Judge Rules That Cherokee Freedmen Have Right To Tribal Citizenship

Waynetta Lawrie, left, of Tulsa, Okla., stands with others at the state capitol in Oklahoma City, in 2007, during a demonstration by several Cherokee Freedmen and their supporters.

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A judge ruled Wednesday that the descendants of enslaved people who were owned by members of the Cherokee Nation — known as Cherokee Freedmen — have citizenship rights.

“The Cherokee Nation can continue to define itself as it sees fit,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan wrote in his ruling, “but must do so equally and evenhandedly with respect to native Cherokees and the descendants of Cherokee Freedmen.”

After Emancipation, the Cherokee Nation granted its former slaves tribal citizenship as part of a treaty with the U.S. government in 1866. But in 2007, Cherokee members voted overwhelmingly to strip 2,800 Freedmen of their membership, defining tribal citizenship as “by blood.”

NPR previously reported that the U.S. government had opposed the tribe’s vote, and that at one point, the Department of Housing and Urban Development suspended $37 million in funding to the Cherokee Nation.

Now, the fight over citizenship has come to an end.

Marilyn Vann, president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes — one one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit — called the decision “groundbreaking.”

“There can be racial justice — but it doesn’t always come easy,” Vann told NPR. “What this means for me, is the Freedmen people will be able to continue our citizenship … and also that we’re able to preserve our history. All we ever wanted was the rights promised us, to continue to be enforced.”

The tribe’s attorney general, Todd Hembree, said in a statement Thursday evening that the Cherokee Nation does not intend to appeal the decision.

“The Cherokee Nation respects the rule of law, and yesterday we began accepting and processing citizenship applications from Freedmen descendants,” Hembree said. “While the U.S. District Court ruled against the Cherokee Nation, I do not see it as a defeat. As the Attorney General, I see this as an opportunity to resolve the Freedmen citizenship issue and allow the Cherokee Nation to move beyond this dispute.”

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In Houston, Floods Push Impoverished Residents Into Crisis

Whitlee Hurd, the mother of five children, walks through her damaged home in northeast Houston. “This is my child’s room but I can’t have them sleep here now because the window is open,” she says. “We told the maintenance man but he won’t help us.”

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In northeast Houston, grocery stores are boarded up. Gas stations are closed. Streets are covered in a thin layer of dusty mud.

And, on block after block, homes are full of people; some returning after harrowing rescues and frustrating nights in shelters, others who never escaped their apartments as the water rose.

Even as some shelters elsewhere in the city turn away extra volunteers and try to handle a massive influx of donations, many people in the northeast part of the city feel cut off from rescue and relief services. For a lot of families, the flood damage and lost wages are the difference between getting by and wondering how they’ll make ends meet.

Whitlee Hurd and Reartta Carson waited with seven children for rescue workers for three days in their first-floor apartments. Debris in the flood water broke a window in one of the kids’ bedrooms. The air conditioning unit outside flooded and hasn’t turned on since Sunday. “My son has asthma,” Carson says. “There’s no air. No food.”

“All we have is chips and candy, and we’re running out of that,” says Hurd.

Whitlee Hurd’s children play outside her home. School has been closed so she is unable to go to work because she’s at home caring for them.

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Their street, Tidwell Road, was impassable until Wednesday. The neighborhood is bordered by two bayous — Green’s Bayou to the east and Hall’s Bayou to the north — both of which crested well above flood stage according to the National Weather Service.

Carson says National Guard trucks came through twice between Sunday and Wednesday, but guard members said they couldn’t help the family. They were in rescue mode.

“I told them, you don’t need to evacuate us, but we need food and fans,” says Hurd. “They said we can’t help, we’ll come back. Come back? What? They didn’t never come back.”

“Food and fans, food and fans,” she says, shaking her head. “I just keep saying it, we need food and fans.”

Roy Gooden didn’t evacuate during the Hurricane and doesn’t plan on leaving. He says, even if he wanted to, he couldn’t because his car was underwater covering the lower part of the engine over the weekend.

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Carson walked to the closest grocery store, about a mile down the road, on Tuesday when the street was still flooded, but found it closed because people had stolen food. She says the owners of the store yelled at her, “Don’t walk over here! Everything broken into!”

“First of all, baby, I don’t want to rob nothing,” she says. “My child needs to eat! I got kids at home that’s hungry. Ya’ll not sending anyone over here to help us, so all we can do is walk through this water to try to find something.”

