his patrol car. When Mr. Acevedo spoke to Perez’s widow, she told him she’d begged her husband not to go in but he’d told her, “We’ve got work to do.” The chief told her: You know who he was, if he had to die, he wouldn’t want it to be home in bed, he would have wanted it to be on the job and trying to help. “Because he has that in his DNA,” said Mr. Acevedo.

On one channel they were looking for what they’d heard was a group of abandoned horses being led through the streets by a guy in a jet ski. In Columbia Lakes a local man showed a reporter the homemade barrier he’d built to protect his neighbors in case the levee broke. He wasn’t afraid: “We don’t do drama.”

On Facebook there was the story of the woman who went into labor while the waters quickly rose. Word spread through the apartment complex. Soon a huge, heavy truck made its way to her door. Neighbors formed a human chain to help her out. She got to the hospital and gave birth to a girl.

There were a lot of human chains. And often when they showed people being pulled from houses the families were all ethnicities and races, the whole American mix—black mamas, white papas, mixed kids, an Asian child. On the national level America always sounds like a constant argument over race. On the local level, meantime, everybody has been happily integrating in the most personal possible ways.

The local ABC station caught a young Catholic priest, a French Canadian assigned to a Houston parish, out in a kayak in heavy rain looking for people who could use a Mass. “I guess this is how the Americas were evangelized as well with a canoe,” he said, “and this is a kayak. I hope that can bring a smile to a few people.” Noticing the TV cameras, he said: “I guess we’re live. The Lord is alive, and the Lord is always with us as well.”

And of course there was the Cajun Navy, from Louisiana, performing its own spontaneous Dunkirk. Texas had taken them in after Katrina. Now it was “Sam Houston, we are here.”

We are a great nation. We forget. But what happened in Texas reminded us. It said: My beloved America you’re not a mirage, you’re still here.

If they’d done only that, they’d deserve whatever they need.

They held the line.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-american-spirit-is-alive-in-texas-1504221483

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