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Allison's Death Toll Hits 43

Written by Christina Ward, Staff Writer,

debris in driveway
Debris outside flood victims' homes indicates the scope of their loss.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Allison finally moved out to sea on Monday (June 18), after wreaking havoc from Texas to New England for 12 days. At least 43 deaths are blamed on the storm, which brought floods, tornadoes and lightning to the Northeast over the weekend.

Four people were killed in an explosion at an apartment complex outside Philadelphia on Sunday (June 17). Officials believe the accident was the result of a gas leak caused by flooding. Rising water prevented firefighters from extinguishing the flames in time.

In Connecticut and Massachusetts, several house fires and traffic accidents resulted from lightning and flooding during Allison. There were no injuries or deaths reported.

In the end, Texas suffered most from the storm, which came ashore on June 6. By Sunday (June 17), the damage in Houston and surrounding Harris County was estimated at $2.1 billion. Federal Emergency Management officials confirmed that 20 people died in Texas as a result of the storm.

Houston, Texas — The floodwater may be gone, but the floods are far from over. Driving through the streets of affected Houston neighborhoods on Tuesday (June 12), evidence of the disaster was everywhere. Televisions, carpets, mattresses, furniture — all ruined, all set out in piles on curbs for trash pickup. Dark stains on houses marked the height reached by filthy, contaminated water. Some residents labored in their yards, bagging trash and scrubbing furniture. Others stood silently in the hot Texas sun, surveying the scene in disbelief.

Even if they are willing, not everyone has been able to get right to work on the massive cleanup. Carolyn Corley, 58, lives alone in a wooded north Houston neighborhood. The bayou behind her single-story house overflowed on Friday night, sending four feet of water racing into her home. Initially she was simply relieved to have escaped alive. Now, she is overwhelmed by the task ahead of her. Nearly all of her belongings must be thrown away, and the house is uninhabitable for now. Floors and walls are coated with muck. Not to mention the smell of sewage: The humidity and 90-degree temperatures this week have left a stench in the small house that she cannot bear.

But Corley hasn't had time to do much more than survey the damage. "I can't miss a day of work," she explained, standing in her driveway on Tuesday evening. "I have to pay my bills. I live alone, and there is no one else to clean up during the day. At night I drive to my sister's house to sleep, over an hour away."

Although she is aware of the public assistance options and eventually plans to turn to the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it is the next few days and weeks that seem impossible to face.

"It's just awful in there," she said, turning to look at her front door. "I thought I just lost my dog in the flood, but I guess I really lost everything."

A disaster relief worker provides a refreshment during a hot day of flood cleanup.
A disaster relief worker provides a refreshment during a hot day of flood cleanup.

Local volunteer and government groups are working hard to ease the recovery process for people like Corley. Each day, more volunteers and donations pour in from the community and across the nation.

In a parking lot at Texas Medical Center, two organizations have teamed up to operate a mobile kitchen, feeding patients and workers at five flood-damaged hospitals in Houston. About two dozen Texas Baptist Men volunteers are cooking 18,000 meals a day at the mass kitchen. American Red Cross volunteers are transporting the meals by van to local facilities.

In addition to about 25 shelters, the Red Cross has opened several service centers. Flood-affected families can visit the centers to speak with trained disaster volunteers and receive assistance based on need. In the days directly following a disaster as widespread as last week's flooding, service centers are likely to be crowded, and the wait may be long. But Red Cross leaders urged families to hold out — thanks to an overwhelming response from the American public, there is plenty of assistance to go around for everyone who needs it.

"I know you have experienced devastation," said American Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy, speaking Tuesday to about 200 people waiting their turn at a service center set up at Jackson Intermediate School in Pasadena. "Mother Nature is no saint. But we're here to help. We are your neighbors. The Red Cross is based on the generosity of your community and nation."

Much of the recovery-assistance process after a major disaster must inevitably involve waiting. For some of the 20,000 families affected, the waiting time worsens already-high tensions. For others, the only solution is to be thankful for what wasn't lost — and to pass the time by sharing stories with friends, neighbors and strangers, many in the same situation.

Waiting in a Red Cross shelter this week, 42-year-old Alice Russell showed visitors a handful of Polaroids she'd taken of her destroyed home. "I'm just glad my son and I ended up okay," Russell said. "But you see these rooms? The water was almost five feet high, I think. Everything was ruined. I lost the whole apartment, and we don't have insurance. We have nowhere to go."

Then she paused, and pointed at one photo of her living room. "You see how the floodwater mark is just below that picture on the wall there?" she asked. "That's my mother's picture. She passed away a few years ago, but I can tell you what happened the night of the flood. She looked down at that rising water, and she said, 'Stop!'"

Russell glanced up, her tired face now lit with a broad smile. "And you'd better believe that water stopped dead in its tracks."

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