“It's Catastrophic, Unprecedented, Epic”: 5 Dead As Houston Reels Under Historic Flooding
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Emergency workers and rescue crews in Houston have been overwhelmed overnight with calls for water rescues, having responded to “hundreds” as of early Sunday, the Houston Chronicle is reporting, as Harvey, the most powerful storm to hit the state in more than 50 years, roared inland. According to the Houston newspaper, five people are now reported dead in Houston as Tropical Storm Harvey has dumped up to 30 inches of rain.
“It’s catastrophic, unprecedented, epic — whatever adjective you want to use,” Patrick Blood, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told the Chronicle. “It’s pretty horrible right now.” The newspaper reported the weather service said five people have died in the Houston area in unconfirmed flood-related deaths.
As the Statesman puts it: “It was supposed to be bad. It wasn’t supposed to be this bad.”
A tweet from executive weather producer at the Weather Channel, Matthew Sitkowski, summarized the situation best: “surreal.”
— Matthew Sitkowski (@MattSitkowski) August 27, 2017
Underscoring the severity of the storm, moments ago president Trump tweeted “Wow – Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!”
Wow – Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
In its latest bulletin, the National Weather Service similarly did not mince words, saying this morning that “catastrophic flooding is ongoing with flash flood emergencies in effect. The threat for continued additional, catastrophic, unprecedented and life threatening flooding continues today and into next week with periods of heavy rain from bands coming off the Gulf. Flash Flood Watches and Warnings are currently in effect for all of southeast Texas.”
NWS computer models show continued rounds of thunderstorms spawned by Harvey, which has been downgraded from a hurricane to tropical storm. Blood said the Houston area can expect at least an additional 15 to 25 inches over the next few days.
Thunderstorms pummeled this city overnight Saturday as Tropical Storm Harvey stalled out again, dropping more nearly two feet of rain in some residential neighborhoods, which triggered widespread flooding that is already blamed for five deaths. To the south, it was even worse. More than two feet of rain fell at the National Weather Center’s Houston office in League City, about 30 miles south of Houston proper. Emergency responders turned swamped freeway overpasses into ramps to launch rescue boats, Houston Chronicle reporter Dug Begley tweeted early Sunday morning.
Texas governor Greg Abbott told Fox News that damage from Harvey will be in the billions of dollars statewide. President Donald Trump took to Twitter this morning to say, “I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.”
Some neighborhoods have been hit with more than 15 inches of rain, the Chronicle reported, forcing some residents to flee to their attics, especially along Interstate 45 between downtown and Clear Lake, including parts of Pasadena. One resident described seeing a woman’s body floating in the streets during a flash flood in the same western part of the city. The flash floods were several feet high, the resident told local TV station abc13.
A mobile park is destroyed in the Coast Bend area on Saturday in Port Aransas, Texas
According to Reuters, Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport canceled all inbound and outbound flights early on Sunday due to standing water on the runway. The airport said its arrivals area was flooded, and the National Weather Service issued a flash flood alert for the surrounding area. Authorities have urged residents to stay off the streets of Houston and other southeast Texas cities as rain falling at up to 5 inches per hour flooded roads and major intersections.
The storm has killed at least two people and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said on Twitter the death toll could rise, with his deputies responding to reports of a deceased woman and child inside a submerged vehicle on Interstate 10 near Houston.
On Friday night, a man died in a house fire in the town of Rockport, 30 miles (48 km) north of Corpus Christi. Another dozen people in the area suffered injuries including broken bones, another official said.
The Harris County Joint Information center said first responders were conducting hundreds of rescues early on Sunday morning.
Gonzalez’ Twitter feed was inundated by residents asking for help. The sheriff could only tell some of them that crews were doing the best they can. “All agencies care but everyone simply operating at maximum capacity,” he tweeted at one point.
Some in Houston have climbing into attics to flee rising flood waters, the Houston Chronicle also reported . “Have reports of people getting into attic to escape flood waters,” tweeted Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Austin’s previous police chief. “Do not do so unless you have an ax or means to break through onto your roof.” Those reports were coming from areas along Interstate 45 between downtown Houston and Clear Lake, the Chronicle reported.
Early Sunday, sheriff Gonzalez tweeted that there were reports of several submerged vehicles on Interstate 10 at Lathrop and added that, while it was unconfirmed, crews were investigating reports that one of the vehicles possibly had a deceased woman and child inside.
Harvey slammed into Texas late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 miles per hour (210 km per hour), making it the strongest storm to hit the state since 1961. It has since lingered over the state, dumping amounts of rain that threaten to break the record established nearly 40 years ago when Alvin, Texas, was deluged by 43 inches of rain in 24 hours from July 24-25, 1979.
The storm has ripped off roofs, snapped trees, triggered tornadoes and flash floods and had cut off power to nearly 230,000 people on Saturday night. Houston police officials said officers were evacuating two flooded apartment complexes. Oil and gas production was largely halted in the state, prompting price hikes at the pumps.
“There are a number of stranded people on our streets, calling 911, exhausting needed resources. You can help by staying off the streets,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Twitter.
Officials here have reported performing at least 1,000 high-water rescues with thousands more needed as homes were inundated by the water. The 911 system here was so overwhelmed that officials begged Houstonians to only use it if they were in immediate danger.
The weather forecast shows no reprieve in sight for this city and county of 4.5 million people. Rain, including more torrential downpours, remains in the forecast for the rest of today.
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Even though Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday, it is expected to lash Texas for days as it heads inland, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), which described the forecast for the state as potentially “catastrophic.” The coastal town of Rockport took a direct hit from the storm, leaving streets flooded and strewn with power lines and debris on Saturday. A dozen recreational vehicles were flipped over on a sales lot, one blown into the middle of the street. A convoy of military vehicles arrived in the Rockport area on Saturday to help in the recovery efforts, and town officials announced an overnight curfew for residents.
“It was terrible,” resident Joel Valdez, 57, told Reuters. The storm ripped part of the roof from his trailer home at around 4 a.m., he said as he sat in a Jeep with windows smashed by the storm. “I could feel the whole house move.”
Before the storm hit, Rockport’s mayor told anyone staying behind to write their names on their arms for identification in case of death or injury. A high school, hotel, senior housing complex and other buildings suffered structural damage.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he was activating 1,800 members of the military to help with the statewide cleanup, while 1,000 people would conduct search-and-rescue operations. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it was forced to evacuate about 4,500 inmates from three state prisons near the Brazos River because of rising water.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard said it had rescued 20 people from distressed vessels on Saturday, and was monitoring two Carnival Corp cruise ships carrying thousands of people stranded in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Authorities warned of the potentially life-threatening impact of heavy rains between Houston and Corpus Christi over the next several days, with the latest forecast saying Harvey could loop back toward the Gulf of Mexico coast before turning north again on Tuesday.
“This rain will lead to a prolonged, dangerous, and potentially catastrophic flooding event well into next week,” the National Weather Service said.
In a Sunday morning tweetstorm, instead of taking shots at his political opponents, president Trump assured people on the ground that government support is on the ground: “Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen. Good news is that we have great talent on the ground.” He added that “I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.”
I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017