downtown Houston shows signs of recovery

The catastrophe isn’t over, but as the city’s downtown starts to dry residents are cautiously optimistic: ‘This feels like the start of getting back to normal’

A four-year-old boy picks out a toy from a donations table at the convention in downtown Houston, which has sheltered about a third of the city’s displaced people. Photograph: Michael Ciaglo/AP

The catastrophe had yet to be tabulated and elsewhere tropical storm Harvey still raged, but downtown Houston on Wednesday appeared to have made a great escape.

Driving in on the I-45, now clear of floodwater, the skyline glinted in bright, balmy sunshine. The Eastex freeway had remarkably little debris. Avenida de las Americas was dry, even warm, to the touch. People walked their dogs.

“After days cooped up you get cabin fever, you need to get out,” said Gerardine McKeon, her dog, Ty, straining at the leash on the corner of Lamar and Austin.

Days earlier, waist-high torrents had flowed down nearby streets, felling trees, sweeping away cars. But the water had gone, restoring a semblance of familiarity to downtown.

“It’s dry as far as you can see,” said Liz Spencer, 64, an artist, who viewed a panorama from a skyscraper’s 45th floor. She was now out walking with her nine-year-old granddaughter Ivy and had just scooped up some litter. “This feels like the start of getting back to a normal state of affairs.”

The mayor, Sylvester Turner, struck a similar tone at a news conference, calling for the city to return to routine as swiftly as possible. Airports were due to reopen with limited service later on Wednesday and schools will reopen on 5 September, he said. “Let’s play ball, let’s keep moving.”

It was a marked contrast to the mayhem Harvey’s second landfall was unleashing on Port Arthur a hundred miles east and to the widespread devastation in outlying areas of Houston, where aerial footage showed entire communities still submerged.

Grim news will continue to unfold as waters recede,…

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