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Disaster declared in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastates island

President Donald Trump on Thursday declared a federal disaster in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria brought pounding rain and punishing winds to the island, knocking out power and causing widespread flooding and landslides.

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The declaration allows for federal resources to be used for Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts.

The island is reeling after Maria made landfall Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane. With maximum sustained winds measured at 155 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center, Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years.

"Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this," Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press.

Videos posted on social media showed swift floodwaters and powerful winds brought to Puerto Rico by Maria.

Maria knocked out power to the entire island and its 3.4 million residents, officials said Wednesday.

Ricardo Ramos, CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told CNN that it could be as long as six months before power is restored.

“The system has been basically destroyed,” he said.

Maria continued to churn over the Atlantic Ocean as a major Category 3 hurricane on Thursday afternoon with maximum sustained winds measured at 115 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an 11 a.m. advisory. Officials warned that the storm, which is expected to turn to the north early Friday, could still strengthen over the next day or two.

U.S. Rep. calls Texas 'no' votes on Harvey relief 'unconscionable'

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on Monday described as “unconscionable” the vote last week of four Republican colleagues from Texas against a $15.25 billion initial aid package to help state residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

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“I don’t want to judge them,” McCaul said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I judge myself and my conscience and when I have people dying and hurting in my home state, it was my duty and my moral obligation to help them, and I felt that that vote was a vote of conscience to help people in my state and also now in Florida.”

“I think that’s what Americans do and I think it’s unconscionable to vote against something like that,” McCaul said.

The four Texans — Reps. Joe Barton, Jeb Hensarling, Sam Johnson and Mac Thornberry — were among 90 Republicans who voted against the House’s concurrence with the Senate’s larger relief package Friday. None of the four represents districts affected by Harvey.

Republican opponents complained that the aid was linked to a three-month lifting of the debt ceiling.

“I think having to raise the debt ceiling was the issue, and the fact is that Mick Mulvaney is the director of OMB and he was a Freedom Caucus guy when he served with us, and he told us point blank that you could not appropriate disaster relief if you didn’t raise the debt ceiling, so we were stuck with that choice,” McCaul said. “What do you (do) with that choice? Just stand on principle and vote ‘no?’ And I question that principle. Or do you vote to help people back in your home state who are hurting really badly?”

Asked if he expected a competition with Florida for federal disaster help because of Hurricane Irma, McCaul said, “I don’t think you’re going to see some Texas vs. Florida thing. This is going to be an American issue and, if anything, it will bring the Texas and Florida delegations together for that funding.”

Community still rebuilding after Hurricane Matthew braces for Irma

The threat of Hurricane Irma is weighing heavily on the minds of people living in St. Johns County, Florida, 11 months after Hurricane Matthew slammed the shore of Vilano Beach.

“We lost everything from basically 4 feet down in the house,” Martha Nourse said.

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Nourse, her husband and their two dogs have been living in a trailer parked in front of their home since Hurricane Matthew left the house uninhabitable.

“We had 2 1/2 of water in the house,” she said. “We not only had flood damage, but we had wind damage on the roof.”

Time-lapse video from after Hurricane Matthew hit the area shows water about 9 or 10 feet deep making its way into dozens of Vilano Beach homes.

Tammy Tombroff, who lives across the street from Nourse, said she just moved back into her home.

“Piece by piece, I’m putting this back together,” she said. “I’ve only just gotten furniture like, last week.”

Down the road, Jeff Troxell is reminded daily of Hurricane Matthew’s damage. His family has left marks on the home’s door that show how high the water got during the storm.

“It was 27 1/4 inches,” he said, pointing to the door. “That’s how much water we had in the house. I’m not lazy. That’s just the reminder.”

Other neighbors said they can’t help but worry. 

“It is pretty scary,” Tombroff said. “Just now getting it back together, and what would that be like -- I can’t imagine.”

Nourse said she already has three hotel rooms booked.

“Anxiety levels are definitely high,” Nourse said.

Other neighbors said that they are buying generators and other supplies.

The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

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

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.

Man dies after being electrocuted in Houston floodwaters, family says

A 25-year-old man died Tuesday when he was electrocuted by a live wire hidden below floodwaters in Houston while trying to rescue his sister’s pet cat, according to multiple reports.

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Family members said Andrew Pasek, 25, went to a home in the Bear Creek 1 subdivision with a friend on Tuesday afternoon to get his sister’s cat, KTRK reported. Pasek’s sister and her fiance had no carrier for the cat, and so the animal was left behind when the area was evacuated, the Houston Chronicle reported.

“When it became clear they could be out of their home for weeks, Pasek - an animal lover with a habit of rescuing stray dogs and cats - went back with a friend around 2 p.m. Tuesday to pick up their cat,” according to the Chronicle. “He drove his Jeep and tried to walk the rest of the way to his sister's house due to the floodwaters, but was electrocuted on the walk over.”

Pasek’s sister, identified only as Alyssa, told KPRC the situation was “a terrible mistake” and an “accident that shouldn’t have happened.”

