The water is leaving, at last. But, across southeast Texas, new dangers keep appearing in Hurricane Harvey's wake.

In Crosby, northeast of Houston, loud "pops" were heard coming from a crippled chemical plant yesterday, where safety systems were flooded and authorities said an explosion could be imminent.

In Beaumont, 118,000 people were without drinking water after floods disabled the city's system. For most of them, there was no easy way out of a town that now felt like more of an island: The city was surrounded by swollen rivers and bayous, cutting off most roads.

In Anahuac, 60km to the southwest, the employees of an alligator farm circled their flooded property in boats, with guns at the ready. There were 350 alligators inside, and their pens were flooding. "They were very close to getting out," a police officer said.

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Above, Environmental Protection Agency planes sniffed for toxic-chemical releases. Below, there was floodwater that authorities warned could contain pollutants and pathogens. In between, there were authorities and regular people trying to find order and supplies in a landscape totally changed by the massive storm.

"We're running low on water and on food," said Lam Nguyen, a Port Arthur police sergeant who was overseeing a command centre in a Walmart parking lot. He was wearing a red polo shirt instead of his usual police uniform, which was lost when his home flooded. "Our shelters are filling up. We are getting them food, for now, but we are running out of food. We're doing all we can now."

A Black Hawk helicopter landed nearby every 30 minutes, bringing in newly rescued people. Nguyen paused. "We are in trouble," he said.

The remnants of Harvey were still moving to the northeast yesterday. Even in a weakened state, the storm still caused flash-flood watches in Tennessee, Kentucky and southern Ohio. Behind it, authorities continued to try to assess the damage left behind by the largest rainstorm ever to hit the continental United States.

An official with the Harris County Flood Control District yesterday gave an astounding estimate of the storm's impact on the Houston area: at the height of the flooding, 70 per cent of the county's 4660sq km were covered with at least 45cm of water.

At least 39 people were dead. They included Andrew Pasek, 25, who officials said was electrocuted when he stepped on a live electrical wire in the floodwaters, and Ronald Zaring, 82, an evacuee who became unresponsive while on a charter bus carrying him away from the flooding. Police in Houston began to make house-to-house searches, looking for more victims.

At least 34,000 people were scattered among dozens of shelters. Two huge convention centres. Mosques. Schools. At least 11 First Baptist Churches in 11 small Texas towns.

Liv Gilreath searches for salvageable items from a friend's home after floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey drenched the city. Photo / AP
Liv Gilreath searches for salvageable items from a friend's home after floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey drenched the city. Photo / AP

Authorities also were still tallying homes damaged or destroyed in the disaster. Texas localities had reported by yesterday that more than 93,000 homes suffered damage, including nearly 7000 that were destroyed by Harvey, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety report. But that preliminary estimate does not include figures from heavily populated Houston and other cities that were hit hard by flooding, such as Port Arthur and Beaumont. The real number is likely to be far higher once authorities are able to assess areas that are currently unreachable.

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Yesterday, thousands of people - the luckier ones - went back to homes that were waterlogged but salvageable.

"We raised up everything," said Susan Rath, who had returned to a home in south Houston where she and her husband, Jim, had tried to place valuables higher before evacuating. The water got higher still. They returned to soggy drywall, destroyed furniture and a closet full of blouses soaked up to the elbow. "It didn't matter." The Raths had just rebuilt this house, after it was destroyed in a 2015 flood. Now, they will have to decide whether to rebuild again.

"The main thing is: This is just stuff," Jim Rath said. "And the more stuff you have, the more you're controlled by it."

Vice-President Mike Pence visited Texas yesterday, stopping in Rockport and Corpus Christi, and touring the affected area by helicopter. Of the recovery effort, Pence said: "It's a long way to go; it's not months, it's years."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that President Donald Trump would donate US$1 million ($1.4m) of his own money to help with hurricane relief efforts. Sanders said that Trump wants the news media to choose which charity receives the money.

There are early indications that yet another tropical storm may form in the western Gulf of Mexico next week.

Although rainfall is impossible to predict in a storm that hasn't developed, any additional rain would be significant for the already devastated region. Not only would would another storm affect and delay recovery efforts, but it also could lead to additional flooding - water on top of water.

"If this system does develop, it could bring additional rainfall to portions of the Texas and Louisiana coasts," the National Hurricane Centre said yesterday.