Photo credit: The Weather Channel
Aug. 28–Tropical Storm Harvey reached historic, catastrophic levels Sunday as it pounded the Houston region with torrential rain, becoming the city’s worst storm on record and causing widespread flooding that has led to more than 1,000 rescues.
The monster storm, which roared ashore Friday night near Rockport as a Category 4 hurricane, packing winds of at least 130 mph, has spread across hundreds of miles of South Texas.
San Antonio has escaped the brunt of the storm, but gusting winds knocked down more than 100 trees and a couple of hundred power lines in the city.
And more is to come. The National Weather Service predicts Harvey will dip back down to the Gulf of Mexico, then swing back over Houston this week, possibly dropping a couple of more feet of rain.
Federal officials say the effects of the storm will be felt for years to come.
The National Weather Service reported five possible fatalities in the Houston area Sunday morning after the region was drenched with 14 to 28 inches of rain. Another storm victim died Saturday in Rockport.
“This event is unprecedented,” the weather service said Sunday morning. “All impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced.”
The White House said President Donald Trump will visit Texas on Tuesday. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the White House is still coordinating logistics with state and local officials.
She added: “We continue to keep all of those affected in our thoughts and prayers.”
Local officials in San Antonio pledged their support for Houston and other hard-hit communities.
Twenty San Antonio firefighters and paramedics have headed to Victoria, Refugio and Houston to offer manpower and equipment.
Crews with the San Antonio Water System set out for the heavily damaged island town of Port Aransas on Sunday afternoon to help fix its infrastructure.
“Thankfully, San Antonio has dodged the worst of it,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “But it is impacting our coastal neighbors in a very significant way.”
The city reported Sunday that crews had removed 154 downed trees from city streets. CPS Energy crews replaced 30 power poles and responded to reports of more than 200 downed electric lines.
Resources to deal with the devastating storm are pouring in from across the country. The U.S. military is directing helicopters and boats to Texas to aid in search-and-rescue missions along the coast.
“This is a very, very dangerous storm with catastrophic consequence,” U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Karl Schultz said at a news briefing in the state operations center in Austin. “It is going to be a sustained challenge for the coming days.”
Harvey has weakened to a tropical storm, but officials said it will continue to dump rain across Houston and other coastal areas for days to come.
There already are more than 318,000 reported power outages and 250 highway closures statewide, said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who urged residents to stay off the roads.
“If you drive into water, you are taking your life into your own hands,” the governor said.
The Texas and National Guards have deployed 3,000 service members, 500 vehicles and 14 aircraft. The Coast Guard is drawing resources from across the country to aid in rescue efforts, which already include eight helicopters, with eight more on the way.
The states of Nebraska, Tennessee, Utah, California, Missouri, Ohio, Arizona and New York are contributing helicopters and other resources to aid in rescue efforts.
Reports of fatalities have begun coming in, but Abbott said he was “not in a position to confirm they are related to the storms.”
The National Weather Service published a flash flood warning early Sunday stating that five deaths had been reported in the Houston area and more than 1,000 high-water rescues had been performed.
On Saturday, Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills Jr. said there was one storm-related death in Rockport.
Houston isn’t under a mandatory or a voluntary evacuation order. Though Abbott had urged city residents to consider evacuation before the storm hit, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner had suggested people shelter in place. Asked about the discrepancy Sunday, Abbott said: “Now is not the time to second guess decisions that were made.”
Refugio County Judge Robert Blaschke said the storm caused “extensive” property damage, with no telling how many homes were destroyed. The county still has no power or running water after Harvey made landfall Friday as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of at least 130 mph.
“It’s really devastating to experience this,” Blaschke said, urging evacuees who had fled the area to stay where they are.
“If they’re evacuated and they’re safe, we went them to stay put,” he said. “There’s no water, there’s no electricity, so coming back to the community would just challenge the responders and the resources we have here to provide shelter.”
Corrugated metal was strewn across the town — some of it wrapped around trees — and all the traffic lights were dead. Some residents were outside picking up the pieces of their lives, unsure of their next move.
“I have nothing, nothing at all, just the clothes on my back,” said Joseph Villarreal, a Refugio resident whose trailer was crushed by high winds.
Officials in other rural counties urged residents to stay off flooded roadways.
“We are in a serious flood situation here in Bastrop County,” d County Judge Paul Pape said after 18 inches of rain fell in parts of the county, with more on the way. “Lives are at stake. Please stay off the roads.”
In Port Aransas, survivors found themselves without power, plumbing, phone service, and in some cases, food and water.
Trailer parks on the barrier island were decimated. Nothing was left of a liquor store but a pile of broken signage and crumpled roofing, bottles strewn across the lot. Apartment homes had collapsed. Power lines sagged over sand-covered roadways.
On Sunday, Melanie Zurawski broke into frustrated tears when she asked for a cup of coffee at the town’s civic center, which was being used as the emergency operations center, but officials told her there wasn’t enough to go around.
“I can’t get a cup of coffee? I live here,” she said. “We’ve lost everything.”
San Antonio was spared the brunt of the rain. The National Weather Service’s forecast late Friday had called for 6 to 12 inches of rainfall through Tuesday along Interstate 35 from San Antonio to Austin.
By Sunday morning, the eastern half of San Antonio received about 3 inches of rain while the western half received less than an inch. The National Weather Service said another 2 to 4 inches was expected in San Antonio through Wednesday.
Forecaster Jason Runyen with the National Weather Service said it’s notoriously difficult to predict the paths of hurricanes and tropical storms. If Harvey had taken a slightly different path, the 20 inches of rainfall in La Grange could have easily struck San Antonio instead.
“We kind of have to err on the side of caution,” Runyen said.
Nirenberg said San Antonio was lucky to avoid the most devastating impact of the rain.
“If the track of the storm had shifted just 30 miles west, we would be sharing an entirely different message today,” Nirenberg said.
The Associated Press and Staff Writers Alia Malik, Lynn Brezosky and Sig Christenson contributed to this report.
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