With no other option, Hurd drove 30 minutes to a grocery store in a neighborhood closer to downtown Houston on Wednesday, and stood in line for an hour to buy food there.

Gooden points out that even four days later, his car still has puddles in the floorboards.

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She and Carson both say it feels to them like emergency services are concentrated in richer, whiter neighborhoods elsewhere in the city.

“They were sending [help] to the ones that were not our color, know what I’m saying?” Hurd says. “If you had money, you [got boats arriving with] help. The less fortunate ones, we had to walk. Where’s our help? We’re not asking to be evacuated, we’re just asking for food and fans.”

City officials say the emergency system was overwhelmed by the volume of calls during the storm, and that the response has been citywide.

Flood levels are marked in dirt on the front door of Emma Dunn’s home in the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood of Houston.

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A few miles south, in the neighborhood of Kashmere Gardens, people who did evacuate were returning home from emergency shelters to check the damage on Wednesday.

In a red sweater and white pants, Emma Dunn stepped over a pile of tangled debris outside the door of her apartment across the street from Hunter Bayou.

At its height, “it was a lake. You didn’t know where that bayou was because you couldn’t tell. It all was a lake,” she says. Dunn, 72, evacuated her home in ankle-deep water on Saturday. “When your mattress start floating, it’s time to get out,” she says.

After a few days at an emergency shelter, she decided it was time to go back to her home of 33 years, for better or worse.

Emma Dunn sits on a wet chair that she has covered with plastic and towels to keep from getting wet.

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The floodwaters had entered her home, soaking the couch up to the seat-cushions. Her car was pushed by the force of the water to an angle in her driveway. Grass and mud are drying under the door handles.

Jim Harris, the manager of her apartment complex, was checking on the complex’s 49 units. He told Dunn and her family not to clean anything up.

“No, no, no,” he says. “Just leave it as it is until FEMA comes. I know that you’re trying to get back to your life, but FEMA says don’t touch anything until they can actually come and see it.”

Dunn has flood insurance, which sets her apart from most Houstonians. But she says the insurance won’t cover all the repairs, so she’s going to need help from FEMA too. She and her neighbors will be relying on emergency funds and interim housing. None of them can afford to stay in a hotel long-term, and after staying in shelters, they have no interest in going back.

Teniya Brewer walks through Pauline Simpson’s home looking at the water damage.

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Harvey Feel Like Katrina Déjà Vu? Not So Fast

(Left) Flooded neigborhoods can be seen in New Orleans in 2005. (Right) Flooded homes are shown near Lake Houston following Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 30.

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In 2005, when the most destructive and costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States struck New Orleans, tens of thousands of people would wait out the rebuilding of their city in Houston. Now it’s Houston’s moment in history to recover from an epic inundation.

Evacuees fill up cots at the George Brown Convention Center on Aug. 28 in Houston.

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Déjà vu is understandable. This week, we watch images of residents sloshing out of submerged neighborhoods, a convention center turned into an evacuation camp, orange Coast Guard choppers plucking people off of rooftops, and freeway overpasses turned into boat ramps for a spontaneous civilian-led rescue effort. Harvey produced, in some places, more than 50 inches of rain in five days, a rainfall record for a tropical storm in the lower 48.

But there are big differences between hurricanes Harvey and Katrina.

For many days after the storm, New Orleans ceased functioning as a modern American city. Its civic infrastructure dissolved.

  • The New Orleans Police Department lost command and control. Officers were on their own, patrolling the few passable streets solo or in pairs. Other police hung up their uniforms and walked off the job. The Houston Police, while its downtown precinct was flooded by Harvey, never lost communication or organizational command in the city.
  • In New Orleans, patients had to be evacuated from two dozen hospitals that had lost power, water and sewer service; some personnel had to make agonizing decisions about which patients to save and which patients to allow to die. Some hospitals have been evacuated in Southeast Texas during Harvey, but nothing on a scale of Katrina.
  • When NOLA’s Emergency Operations Center took on water, Mayor Ray Nagin and his aides moved to a makeshift command center on the fourth floor of the Hyatt Hotel. Houston’s EOC never went down.
  • In New Orleans, there was desperation in the air, a whiff of the apocalypse. Downtown hotels, fearing the rule of law had disintegrated, hurriedly shut down and ejected guests. Evacuations were chaotic. Some panicked residents stood on front porches brandishing weapons. Wild rumors flew around town — of snipers and rapists and piles of bodies. Almost all of them turned out to be unfounded. Journalists are not encountering that level of alarm and anxiety in Houston.

