HOUSTON — At a sprawling convention center-turned-shelter where evacuees from Hurricane Harvey have sought refuge, lawmakers pledged on Monday that Congress would begin voting on disaster relief legislation by midweek.
“We are going to see very significant federal relief coming to this state,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, after he and other members of Congress met with residents who were forced from their homes by the storm.
A show of bipartisan urgency, with the House scheduled to start voting Wednesday morning on an initial round of relief money, comes as Texans begin to shift from emergency response to long-term recovery. Officials from both parties are seeking to assure storm victims that the federal government will stay to help. But many questions loom about the size and scope of federal aid.
“My hope is that today, we are not here as Democrats or Republicans,” said Rep. Al Green, D-Texas. He added: “I hope this unity will show up in our votes.”
Conditions in Houston have improved since the storm, which made landfall on Aug. 25, moved off to the northeast. But rebuilding the devastated region is expected to take years and cost billions of dollars.
As murky floodwaters have receded in many areas and businesses have reopened, the full scope of the crisis has grown apparent. Curbsides are littered with water-soaked mattresses. Houses are covered with mold. And the death toll continues to rise, with local officials in Texas reporting that at least 57 fatalities were related or suspected to be related to the storm.
The destruction has stretched far beyond Houston. Tiny cattle towns and urban centers across a huge swath of the Texas and Louisiana coast were inundated. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Monday that it had already approved more than 172,000 individual applications for aid. Those applications, the agency said, were worth more than $268 million.
In Crosby, northeast of Houston, residents near a chemical plant were allowed to return home for the first time in almost a week after the intentional burning of unstable chemicals at the plant. South of the city in Port Aransas, which took the brunt of Harvey’s landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, federal officials surveyed the wreckage and met with local leaders on Monday.
Here in Houston, where many streets have reopened but a mandatory evacuation order remains in effect for some homes, police officers paused on Monday to honor Sgt. Steve Perez, who drowned on Aug. 27 while driving to work.
“The cars you see are from his immediate chain of command,” said Chief Art Acevedo, who recorded a long procession of police cruisers arriving at a funeral home to salute as Perez’s body was moved inside.