3 dead after Harvey slams into Texas, and danger is not over as storm brings life-threatening floods
By Jennie Jarvie and Matt Pearce
August 26, 2017 - 12:05pm
The Los Angeles Times
(VICTORIA, TEXAS) At least three people have died since Hurricane Harvey came ashore in south Texas Friday night as a powerful Category 4 storm, drenching low-lying areas, tearing roofs off buildings and leaving more than 300,000 homes and businesses without power.
Roy Laird, assistant fire chief with the Rockport Volunteer Fire Department, said three people were dead in Aransas County. Emergency responders continued to comb through the debris of collapsed buildings, overturned trailers, broken power poles and uprooted trees.
Harvey is the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Charley struck Florida in 2004 and the first to hit Texas since Hurricane Carla in 1961.
Even as Harvey weakened Saturday to a tropical storm with 70 mph winds, weather officials warned residents to expect “extremely serious” flooding, life-threatening storm surges and tornadoes.
“This is just the beginning,” said Jeff Evans, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Houston/Galveston office. “We could see catastrophic flooding for a lot of people, historic flooding for parts of Texas. We’re looking at measuring rainfall not in inches, but in feet.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference Saturday that there had already been about 20 inches of rain in Corpus Christi and about 16 inches of rain in Houston. “Our primary concern remains dramatic flooding,” he said. “Biggest concern is the possibility of between 20 and 30 more inches of rain.”
The eye of the storm made landfall about 10 p.m. Friday near Rockport, a small fishing town about 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, with powerful 130-mph winds uprooting trees, tossing boats onto roads and demolishing homes and businesses.
“It’s about what you would expect if a Category 4 hurricane entered your front door,” said Rockport Mayor Charles “C.J.” Wax, who had evacuated to San Antonio. “Widespread devastation.”
Rockport’s volunteer fire department worked Saturday with no Internet service and only one phone line, which rang non-stop as family members asked responders to check in on their loved ones. Many haven’t been able to reach them since the storm hit and knocked out cell phone service.
The city has been threatened many times by storms that didn’t turn out to be devastating. Many people, Laird said, chose to wait out Harvey instead of evacuating.
“This is something that just snuck up on us,” he said. “We did the best we could with the time we had.”
Severe weather made it impossible for emergency assessment teams to venture into the city overnight, Wax said. Yet officials had heard that the local high school had been damaged and the wall of a hotel had collapsed.
Amid drizzle and pummeling winds, the city’s two emergency teams were using backhoes, dump trucks and bulldozers to clear debris off the roads and allow ambulances and firetrucks to traverse the city.
“I’m very worried about the days ahead,” the mayor said, noting that rain falling further inland was likely to flow to the coast and into his community. “We’ve already been hit once with the storm. Now we’re going to get hit again with a flood.”
About 20 miles south, Port Aransas, a small city on Mustang Island, suffered heavy damaged.
The town’s mayor, Charles R. Bujan, told a local news TV station that the Pioneer RV Beach Resort, a trailer park nestled in the sand dunes south of downtown, was completely destroyed.
“According to my police chief that is 100 per cent lost, and they are in the process now of doing search and rescue in that area,” Bujan told KIII 3 News.
In Victoria, a town of 62,000 people about 30 miles from the coast, heavy rains were pounding sideways Saturday morning as ferocious winds lashed the city.
The streets were empty of cars and littered with downed trees and power lines. Several gas station overhangs had collapsed and fallen on top of the pumps. Water began to pool on neighborhood streets.
At a local Red Cross shelter, more than 300 residents huddled inside, slumped on cots as they awaited news about the storm.
As Harvey approached the coast Friday, a hurricane warning was in effect along a wide stretch of coastline from Port Mansfield to Sargent, spanning a region that is home to about 4 million people. An additional 12 million, many in the major cities of Houston and San Antonio, were under a tropical storm warning.
What makes Harvey so potentially dangerous, even as it weakens, is that it will continue to linger in the area, meteorologists say.
“Typically, a hurricane comes in and pulls inland,” he said, “but this is moving slowly, and it’s expected to stall, wobble and maybe loop back to where it came in.”