The contrasting experiences between these two major Gulf Coast cities struck by tropical storms 12 years apart, almost to the day, is not hard to explain. Eighty percent of below-sea-level New Orleans went underwater; at the worst of Houston’s flooding this past week 25 to 30 percent of above-sea-level Harris County was submerged, an official with the local flood control district told The Washington Post.

Houstonians had days of advance notice that a slow-moving tropical storm was coming their way and could cause catastrophic flooding. New Orleanians were advised to evacuate before the arrival of Katrina, and most of them did. But for those who stayed behind, the federally built flood protection system would fail and Katrina’s massive storm surge would engulf the Crescent City. Water would surge violently through the breaches into the Lower Ninth Ward and Lakeview neighborhood with enough force to wash houses off their foundations. Nothing like that happened in Houston.

The Saldivar family crashed their van into Greens Bayou as they tried to flee Hurricane Harvey during heavy flooding in Houston on Aug. 30. The death toll from Harvey is much lower than from Hurricane Katrina.

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The tale of two storms is also told in the loss of life. Katrina was responsible for 1,833 deaths; so far, the death toll of Harvey was fewer than 50 on Thursday afternoon.

The aftermaths of Harvey and Katrina may end up having more in common than their opening acts. In Houston, as in New Orleans, thousands of residential homes will sit in fetid floodwaters for days and weeks. Wallboard will mold, studs will rot, furniture and possessions will become rubbish.

The TV cameras will cut away from Houston, and residents will begin the long battles with insurance companies and building contractors and code inspectors.

Each storm has proven to be The Big One that people always feared. In New Orleans, with its storied history of surviving hurricanes, many folks now refer to Katrina simply as “the storm.” One wonders if Houstonians will start referring to “the storm.”

John Burnett is an Austin-based National Desk reporter who covered Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath extensively for NPR.

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Three Reasons Houston Was A 'Sitting Duck' For Harvey Flooding

The Sam Houston Tollway is submerged near the Hedwig Village neighborhood in Houston on Tuesday.

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There isn’t a city in the United States, and there are probably very few anywhere in the world, that could have handled Hurricane Harvey’s 50 inches of rain without significant flooding.

But Harvey was Houston’s third flood in three years to surpass the “100 year flood” mark. Urban planners and civil engineers say a combination of natural and man-made factors has created a chronic drainage problem that left the city especially vulnerable to Harvey’s torrential rains.

Here are three reasons Houston was, in the words of one expert, a “sitting duck” for catastrophic flooding.

1. Flat landscape

Houston sits just under 50 feet above sea level and is among the flattest major metropolitan areas in the U.S. “We have a slope that is less than one foot per mile,” says Phil Bedient, who teaches civil and environmental engineering at Rice University. “And because of that, we have very slow draining systems.”

That system consists of natural bayous and man-made channels that funnel water from west to east to flow out of the city and into Galveston Bay. Bedient says such a gradual slope doesn’t allow for floodwaters to move fast enough, so it backs up into nearby streets, parking lots, homes and buildings.

2. Aging infrastructure

“The stormwater drainage system is in desperate need of updating,” Sam Brody, a professor at Texas A&M, Galveston, told NPR’s Morning Edition on Wednesday.

Brody specializes in natural hazard mitigation. He and others in his field point to old and inadequate drains and pipes that can handle at most 1 to 1 1/2 inches of rain per hour. Hurricane Harvey’s deluge overwhelmed them.

Many of the area’s bayous are too small to even handle Houston’s frequent heavy rainstorms. The main bayou through downtown, Buffalo Bayou, “is pretty much still a dirt mud channel like you would have seen 100 years ago,” U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Jeff East told The Associated Press.

Some of the bayous can handle only 10-year storms. That means there’s a 10 percent chance of a storm meeting or exceeding that capacity in any given year, explains Joe Schofer, a civil engineering professor at Northwestern University.

“That’s a really high probability. If you were buying lottery tickets with a 10 percent chance, that would be a good way to get rich,” he says. “What you’re saying is you’re planning to be overwhelmed by a storm that is relatively high probability.”

