Floodwaters drop in Houston as Harvey takes a second swipe

The flood emergency in Southeast Texas continues to expand as the death toll also continues to rise.

Harvey's floodwaters started dropping across much of the Houston area and the storm weakened slightly Wednesday but major dangers remained for the U.S. Gulf Coast area, including the threat of an explosion at a stricken Texas chemical plant and major flooding further east near the Texas-Louisiana line.

The scope of the devastation caused by the hurricane came into sharper focus, meanwhile, and the murky green floodwaters from the record-breaking, 4-foot deluge of rain began yielding up more bodies as predicted.

The confirmed death toll climbed to at least 31, including six family members -- four of them children -- whose bodies were pulled Wednesday from a van that had been swept off a Houston bridge into a bayou.

HOW TO HELP: North Texans and Hurricane Harvey

A wobbling and weakening Harvey was downgraded to a tropical depression late Wednesday or will completely dissipate within three to four days. For much of the Houston area, forecasters said the rain is pretty much over.

"We have good news," said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District. "The water levels are going down."

At the same time, many thousands of Houston-area homes are under water and could stay that way for days or weeks. And Lindner cautioned that homes near at least one swollen bayou could still get flooded.

Officials said 911 centers in the Houston area are getting more than 1,000 calls an hour from people seeking help.

Volunteers continued to pour into the Northeast Houston community of Kingwood for water rescues.

Neighbors and volunteers from across the country used boats to get people out of flooded neighborhoods. But on Wednesday, they also helped some people get back in.

Alejandra Gutierrez has family visiting from Venezuela. With water rising in her home, their group of 9 had no choice but to leave.

“Yesterday, we got rescued by some of those people,” he said. “Just regular neighbors with a boat.”

It was regular neighbors like Sebastian Carpio, who grabbed his kayak and went to help.

“We live in this neighborhood, but we're lucky because we're on high ground,” Carpio explained.

Help is coming from across the country. The Los Angeles County Swift Water Rescue Team spent the day in Kingwood and assisted the Houston Fire Department with calls.

Residents say they saw rescue boats from as far away as Memphis, Tennessee and Florida.

In a time of devastation across greater Houston, neighbors are optimistic and are thankful for the help that's coming from all directions.

“In the Hispanic community, we call them ‘compadres,’” Gutierrez said. “If it wasn't for them, we probably wouldn't have gotten out.”

The Addicks Reservoir in Northwest Houston continues to spill over, leaving an entire community under water.

A post office, police station, elementary school and an estimated 2,000 homes are under water along with all of the belongings inside and the cars and trucks.

Residents were evacuated early on, but law enforcement confirmed a body was found in the neighborhood.

More people were evacuated from another part of the Bear Creek area on Wednesday, where water rose to waist level in some homes. People gathered documents, pets, dog food, clothes and either got on a boat or a military tactical vehicle to get escape.

David Guzman is another volunteer. He lives 400 miles away in Mission, Texas.

"I told my wife, 'I have to go. I have to help.'" he recalled.

It has been an emotional experience for both rescuers and those being rescued.

"We've given so many people rides, and I've heard so many sad stories today,” said volunteer Brandy Read. “It's awful out there. People just didn't realize it was just going to keep rising. They stayed in their homes. A lot of people got hurt.”

Water also continues to rise in the Buffalo Bayou in West Houston.

The water in the area has been periodically rising in part because of some of the releases from dams and reservoirs in the area.

A lot of people aren't in a life or death situation. They just don't have any way of getting out of their neighborhood without a lift.

A group of friends traveled from Alvarado to spend the day rescuing people. They bought an amphibious vehicle in Dallas and came to help.

One woman told the volunteers that it was the last time she was turning down her first rescue offer. She gladly took the ride.

But as the waters have been rising, they have also been dropping at times in parts of the city. That means people are trying to get back to their homes.

Eva Routs and her husband finally got to return to their home Wednesday. They were already gutting the place. She already saw mold on some of the insulation and was planning to put the home on the market soon. But then Harvey happened.

The water from Buffalo Bayou runoff went into Routs’ home. They threw their pets on their shoulders and walked out to higher ground. Now, they are trying to clean up quickly before mold gets out of control, but they also don't know if the water is going to return.

“The water receded pretty quickly the next day, but it's kind of been a bit of a tease because it recedes about a foot and then you get another foot back overnight,” she explained. “So every time we think we are clear, it comes right back.”

While the Buffalo Bayou is worth watching, there are also people in North Houston who are being told to leave their homes by 11 p.m. for fear a levee could breach.

There are still plenty of people timid about returning to their homes. A woman who has been sheltering in Dallas just wanted to know the route back into the city to see if she could return home.

Altogether, more than 1,000 homes in Texas were destroyed and close to 50,000 damaged, and over 32,000 people were in shelters across the state, emergency officials reported. About 10,000 more National Guard troops are being deployed to Texas, bringing the total to 24,000, Gov. Greg Abbot said.

"This is going to be an incredibly large disaster," Brock Long, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in Washington. "We're not going to know the true cost for years to come. ... But it's going to be huge."

While conditions in the nation's fourth-largest city appeared to improve, authorities warned that the crisis in Houston and across the region is far from over. The storm, in fact, took a turn for the worse east of the city, close to the Louisiana line.

READ MORE: Homes in Port Arthur, Beaumont flood Wednesday due to more rain

Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, struggled with rising floodwaters and worked to evacuate residents after Harvey completed a U-turn in the Gulf of Mexico and rolled ashore early Wednesday for the second time in six days. It hit southwestern Louisiana as a tropical storm with heavy rain and winds of 45 mph.

Harvey initially came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas on Friday, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days, inundating flood-prone Houston.

Harvey's five straight days of rain totaled close to 52 inches, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental U.S.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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