“They were only in about knee-deep water and walking through the neighbors' yards because the water was more shallow,” she told the news station. “He got too close to an electrical wire that was still running hot.”

Pasek’s mother, Jodell Pasek, told KPRC that he warned his friend away from the area when he realized what was happening.

“He told (his friend) Sean, ‘I’m dying. Go away. Don’t help me,’” she told the news station. “He didn’t want him to get electrified, too.”

Jodell Pasek told KTRK that she lost her eldest son, identified by KPRC as E.J. Donnelley, years earlier in a car accident.

“I'll be honest with you, I don't know what I'm going to do,” she told KTRK. “I don't have them at home to take care of anymore, but I have to go on with my life."

More than 30 people have died in the days since Harvey churned into Texas as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm, which the National Weather Service had categorized as a tropical depression as of Thursday morning, continued to dump rain across parts of the southeast.

Officers find van with family of 6 drowned in Harvey floodwaters

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.

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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.

Houston police Sgt. Steve Perez drowns in Harvey 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.

Weathered Whataburger sign becomes rallying cry for Texans on social media

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.”

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.

NY Rep. King says he won't hold Ted Cruz's Sandy relief vote against Texas

Tweeting that “1 bad turn doesn’t deserve another,” U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, promised Saturday to support federal disaster assistance for Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. That’s even though “Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts” voted against a 2013 aid package for New York and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy.

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Texas senators Cruz and John Cornyn were among 36 Republicans who voted against a January 2013 supplemental disaster aid bill to help devastated communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Both Cruz and Cornyn contended that the bill the Senate passed was replete with irrelevant and wasteful spending, and Cornyn had backed a more limited Sandy relief package in December 2012, before Cruz entered the Senate.

“Hurricane Sandy inflicted devastating damage on the East Coast, and Congress appropriately responded with hurricane relief. Unfortunately, cynical politicians in Washington could not resist loading up this relief bill with billions in new spending utterly unrelated to Sandy,” Cruz said in a January 2013 statement. “Emergency relief for the families who are suffering from this natural disaster should not be used as a Christmas tree for billions in unrelated spending, including projects such as Smithsonian repairs, upgrades to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration airplanes and more funding for Head Start.”

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

“Two thirds of this spending is not remotely ‘emergency;’ the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 30 percent of the authorized funds would be spent in the next 20 months, and over a billion dollars will be spent as late as 2021,” Cruz said.

“This bill is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington – an addiction to spending money we do not have. The United States Senate should not be in the business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects that further expand our debt.”

Saturday night, Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier tweeted back at King: “Unreal. 2/3 of Sandy bill wasn’t emergency spending. It was chock-full of pork. Relief bills should be for direct relief, not pet projects.”

King has been a Cruz antagonist almost since his arrival in Washington, with the Texan’s Sandy vote an early trigger.

>> Related: 11 amazing and heartbreaking scenes from Houston flood

Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie tweeted Friday that the talking point that Cornyn opposed Sandy relief is common, but untrue: “He voted for Sandy relief, just not the package that became law. Final incl extraneous $ for non-relief items.”

That amendment by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, provided for more limited spending, but was defeated 54 to 41 Dec. 28, 2012, which was before Cruz entered the Senate. Then Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison joined Cornyn and 39 other Republicans in voting for it.

“The version that ended up passing, unfortunately, contained provisions unrelated to the storm and ‘emergency’ money that wasn’t requested by local officials there,” a Cornyn spokeswoman said Sunday. “He voted for a Sandy aid package without this unrelated spending, which included money for things like repairing fisheries in the Pacific.”

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

The Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund had a balance of $3.6 billion as of July 31 and had a projected balance of $1.45 billion as of Sept. 30. The House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security budget adds $6.8 billion for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

But Harvey’s costs will certainly dwarf those figures and require Congress to grapple with how to more adequately replenish the disaster fund. A point of contention after Sandy was Republican insistence that increased disaster spending be offset by cuts elsewhere.

Anheuser-Busch sends more than 500K cans of water to victims of Hurricane Harvey

The Anheuser-Busch community in Cartersville, Georgia, is helping the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

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The Georgia-based company is sending more than 500,000 cans of emergency drinking water to Baton Rouge.

The brewery makes 24 different varieties of beer but when disaster strikes, crews skip the hops to package something critical to the needs of those displaced: canned water.

>> Catastrophic flooding inundating parts of Texas after Hurricane Harvey: Live Updates

"Throughout the year, we periodically pause beer production at our Cartersville, Georgia, brewery to produce emergency canned drinking water so we are ready to help out communities across the country in times of crisis. Putting our production and logistics strengths to work by providing safe, clean drinking water is the best way we can help in these situations," said Sarah Schilling, Brewmaster of Anheuser-Busch's Cartersville brewery.

The water will make the more than 500-mile journey and is scheduled to be delivered to the Baton Rouge Red Cross facility on Monday morning. 

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