Expanding the bayous to increase their capacity is difficult because the county didn’t leave enough room around them for widening. Where they can be widened, projects have been slow and inadequate, according to Rice University’s Bedient.

In addition, there are only two major reservoirs to hold stormwater during heavy rain events, the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, which East, Bedient and others say are inadequate.

The earthen dams containing those reservoirs are about 70 years old. There has already been spillover, and officials have had to release some of the water pressing on the dams to help keep them intact, adding to flooding in neighborhoods downstream.

Kelli Walker wasn’t able to get into her family’s home, on the other side of the brick wall, because of the depth of the rising floodwater in Houston on Tuesday.

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3. Rapid growth without zoning regulations

Houston’s population has exploded in recent years. At nearly 2.4 million people, it is now the fourth largest city in the country. If you include the rest of surrounding Harris County, that number goes up to more than 4.5 million.

“When you’ve got rapid growth and development, along with that comes roadways, rooftops, and parking lots,” says Brody.

Because Houston lacks a zoning code, builders aren’t required to use flood mitigation techniques like green areas to absorb rainwater or retention ponds for runoff.

According to Brody, “all of that impervious surface makes it very difficult for the water to drain into the soil. Instead, it runs into the bayous and, in this case, into people’s homes.”

Brody adds that a lot of those roads, buildings and parking lots have been built up over grass and prairie lands to the west of the city.

“That compromises the natural infrastructure of this very flat and low-lying landscape, making it difficult for the water to absorb and be held by the prairie and the wetlands, and slowly release into Galveston Bay.”

Scientists have been saying for years that Houston is extremely vulnerable to hurricanes and more should be done to protect the city. Over a year ago, an investigative series by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica pointed out how ill-prepared the region was.

Houston after Harvey

“It’s not reasonable or fair to say, ‘You people in Houston could have done a better job and it’s too bad you’re going through this,’ ” Northwestern’s Schofer says.

“Harvey’s an opportunity, when it’s all done and everything is dried out, to step back and say what can we do to protect ourselves in the future because there will be a future. This kind of thing will happen again.”

In fact, a 2016 analysis by AP showed that the number of extreme downpours — those with 10 inches of rain or more — are happening twice as often as they used to in Houston.

Going back into developed areas to retrofit stormwater systems and adding green space will be difficult, but Rice’s Bedient says the government should seriously consider buying out homes and businesses that are flooding over and over again and turning those areas into retention ponds.

A search and rescue team pulls people out of an area flooded by the overflow of Addicks Reservoir in Houston on Tuesday.

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“We’re so flat and the drainage is so slow in many areas that we should consider the idea of holding some of this stormwater back and then pumping it out at a later time,” he says.

Brody says the discussion needs to also go beyond engineering and to policies on a regional scale “and look at where we’re putting people, pavement and structures in relation to flood vulnerability.”

“We need to invest in protection and we need to put resources against this so we don’t suffer these damages in the future,” says Schofer, who notes that similar ideas were discussed and then dropped after Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and other flooding disasters.

“It’s really too easy to lose the momentum a year or two or three after the storm and to not make the sacrifices really to buy and build the infrastructure that gives us some protection against a storm of this magnitude.”

“The pattern is really clear,” Schofer says. “It doesn’t make sense to ignore this in the aftermath and fail to build the protection we really need.”

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Trump Administration Selects Contractors For Border Wall Prototypes

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello speaks to reporters about choosing four contractors to build the first prototypes of the border wall.

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The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the selection of four construction companies to build concrete prototypes of the wall President Trump plans to build along with border with Mexico.

Each prototype will be 30 feet tall and 30 feet wide, and cost between $400,000 and about $500,000.

The four companies are Caddell Construction of Montgomery, Ala.; Fisher Sand and Gravel/DBA Fisher Industries of Tempe, Ariz.; Texas Sterling Construction of Houston, Texas; and W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company of Philadelphia, Miss.

President Trump last week said that he was prepared to shut down the government if lawmakers did not approve funds for building the “big, beautiful wall” he promised during his presidential campaign.

Trump initially insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall, but its leaders have flatly rejected that idea. Now the president wants Congress to fund it.

The Department of Homeland Security has estimated the cost of the wall at $21 billion. An MIT study puts the price tag at $38 billion.

The acting deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Ronald Vitiello, called the contractor selection “a significant milestone.”

