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Navy sends ships as Harvey gets downgraded

The National Hurricane Center downgraded Harvey Wednesday to a tropical depression, as its flooding rains moved to eastern Texas and western Louisiana.

The storm was located 15 kilometres south-west of Alexandria, Louisiana, with maximum wind speeds of 55 kilometres per hour.

The Navy sent two ships Wednesday as rescue operations continued. US Navy Admiral Phil Davidson ordered two ships to head out from Norfolk, Virginia on Thursday to help with relief efforts following Harvey.

"These ships are capable of providing medical support, maritime civil affairs, maritime security, expeditionary logistic support, medium and heavy lift air support," a Navy statement said.

Lieutenant General Russel Honore, who served as commander of the task force responsible for coordinating military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina-affected areas, said Harvey is of a much larger scale than Katrina was and said the response is not up to scale.

"We should have had Navy ships following the Hurricane. We learned that during Katrina," he told CNN.

Hurricane Katrina, a dangerous tropical storm that hit the south-eastern United States in late August 2005, caused destructive floods in New Orleans and neighbouring communities, killing approximately 1,800 people.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez confirmed Wednesday that six family members had died in a van submerged in a flooded waterway in north-eastern Houston after their vehicle was found in receding waters.

"We have a total of six dead here at the scene inside the van, they include the grandparents, ages 81 and 84, their granddaughter, 16 years old, a 14-year-old boy, an 8-year-old boy," Gonzalez said at a news conference.

Harvey has left about two dozen people dead, according to US media reports. Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, however, would not provide a firm count, and the number could rise substantially, as much of the area remained underwater.

Some 8,500 people had been rescued by state officials, Abbott said, stressing that the operation would continue.

The impact from Harvey, which initially made landfall Friday as a category 4 hurricane, will be "far larger" than that of Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy, Abbott said.

Abbott pointed to the far larger population and size of the Houston area, which has experienced devastating flooding, and predicted the federal emergency aid would "be far in excess" of the 120 billion dollars that followed Katrina in New Orleans.

US officials were engaged in rescue operations in Texas in the storm's wake, with the US Coast Guard surveying large areas of Houston by aeroplane as Harvey made landfall for a second time on Wednesday, in south-western Louisiana along the Texas border.

In Crosby, just north-east of Houston, officials are monitoring a flooded chemical plant, due to fears it could explode. Residents living in a two-kilometre radius of the plant were told to evacuate, according to a tweet by the Harris County Fire Marshal.

"The organic peroxides used in the site's manufacturing process have begun to heat up after the plant lost its primary source of power, then the power from its back-up generators," the Texas Tribune reported.

More than 50 centimetres of rain had fallen overnight in the communities of Beaumont and Port Arthur in south-eastern Texas, officials said.

"We were not ready for that," Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman said on Facebook.

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