On Saturday morning, the National Weather Service warned that some areas could get as much as 40 inches of rain — about the amount of rainfall many Texas coastal towns get in a year.
It urged residents not to return to evacuated areas until hazardous winds weaken and floodwaters recede.
Across the coast, some residents ventured out Saturday morning to check on family and friends. “It’s like a little ghost town,” Eddie Canales, 69, said as he drove his car across Corpus Christi — past broken fences, toppled trees and dark traffic lights — to check on his uncle and cousins.
“There’s very little traffic. All the Whataburgers are closed — every single one of them.”
The winds had calmed, and there was little floodwater, Canales said. With his house intact, his main concern was when power would be restored. Without it, he could not boil water.
“Everything seems to be getting back to normal,” Canales said. “If electrical power comes back, I’ll be prepared. If not, I’ll have to move further inland."
Before the eye of the storm reached land, President Trump announced on Twitter that he had granted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for a disaster declaration, “which unleashes the full force of government help!”
Not long after the storm slammed onto shore between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, there were news reports of damage.
At least 10 people were treated for injuries at a local jail in Rockport after the roof of a senior citizens’ complex collapsed, local media reported.
Part of a local high school also collapsed, and a portion of the exterior of a hotel peeled off in the heavy winds, KXAN reported.
“People are trapped inside at least one collapsed building,” Rockport City Manager Kevin Carruth told KIII News. “We can’t get rescue teams to them right now.”
Shortly after midnight, the storm made a second landfall along the northeastern shore of Copano Bay and downgraded at that point to a Category 3 storm, the National Weather Service reported.
Before Harvey, the most recent major hurricane to make landfall was Wilma, a Category 3 storm that hit Florida in October 2005, two months after Hurricane Katrina.
Historically, slow-moving tropical storms and hurricanes have caused some of Texas’ most severe flooding. In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison hovered above the Houston area for days, dumping up to 30 inches of rain — as much as 80% of the area’s average annual rainfall over some neighborhoods.
The last hurricane to hit the Texas coast — Hurricane Ike, a Category 2 storm that wreaked havoc after making landfall in Galveston in 2008 — killed at least 37 people and resulted in more than $30 billion in damage.
Hurricane Harvey poses the first major test of emergency response for the Trump administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s new administrator, Brock Long, who was confirmed in June.
Trump plans to travel to Texas next week, Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert said. Speaking to reporters at a news briefing Friday, he added that federal officials had significantly improved their ability to respond to natural disasters since Hurricane Katrina caused widespread flooding in New Orleans in 2005, and the president seemed determined to provide help to Texas in the face of the storm.
In some parts of Texas, residents were bombarded with contradictory advice from state and local officials as the storm approached.
On Friday afternoon, Gov. Abbott urged residents of low-lying and coastal areas prone to flooding — including parts of Houston — to evacuate.
“What you don’t know and what nobody else knows right now is the magnitude of flooding that will be coming,” the governor said.
Shortly afterward, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner reminded residents that city officials had not issued an evacuation order and urged them to stay in place, noting that residents fleeing Hurricane Rita in 2005 had caused major traffic chaos.
“Please think twice before trying to leave Houston en masse,” he said on Twitter. “No evacuation orders have been issued for the city.”
With Houston forecast to see up to 20 inches of rainfall, local officials there were readying evacuation boats and high-water rescue vehicles.
For days, Houston’s Office of Emergency Management has urged residents to stockpile enough water, food and medication for five to seven days, secure anything that could be picked up by strong winds and park vehicles off the streets.
The impact of the hurricane is likely to be felt in neighboring Louisiana, and Gov. John Bel Edwards already had declared a state of emergency Thursday for the entire state.
Just a few inches of rain could cause severe challenges in New Orleans, which is still recovering from flooding after thunderstorms earlier this month overwhelmed the city’s drainage system.
On Friday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu warned residents to prepare for 5 to 10 inches of rain. Yet New Orleans officials did not advise residents to evacuate, urging them instead to prepare to take shelter and stock up with at least three days’ worth of supplies.
[END LOS ANGELES TIMES REPORT]