“This is the first tangible result of the action planning that has gone on. This is the use of the resources we had available for this year,” Vitiello said in a Washington, D.C., news conference. This stage of the border wall project will be paid for with funds already appropriated by Congress for the current fiscal year.

The actual prototype construction will begin in about two weeks following discussions with the selected contractors about scheduling. They will have 30 days to complete their prototypes. Homeland Security officials will then take 30 to 60 days to test the prototypes to see if they can be penetrated or otherwise compromised.

Four more contractors will be selected who have proposed to build prototypes with materials other than concrete. That announcement is scheduled for next week.

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Coral Reef Fish Are More Resilient Than We Thought, Study Finds

An orange clownfish, Amphiprion percula, lives in symbiosis with a host anemone on the Great Barrier Reef.

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At a time when the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs are facing unprecedented destruction, researchers in Australia have found a small ray of hope for the fish that make the reefs their home.

Fish are more resilient to the effects of ocean acidification than scientists had previously thought, according to research published Thursday in Scientific Reports.

Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, caused by burning fossil fuels, is being absorbed by oceans and causing them to become more acidic. That dissolved carbon dioxide can cause erratic, risky behavior in fish that could impact their survival.

For example, previous research demonstrates that exposing fish to high levels of carbon dioxide dulls their responses to predators, making them more likely to become a meal. Exposure can also make fish favor just one of their sides while moving, or make them more active and bold.

Those findings raised fears about the sustainability of coral reef fish populations as the dissolved carbon dioxide level increases. Past studies have primarily used stable rates of carbon dioxide, based on projections from the open oceans.

However, open oceans have different chemical patterns than coral reefs.

Researchers in Australia mimicked the daily changes of carbon dioxide levels in coral reef environments to see how the fish respond — and they found that the fish could withstand periods with significantly higher levels of acidification without causing behavior abnormalities.

The spiny chromis damselfish, Acanthochromis polyachantus, in its natural environment.

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“Shallow water habitats where reef fish live can experience substantial natural fluctuations in water chemistry throughout the day,” Philip Munday, of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said in a statement. “For example, carbon dioxide levels on coral reefs are often much lower during the day than they are at night.”

Those periods of lower carbon dioxide levels “are enough to provide fish with a recovery period, reducing their sensitivity to higher carbon dioxide levels,” James Cook University’s Michael Jarrold said.

The experiments tested the impact of fluctuating carbon dioxide levels on clownfish and juvenile damselfish. They found that the fish’s erratic behavior was mitigated – in experiments that varied both the size of the carbon dioxide fluctuations and the mean concentration of the acid.

Other studies found that in a stable environment, the behavior of fish would begin to change at carbon dioxide levels between 600 and 700 μatm, or microatmospheres. These researchers found that fish raised in stable carbon dioxide levels of 750 μatm showed strange behavior – but those raised at 750 μatm with fluctuations of 300 μatm above or below that did not.

However, this research suggests there are limits to the resilience of reef fish. In another experiment, they found that at 1000 μatm, even fish treated with fluctuations showed signs of behavior abnormalities.

Therefore, ocean levels of 1000 μatm “will need to be reached before behavioural abnormalities could manifest in natural populations of reef fish,” the paper states.

“We are thrilled about what we’ve found,” Jarrold added. “Our results provide a greater level of optimism for reef fish populations in the future.”

It’s worth noting that ocean acidification is far from the only concern for coral reef fish. Due to rising ocean temperatures caused by global warming, severe bleaching events have hit coral reefs globally. As we have reported, the habitat of these fish “can recover if the ocean temperature returns to normal, but prolonged stress may cause the corals to eventually die.”

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For Grocery Stores In Texas, It's A Race To Restock Their Shelves

People in Richmond, Texas, line up to gain entrance to a grocery store after it opened for the first time in several days due to Tropical Storm Harvey.

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Earlier this week, as torrents of rain fell on Houston, Craig Boyan, CEO of the H-E-B supermarket chain, went on a video-taped tour of his company’s emergency operations center in San Antonio, Texas. The company later made the video available online.

It was a revealing look inside a logistical nightmare. Boyan walked through two crowded, windowless rooms, stopping to speak with the people responsible for reopening stores, locating employees (or, as the company calls them, “partners”) to staff those stores, organizing deliveries of water and ice, and figuring out how to line up fresh supplies of milk, eggs and bread despite the city’s waterlogged streets.

