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Harvey Year Later Progress

Volunteers Brock Warnick, right, and Colten Roberts remove drywall and insulation on Sept. 4, 2017, from a home that was damaged by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. 

The fear that a slow-moving Hurricane Florence will dump volumes of rain similar to Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017 has South Carolina worried that flooding could be worse than the devastating records set in October 2015. This story is adapted from reporting by AP National Writer Sharon Cohen related to Hurricane Harvey and flooding in 2017.

Hurricane Harvey in 2017 began with raging winds, but its legacy will be water. Seemingly endless, relentlessly insidious water — a staggering 40 inches or more that swamped parts of Houston in just five days.

Harvey scooped tons of water from the sea and hurled it down on the nation's fourth-largest city, drowning vast swathes of the landscape and battering it with almost a year's worth of rainfall.

Rooftops became islands poking up through swirling floodwaters. Thousands of houses were destroyed, and tens of thousands more, soaked and pounded by the storm, could face the wrecking ball.

The water — and the muck and mold that follow — created misery that will linger for years and likely cost tens of billions of dollars all told.

For many of the displaced in southeast Texas, floodwaters stole every possession, leaving them to navigate insurance forms and federal disaster aid applications as they ponder how to even move forward.

The deluge will instill deep anxiety, too, for many who lived through Harvey, and inflict lasting emotional scars on some survivors.

In a storm for the history books, it's the ravages of the water that define the story.

WATER SATURATES

A broken pipe in a house is reason to call a plumber. A house buried in water for weeks could mean it's time for the demolition crew.

The longer a house is under water, the greater the damage.

Furniture, refrigerators and other appliances will almost certainly be ruined. Water can compromise or ruin wallboard, electrical systems, insulation, doors, windows and cabinets. Wooden floors warp, swell and can even float away; mold grows in the moist, humid interior, posing the risk of respiratory problems.

For houses that can be repaired, civil engineers recommend that after the contaminated water and muck are removed, it's best to strip out the wallboard and insulation so the house is reduced to the studs, which must be dried before any rebuilding begins.

Steve Cain, a Purdue University extension disaster specialist, offers simple advice:

"You don't want to be rushing into your home after a flood," he says. "You want to make sure to go back when it's safe. ... You can fall through a floor, gas lines could be leaking, electrical systems can be damaged and if the electricity is not shut off, you can get electrocuted."

WATER SCOURS

A few inches of rain can snarl traffic. Forty inches or more of water pounding the pavement in less than a week can undermine the streets people drive on every day.

The relentless pressure of water can loosen the foundation of asphalt roads — compacted soil, gravel or sand — leading to cracking and potholes. Pieces of pavement can slide away.

Andy Herrmann, past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, says the great majority of Texas bridges weren't vulnerable to damage from heavy rains because they're built on piles or caissons — often hollow pipe filled with concrete.

But the smaller ones that sit on soil or rock, he says, could run into trouble if rapidly moving floodwaters eat away at the foundation, a process known as scouring. If that happens, a bridge could tilt or collapse.

WATER SICKENS

Long after the danger of drowning subsides, water, oddly enough, can wreak havoc on your health — by forcing you to dry places.

Thousands of Houston area storm survivors who fled flooded homes found refuge in large shelters, but those temporary living quarters can become incubators for infections.

"You have all these people congregated together very closely for prolonged periods of time," says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "That's an ideal circumstance for the spread of respiratory infections."

Schaffner also warns that evacuees in crowded shelters can develop norovirus, a highly contagious intestinal infection marked by vomiting and diarrhea — an illness that has been known to occur on cruise ships.

New health problems can arise once flood victims return homes. Inside, mold can cause breathing troubles, but that can be avoided by wearing a mask. Outside, standing pools of stagnant water contaminated by chemicals and garbage, become ideal breeding spots for mosquitoes. A bite can have serious consequences.

"We worry about West Nile virus, certain kinds of encephalitis viruses," Schaffner says.

WATER HAUNTS

Superstorm Sandy. Katrina. Harvey. (Now Florence?)

The epic disasters in the New York metro area and New Orleans left residents in both places wrestling with the emotional anguish of losing their homes, their livelihoods and their sense of security.

Those feelings can linger for years. One study found that residents in the path of Sandy suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress. Another concluded that children displaced by Katrina still had serious emotional or behavioral problems five years later.

Some of the most common stress-related reactions to disasters such as Harvey are anxiety, a change in appetite, insomnia and a sense of uncertainty — a feeling of what's next, according to Dr. Anita Everett, president of the American Psychiatric Association. Headaches or aches and pains can also surface, she notes.

"It's a little bit like a grieving process," Everett says. "We sort of expect that there's going to be waves of worry, waves of anxiety and that's all within the normal experience." But she says that those who are struggling three months after a disaster and can't work or make decisions may want to seek professional help.

Being in a large shelter, though, can boost the spirits of storm survivors because they can share stories and turn to each other for support, Everett says.

"You get a really strong sense of a community that's coming together and working together to rise to the occasion ... Humans are amazingly resilient."

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