Fears of ‘catastrophic’ flooding as deadly Hurricane Harvey lashes Texas
Latest forecasts show that Harvey, now downgraded to tropical storm status, will hover along the shore for the next four or five days, dumping massive amounts of rain
Hurricane Harvey stalled over central Texas on Saturday, raising fears of “catastrophic” flooding after the megastorm - the most powerful to hit the United States since 2005 - left a deadly trail of devastation along the Gulf Coast.
The latest forecasts show that Harvey, now downgraded to tropical storm status, will hover along the shore for the next four or five days, dumping massive amounts of rain.
The storm flattened buildings, toppled mobile homes, sent boats floating into deserted streets and left hundreds of thousands of people without power on the Gulf Coast, home to some of the country’s most important oil refineries.
While only one person was known to have died thus far, officials said they feared the worst was yet to come, with torrential rains inundating Texas and sporadic tornadoes touching down, tearing roofs off houses.
Watch: evacuees escape Harvey in shelters
Harvey made landfall late Friday as a Category Four hurricane, pummelling the small town of Rockport outside Corpus Christi with sustained winds of 215 kilometres per hour, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.
The National Weather Service warns that storms of that strength can leave areas “uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
It then made a second landfall a few hours later just north of Rockport, which was one of the hardest-hit areas.
While most residents did heed advice to head to safety, some hunkered down for the night in Corpus Christi - a city of about 325,000, where residents have been told to boil their water before using.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. We do have strong winds - we’re right next to the bay -- but nothing like last night,” store owner Brandon Gonzalez said.
“I mean, I was even a little bit terrified of what was going to happen. Our building was just shaking back and forth. It really got bad. I think we held up pretty good though.”
In the early hours of Saturday, Harvey lost strength as it moved inland and was downgraded to tropical storm status at midday.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at least 50 centimetres of rain had fallen in some areas.
“Our primary concerns remains dramatic flooding,” Abbott said.
So far, there have been 338,000 power outages across the state, he added.
The NHC warned: “Rainfall of this magnitude will cause catastrophic and life-threatening flooding.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said there should be no illusions about the long-term impact.
“This is going to be an unprecedented long and frustrating event for the state of Texas,” FEMA director Brock Long told MSNBC.
“The recovery from this disaster is going to be years.”
Emergency services were struggling to make headway as rains continued to lash down, although the Coast Guard managed to airlift 15 sailors to safety after three boats were caught up in the storm near Port Aransas.
One person was confirmed to have died, with officials in Aransas county saying the victim had perished in a fire that broke out in his house.
US President Donald Trump, aware of the damage to George W. Bush presidency’s for his tardy response to Hurricane Katrina, said he was closely monitoring relief efforts from Camp David in Maryland.
“We are leaving nothing to chance. City, State and Federal Govs. working great together!” he tweeted, after meeting with his cabinet via teleconference to discuss the ongoing relief efforts.
Closely monitoring #HurricaneHarvey from Camp David. We are leaving nothing to chance. City, State and Federal Govs. working great together!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2017
Coastal Texas is a fast-growing area, with some 1.5 million people moving into the region since 1999. It is also home to a large number of oil refineries.
US authorities said about 22 per cent of crude production in the Gulf of Mexico, accounting for more than 375,000 barrels a day, was shut down as of Friday.
Many residents who fled the worst-affected areas in Texas headed for the city of San Antonio, where temporary shelters are run by the fire department.
“I felt like I didn’t want what happened to the guys in New Orleans... I didn’t want that to happen to me,” Michael Allen, an evacuee from Corpus Christi, said.
“I only got what you see me with. Everything I had, I had to leave. Everything.”
Harvey is the most powerful hurricane to hit the mainland since Wilma struck Florida 12 years ago.
2005 was a huge year for hurricanes - before Wilma, Hurricane Katrina pummeled New Orleans, leaving more than 1,800 dead.