One example: H-E-B makes most of its own bread, and its two bread-making plants are located in Corpus Christi and Houston. When the storm hit, “we had to take Corpus down, run the whole company out of Houston,” Boyan explained in the video. When the storm moved on toward Houston, “we had to switch back to Corpus, now we’re on generator power” at that plant. But the company’s supply of fresh bread was never interrupted.

There was a lot more than H-E-B’s own business at stake. Every day without deliveries of food and water could mean hunger for many thousands of people. “One of the things we’re really proud of is being the last to close and the first to open,” Boyan said.

Indeed, H-E-B and other big supermarket chains managed to get stores open and trucks rolling from warehouses at an impressive pace this week.

On Tuesday, at the height of the flooding, Walmart had closed 134 Houston-area storms. By Thursday, only 21 stores remained closed. H-E-B also had reopened almost 90 percent of its stores by then. Of the 20 stores owned by Albertson’s, 16 are now open.

According to Ragan Dickens, a Walmart spokesman, “very few” of the company’s stores actually flooded. The company had to throw out some perishable food, but it was able to reopen any stores that were accessible to trucks and had electrical power.

Dickens says that customers at some locations have been forced to line up outside to prevent overcrowding inside. And some stores remain closed because workers and trucks can’t get to them through flooded roads.

The ability of Houston’s big grocery chains to rebuild their supply chains “is amazing, but not surprising,” says Roni Neff, a professor of Environmental Health and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Neff recently co-authored a report on ways that the city of Baltimore could ensure continued food supplies in the face of future disasters, including possible flooding.

“We did a whole set of interviews, and we found that the bigger chains and the bigger businesses had very extensive planning in place” for natural disasters, Neff says.

City governments, on the other hand, don’t always think enough about food supply in their emergency planning, she says. In Baltimore, for instance, “there was an emergency operations center, but nobody [overseeing] food was there.”

Baltimore has now changed that. The city now has a “food resilience coordinator” who is part of emergency planning. “This is something that very few places have done in the past,” Neff says. “I really believe it’s something that everybody should be looking at.”

According to Neff, governments do need to be involved, in addition to supermarkets. “In Houston, as everywhere, the impacts are not equally felt,” she says. “People with lower incomes, people who are elderly, with disabilities, with medically necessary diets, may be particularly hit by this kind of situation, and really have quite severe food security threats to them.” And city governments need to be prepared to get food to these, more vulnerable groups.

In Houston, many supermarket chains, including Walmart, H-E-B, and Albertson’s, have also helped in relief measures. They have delivered truckloads of water and food to large shelters and to food banks, which in turn send food to distribution points in other parts of Houston and nearby areas.

Trucks were only able to reach the central Houston Food Bank starting Wednesday evening. “Now, the wheels are spinning, literally and figuratively,” says Paula Murphy, who handles public communication for the organization.

Seventeen truckloads of non-perishable food and water from Walmart were scheduled to arrive on Thursday, along with three airplane loads of food flown in from Dallas. “As soon as it arrives, it goes out again,” she says. “Our fleet of trucks is out there. The area we can reach is expanding.”

The biggest need, she says, is probably in rural areas outside Dallas, far from any supermarkets, where roads still may be impassable.

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Trump Promises $1 Million Of Personal Funds To Aid Harvey Victims

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that President Trump will be donating $1 million of his own money to Harvey relief in Texas and Louisiana.

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President Trump is pledging to chip in assist Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts to the tune of $1 million of his personal funds.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the unexpected announcement during her briefing on Thursday. Responding to a question about whether the president planned to personally contribute, Sanders said Trump “would like to join in the efforts that a lot of the people that we’ve seen across this country do, and he’s pledging $1 million of personal money to the fund.”

Sanders told reporters that Trump had asked her to check with “the folks in this room since you are very good with research” about where he should make the donation for people in Texas and Louisiana.

As it happens, NPR has a list of where people wishing to donate funds to the Harvey recovery might look — as well as a warning about scams and schemes to avoid.

Trump has had a spotty record when it comes to pledging and then actually carrying through on his promises to donate money to charities. He has in the past also exaggerated the amount of money he’s given through his now-shuttered charitable foundation. In January of 2016, then-candidate Trump pledged to give $1 million to veterans charities, but it wasn’t until reporters pressed him months later that most of the money was doled out.

Trump has been following through on a campaign pledge not to take a paycheck and instead donate the money; his first donation was to the National Park Service, even as his budget proposed cuts to the Interior Department. Trump’s second-quarter salary was slated to go to the Education Department. (Trump’s budget also called for cuts there.)

Sanders said the president intends to return to the Southwest on Saturday to view flood damage with stops possible in Houston and Lake Charles, La. Trump was in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Wednesday to meet with officials.

Vice President Pence surveyed flooded out areas of Texas on Thursday. He helped pick up debris, visited a heavily damaged church in Rockport and stopped at a food distribution center in Victoria. He pledged support for flood victims, saying the White House will “be with you every day until Texas rebuilds stronger and better than before.”

Vice President Pence helps clear brush during a visit to Texas on Thursday.

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'I Do … Until I Don't' Doesn't Quite Work … Until It Does

Ed Helms and Lake Bell play documentary subjects Noah and Alice, whose marriage may be headed for a seven-year ditch, in the comedy I Do … Until I Don’t.

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The Film Arcade

The manipulative British filmmaker seems to have come to the right place. Fresh from her own bitter breakup, Vivian (Dolly Wells) arrives in Florida in search of couples who are about to split. She has an assistant/cameraperson, Mel (Connie Shin), and a thesis: Marriage should last for only seven years, with an option to renew.

Vivian also has a title for her planned film on the topic: I Do… Until I Don’t. That title also belongs, of course, to the movie about the film. It’s the second writer-director-star vehicle for Lake Bell, whose 2013 film In a World… is one of the sharpest Hollywood comedies of the decade. This follow-up has its moments, but is considerably less winning.

Bell plays Alice, whose union with Noah (Ed Helms) is beset by two of the big marital perils: money and procreation. The couple’s blinds store is on the verge of bankruptcy, and four years of baby-making has not yielded a child. (Bell, mother of two pre-schoolers, has packed the movie with pregnancy and child-rearing material.) A fan of Vivian’s previous documentary, Tween Jungle, Alice is eager to be in the next one. Noah is not, but agrees when led to believe, fraudulently, that the couple will be paid to participate.

As a contrast to Alice and Noah’s bourgeois quagmire, Vivian will also document Fanny and Alexander (Amber Heard and Wyatt Cenac), the happiest twosome ever named after an Ingmar Bergman flick. Their blissful hippie existence is unencumbered by marital vows and fidelity; they’re known to be polyamorous. Fanny also happens to be Alice’s younger, infinitely hipper sister. One more couple is needed, and Vivian is thrilled to encounter bickering Harvey and Cybil (Paul Reiser and Mary Steenburgen) in a diner. Cybil broods about the emotional distance of her grown daughter from her first marriage, while the unfulfilled Harvey has turned to motorcycling as an escape. Like a cartoon character, he sometimes keeps his helmet on indoors.

Much of the movie sputters, in part because timid, repressed Alice doesn’t hold the screen the way Bell’s punchier In a World… alter ego did. (The characterization is based on her mother, Bell has said.) With seven main roles and several flimsy subplots, I Do… lacks focus and drive. The unifying figure is Vivian, but she’s a shallow caricature whose faults don’t add up to either a compelling villain or a significant critique of documentary filmmaking. Aside from Vivian’s brazen pursuit of her own agenda, the principal cinematic in-joke is the lousiness of Mel’s camerawork, which we see in inserts of interviews with the three couples.

The liveliest of the principals are Reiser and Steenburgen, consistently funny even if working from a script that doesn’t exactly specify why their marriage is so troubled. Also droll is Chauntae Pink as a massage-parlor owner in a misjudged sequence that — while necessary to introduce two of the characters — doesn’t provide anything close to a happy ending. The movie’s last act actually works, largely because Bell picks up the pace and brings all the major players together. The final developments are agreeably manic, if a little too sweet. In her previous movie, Bell lampooned the movie biz from a gently feminist perspective, but this time she takes the side of conventional domesticity. I Do… Until I Don’t may be a fine title for Vivian’s film. But Bell’s would be more aptly called I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.

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'Viceroy's House': A Warm-Hearted Look At The Sunset Of The British Empire

Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), Mahatma Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) and Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson) smile politely in The Viceroy’s House.

Kerry Monteen/IFC Films

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Kerry Monteen/IFC Films

At my all-girls high school in London in the 1960s, colonial history was taught roughly as follows: “In 1947 India was granted independence from Great Britain. Civil strife continued between Hindus and Muslims in the new nations of India and Pakistan. And now, gehls, back to the Gardens of Tudor England.”

On the other hand: “History is written by the victors,” reads the prefatory intertitle in Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House, a warm-hearted, ambitious period drama that rewrites a blood-soaked chapter of imperial decline as a struggle between upstairs and downstairs, with plenty of internecine warfare seething below the salt. In the movie, upstairs is British Empire, dwindling by the hour and represented by the gold-plated palace where successive British viceroys have ruled over a resource-rich subcontinent containing one-fifth of the world’s population. Below stairs toils a hitherto servile, increasingly frisky staff made up of Hindus and Muslims whose relatively serene coexistence is about to get upended. We meet them busily polishing an alarmingly alabaster bust of Queen Victoria in preparation for the arrival of the last viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who will preside over India’s transition to independent nationhood.

Given the dense tangle of rival interpretations of India’s history, doing justice to this bloody chapter is a Herculean task. Add to that the fact that Chadha, on the basis of two alternative histories, strongly counters the widely received version, which casts the blue-blooded Mountbatten as the villain of the piece who arbitrarily carved up India, exacerbating existing tensions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority who aspired to their own nation of Pakistan. Hugh Bonneville brings his jovial brio to a Mountbatten who’s basically Lord Grantham with more democratic urges, most of them discreetly orchestrated by his politically adroit wife Edwina. Gillian Anderson gives both a terrifically witty, plum-in-mouth impersonation of the real-life Lady M, and an appealing portrayal of her as an enlightened, humane, and instinctive feminist. The only one in the room who grasps that Empire’s day is done, Edwina’s the one who slyly decrees that it’s time to start serving curry on banquet days rather than Yorkshire pud.

Quite right, too, but the nouvelle cuisine proves both too little and too late for the country, to say nothing of the Mountbattens’ good name. Where previous viceroys ruled with an iron fist, the Mountbattens of Viceroy House are velvet glove people. They go all-out to secure a smooth transition to democracy for the former colony, whose unity has been weakened by a long-term policy of divide and rule. Which is more than you can say for a certain prime minister back at HQ in London, who, long before the Mountbattens arrived, cunningly redrew the map of India and Pakistan with British oil and security interests in mind.

All I can offer by way of verification is that Viceroy House is the second recent British drama to finger Winston Churchill as a ruthless betrayer of former British colonies, the other being last year’s A United Kingdom, which suggested that Churchill sold the fledgling state of Botswana down the river with much the same careless aplomb. Here he is fronted by a flunky (played by the king of shifty himself, Michael Gambon) who does an end-run around Mountbatten, recasting the map of India and Pakistan in ways that guarantee one of the biggest and bloodiest mass migrations in history, which we see in both real and staged newsreels. Paraphrasing Churchill, he reminds the appalled incumbents that “we didn’t fight the Nazis and the Japs, only to give away the shop to the servants.”

Inevitably, all this complex history and backroom politicking between factions — the Hindus led by Nehru (Tanveer Ghani) and the Muslims by Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Denzil Smith), with a dead-on Neeraj Kabi bringing up the rear as Gandhi — requires scads of unavoidable exposition. But despite some occasional stiffening in the otherwise lively dialogue, co-written by Chadha with her screenwriter husband, Paul Mayeder Berges, and Moira Buffini, there’s rarely a dull moment in Viceroy’s House. A born populist entertainer, Chadha has made several exuberant crowd-pleasers about Indian life in England, the most delightful being her early comedies Bhaji on the Beach and the enormous hit Bend It Like Beckham. She brings the same warmth and broad exuberance to a much larger canvas, folding in a shamelessly enjoyable Romeo-and-Juliet love story between a Hindu and a Muslim (played by the ridiculously telegenic Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi) that brings with it an extra treat — a posthumous turn from the late, great Indian actor Om Puri as the young woman’s blind father. Oh, and there’s a bit of a musical in there that in no way drains the gravity of a colonial legacy that, few today would dispute, brought misery and displacement to millions of Indians for decades thereafter.

Chadha, whose family is Sikh by way of Kenya but who has spent most of her life in England, probably heard the same version of her country’s struggle for freedom and independence that I did in school. At the end of this sprawling, passionate but generously non-partisan epic, a moving coda reveals the director’s personal stake in telling the story her way. You should stay for the credits.

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